from the Superior Court in Mohave County No. S8015JD201700080
The Honorable Douglas Camacho, Judge Pro Tempore
Stavris Law Firm PLLC, Phoenix By Alison Stavris Counsel for
Arizona Attorney General's Office, Mesa By Lauren J. Lowe
Counsel for Appellee Department of Child Safety
County Attorney's Office, Kingman By Bobbie Shin Counsel
for Appellee L.M.
David D. Weinzweig delivered the decision of the Court, in
which Presiding Judge Kenton D. Jones and Judge Peter B.
Joelle M. ("Mother") appeals from the superior
court's order finding her daughter, L.M., dependent based
upon medical neglect. Mother's argument against the
finding of neglect fails to account for L.M.'s unique
needs. We hold the superior court must consider a child's
unique needs in a dependency action to protect the
child's best interest and meaningfully assess the
parent's willingness and ability to supply proper and
effective parental care and control. Because the record
supports the dependency finding, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This is a child dependency action. Mother and Lucas M.
("Father") are the biological parents of L.M., who
was born healthy in Nevada in 2011. At two months old, L.M.
was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening brain
injuries. Father was later convicted in Nevada of abusing his
daughter and sentenced to prison. L.M. suffered severe and
irreversible brain damage. She now endures dozens of chronic
and debilitating disorders, including encephalopathy, spastic
quadriplegic cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She requires a
wheel chair and is legally blind; cannot feed herself or
communicate, except for a few nonverbal cues; bears a
perpetual high risk for seizures, vomiting, choking and
aspiration; and gains nourishment from a continuous 24-hour
feed delivered from a battery-powered feeding machine. L.M.
needs full-time care and attention for her very survival.
Mother and L.M. later moved to Arizona. The Arizona
Department of Child Safety ("DCS") first learned
about L.M. in July 2017, when she was a part-time student in
a special education program for "[m]edically fragile
children." The school year had just begun and DCS
received anonymous complaints to its hotline that Mother had
neglected to provide the school with an operational feeding
machine, thus preventing school officials from providing L.M.
with nourishment, hydration and medication. School officials
had trouble reaching Mother and it took several hours for her
to deliver a feeding machine or power cord, even though she
lived only minutes from the school. And when Mother did
arrive, DCS records report that she was "usually . . .
out of it" and had trouble "keeping her eyes
open." Mother later conceded she used methamphetamine
"on occasion" while L.M. was at school.
The record indicates that Mother was indifferent and uncaring
at times. School officials alerted Mother that L.M. was
vomiting uncontrollably and directed her to retrieve her
daughter. Mother did not arrive for more than two hours after
receiving the news. L.M. then returned to school after a
brief one-week absence with a large red sore on her neck. The
baseball-sized blotch was shiny, moist and had a strong, foul
odor. School officials contacted Mother, who did not respond
for hours. Mother later downplayed the blotch, even
questioning whether someone had altered pictures of the sore
to make it look worse.
The school nurse also expressed concern about Mother's
care and maintenance of L.M.'s medical equipment. Mother
did not provide clean and sterile supplies for the feeding
machine, forcing the nurse to reuse the same tubes and bags,
increasing the risk of infection.
The matter reached a breaking point in September 2017. Mother
again sent L.M. to school with no feeding machine and later
delivered a feeding machine that broke down, leaving L.M.
without nourishment for hours. School and DCS officials
unsuccessfully tried to reach Mother. DCS took L.M. into
DCS filed a dependency petition based on Mother's failure
to provide proper and effective parental care and control,
A.R.S. § 8-201(15)(a)(i), but continued its efforts to
return L.M. to Mother's care. Mother ultimately agreed to
a safety plan, which provided that L.M. would live with her
maternal grandmother and Mother until Mother passed 12
consecutive drug tests for methamphetamine "without any
missed or diluted samples in a month" and enrolled in
counseling services ...