Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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In a divorce action between Lexi and Robert Ellis, the magistrate court granted Ms. Ellis’ motion for appointment of a receiver, subject to the express condition that the costs of the receiver would be paid from community funds. The district court affirmed a series of decisions made by the magistrate court relating to Bruce Denney’s efforts to collect payment for services he performed as a receiver and forensic accountant in the Ellis divorce. After the divorce was final, Denney’s accounting firm, Poston, Denney & Killpack, PLLC (“PDK”) moved to intervene to recover payment from Robert Ellis, which the magistrate court granted. Later, the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion for summary judgment and ordered Mr. Ellis to pay one-half of Mr. Denney’s fees. The magistrate court declined to rule on the reasonableness of the fees at that time, determining further proceedings would be necessary. PDK filed a motion for a determination of the reasonableness of fees. After a hearing the magistrate court granted PDK’s motion and held Mr. Denney’s fees were reasonable. The magistrate court also awarded attorney fees to PDK in bringing the action to recover attorney fees. Mr. Ellis appealed to the district court, which upheld the magistrate court’s decision and also awarded attorney fees to PDK on appeal. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court. View "Ellis v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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"Although seemingly a simple question of statutory interpretation, at its essence this case concerns a profound family tragedy that has left three young girls caught in the middle of a legal battle between four people who love them." The Nelsons were the grandparents of three girls, ages thirteen, eleven, and eight. The Nelsons’ daughter, Stephanie Evans, and their son-in-law, Brian Evans, are the girls’ parents. The Nelsons petitioned a magistrate court seeking to establish visitation rights, but the court dismissed the petition, ruling: (1) the Nelsons lacked standing to file a petition under Idaho’s grandparent visitation statute); and (2) even if the Nelsons had standing, it would still grant summary judgment in favor of the girls’ parents because the Nelsons would be unable to overcome the presumption that fit parents make decisions in their children’s best interests. On intermediate appeal, the district court affirmed the magistrate court’s rulings. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the visitation statute, Code section 32-719, did not restrict when a grandparent could petition for visitation rights. Further, the district court erred in affirming the magistrate court's grant of summary judgment to the Evanses because the Supreme Court found genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Evanses’ decision to terminate all contact between the Nelsons and their children was in their children’s best interests. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the magistrate court for an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the Nelsons' petition. View "Nelson v. Evans" on Justia Law

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Jane Doe (Mother) executed a voluntary consent to terminate her parental rights to Son. Mother shortly thereafter filed a motion to rescind her consent. The magistrate court denied the motion. Termination proceedings were then conducted without Mother, her counsel, or a guardian ad litem for Mother being present. Following the hearing, Mother’s parental rights were terminated. Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court erred in failing to appoint a replacement guardian ad litem for Mother. "At the time Mother executed the waiver, there was still an outstanding question, recognized but not addressed by the magistrate court, as to Mother’s need for a guardian ad litem. This outstanding question hinged upon the results of Mother’s psychological evaluations, but was never answered despite the availability of these results. It is clear that Mother suffered from significant mental illness. ...However, having identified the earlier need for a guardian ad litem and the continuing need to have a guardian ad litem absent receiving evidence to the contrary, a replacement guardian was never appointed. There is substantial and competent evidence strongly indicating Mother’s ongoing need for a guardian ad litem." The termination was vacated and the matter remanded to the magistrate court for further proceedings. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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John Doe I (Child) was removed from the care of his paternal grandmother (Grandmother) and his father, John Doe (Father) after a referral was made to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (the Department). The Department ultimately petitioned to terminate Father’s parental rights. Father failed to attend scheduled hearings, ceased communicating with the Department, and only sporadically contacted his attorney. Father’s counsel sought several continuances, but eventually the termination trial proceeded. Following trial, the magistrate court found that Father had failed to comply with the case plan and was unable to discharge his parental responsibilities. The magistrate court found it was in Child’s best interests to terminate Father’s parental rights. Father’s principal argument on appeal was that the magistrate court abused its discretion in allowing the Department to amend its petition to terminate by adding a separate, alternate basis for termination, and by granting only a two-week continuance to Father to respond to this alternate theory. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "DHW v. John Doe" on Justia Law

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In an expedited appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, a magistrate court terminated Jane Doe’s (“Mother”) parental rights after finding clear and convincing evidence that Mother neglected her children, K.M. and R.M., and that termination was in the best interests of the children. Mother did not appeal the magistrate’s finding that she neglected her children. She only appealed the magistrate court’s finding that termination was in the best interests of the children. The magistrate court found Mother’s testimony lacked credibility and relied on other witnesses to find that Mother had neglected her children under Idaho Code section 16-2005(1)(b) because Mother had failed to reunify with her children and had failed to comply with her case plan. According to Mother, termination was not in the best interests of her children because Mother had a close bond with her children, K.M. was not responding well to foster care, there was no evidence of violence between Mother and her children, and Mother tried to the best of her ability to comply with her case plan. The Supreme Court found substantial evidence supported the magistrate court's finding that termination was in the children's best interests, and affirmed. View "Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare v. Jane Doe (2019-27)" on Justia Law

