from the Superior Court in Mohave County No. L8015SV201607005
The Honorable Douglas Camacho, Judge Pro Tempore
Law Office, Lake Havasu City By Melinda Silk Counsel for
Maria Elena Cruz delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Presiding Judge Michael J. Brown and Judge David W. Weinzweig
Alyssa W. ("Mother") challenges the juvenile
court's order denying her petition to terminate the
parental rights of Justin G. ("Father") to their
son, J.G. Mother argues the court erroneously placed the
burden on her to demonstrate that she personally made
reasonable efforts to help Father overcome his alcohol abuse
and reunify him with J.G. We hold that Arizona Revised
Statutes ("A.R.S.") section 8-533(B) does not
require a private party seeking to terminate another's
parental relationship to make affirmative efforts to reunify
that parent, but only to show that necessary rehabilitative
services were made available to the parent or it would have
been futile. We reverse and remand for a best interests
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
J.G. was born in Lake Havasu City, in December 2012; his
parents lived together for a time but never married. Mother
and Father separated due, in part, to Father's alcohol
abuse and Mother eventually filed a petition to terminate
Father's parental rights to J.G.
Following a contested severance hearing, the juvenile court
found that (1) Father has a history of alcohol abuse; (2) his
alcohol abuse causes him to be unable to discharge his
parental responsibilities; and (3) a reasonable belief exists
that Father's chronic alcohol abuse will continue. After
finding that "Father's unawareness of his substance
abuse issues . . . shows that any attempts at [persuading him
to seek help for his substance abuse issues] would likely
have been futile," the court nonetheless declined to
sever Father's parental rights because Mother failed to
make reasonable efforts to reunify the family or show,
notwithstanding its own earlier finding of likely futility,
that such efforts would have been futile.
Mother filed a timely notice of appeal. We have jurisdiction
pursuant to A.R.S. § 8-235(A) and Arizona Rule of
Procedure for the Juvenile Court 103(A).
Mother argues the juvenile court erred when it interpreted
A.R.S. § 8-533(B) to require her, a private party, to
prove she made reasonable efforts to reunify Father with J.G.
or that such efforts would have been futile.
We review de novo the court's interpretation of
a statute. See Linda V. v. Ariz. Dep't of Econ.
Sec., 211 Ariz. 76, 78, ¶ 7 (App. 2005). When
construing a statute, we look first to the statutory
language; if the language is plain and unambiguous, we apply
it without resorting to other rules of statutory
construction. Ariz. Dep't of Econ. Sec. v. Superior
Court, 186 Ariz. 405, 408 (App. 1996). If the language
of a statute or rule is unambiguous, "we apply it as
written." Roberto F. v. DCS, 237 Ariz. 440,
441, ¶ 6 (2015). Only if the language is unclear do
"we apply secondary principles of construction."
To terminate parental rights, a juvenile court must first
find by clear and convincing evidence, A.R.S. §
8-863(B), the existence of at least one statutory ground for
termination pursuant to A.R.S. § 8-533(B). Kent K.
v. Bobby M.,210 Ariz. 279, 284, ¶ 22 (2005).
Section 8-533(B)(3) permits the termination of parental
rights when it is shown "[t]hat the parent is unable to
discharge parental responsibilities because of . . . a
history of chronic abuse of . . . ...