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Mother Jane Doe appealed a magistrate court’s s decree terminating her parental rights. Both Mother and her child (Child) tested positive for methamphetamine when he was born. Law enforcement declared that Child was in imminent danger, and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW or Department) assumed temporary custody. A case plan for reunification was adopted, focusing on Mother’s substance abuse and mental health issues, and on obtaining safe and stable housing. Mother made no progress on her case plan, and was subsequently incarcerated. IDHW petitioned to terminate Mother’s paternal rights. After a termination hearing in September 2019, where Mother argued that her recent sobriety and improved lifestyle justified the denial of the Department’s petition, the magistrate court entered a decree terminating Mother’s parental rights based on Mother’s neglect and the best interests of the child. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion, and affirmed the magistrate court’s decree. View "Idaho Dept. of Health & Welfare v. Jane Doe (2019-32)" on Justia Law

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Mother Jane Doe appealed a magistrate court’s termination of her parental rights to her minor son, A.V. The magistrate court concluded that the Department proved by clear and convincing evidence that Mother and John Doe (“Father”) neglected A.V. and that termination was in A.V.’s best interests (Father’s termination was the subject of a separate appeal (Dkt. No. 47200)). A.V. went into foster care in November 2017, when he was approximately two-and-a-half years old. The child was malnourished; health care providers testified the child was four to six months developmentally delayed. November 2017 was his second trip to foster care; social workers found A.V. weighed less than he had in his first trip a year before, "the size and weight of a twelve-month-old." In response to a question about why she thought A.V. was losing weight in the time period before he was placed into care in November of 2017, Mother testified that she was dealing with a very big loss—the death of her mother by suicide—and unfortunately she let it get in the way of her life and the lives of her children. She did not ask for help because she did not want people feeling sorry for her. However, after A.V. was placed in foster care, she realized that all of this could have been avoided if she had just reached out for help. A Department social worker developed a case plan for Mother and Father. Both parents were present at the case plan meeting in which the case plans were designed. The magistrate court determined, however, by clear and convincing evidence the Department had established statutory grounds for termination under Idaho Code section 16-2002(3)(b), neglect through failure to complete a case plan, and under section 16-1602(31), neglect through conduct or omission of the parents. The magistrate court also determined that termination was in A.V.’s best interests. A final judgment and a decree were entered, terminating both Mother’s and Father’s parental relationship with A.V. Mother’s main argument on appeal was that the magistrate court erred in terminating her parental rights because her disabilities prevented her from completing her case plan. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate court’s decree terminating Mother’s parental rights. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Father John Doe appealed a magistrate court's judgment granting the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s (“the Department”) petition to terminate his parental rights to his son, A.V. The magistrate court concluded the Department proved by clear and convincing evidence that Father and Jane Doe (“Mother”) neglected A.V. and that termination was in A.V.’s best interests (Mother’s termination was the subject of a separate appeal (Dkt. No. 47190)). Father’s main argument on appeal was that the magistrate court erred in terminating his parental rights because it was not in A.V.’s best interests to be separated from his siblings. A.V., the child at issue in this case, went into foster care in November 2017, when he was approximately two-and-a-half years old. The child was malnourished; health care providers testified the child was four to six months developmentally delayed. November 2017 was his second trip to foster care; social workers found A.V. weighed less than he had in his first trip a year before, "the size and weight of a twelve-month-old." Father testified that he was aware that A.V. was malnourished and not developing as he should have been while he was in Father’s care, and that he did not obtain services to help A.V. with walking and talking. However, Father did not realize that A.V. had lost weight when he came back into their care. One Department social worker testified that Father feels that it is his responsibility to work and provide financially for the family, and it is Mother’s responsibility to ensure the children are getting their medical and emotional needs met and to feed and care for them during the day. She further testified that she had talked with Father about his observing A.V. being underweight or not gaining weight, and Father said that he told Mother she needed to take care of it. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the magistrate court did not err in concluding termination was in A.V.'s best interests, even though termination would result in A.V. being separated from his siblings. The Court determined it was not error for the magistrate court finding Father was also responsible for A.V.'s neglect. Accordingly, the magistrate court was affirmed. View "DHW v. John Doe" on Justia Law

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Father John Doe appealed a magistrate court's termination of his parental rights to his minor children “B.L.S.” and “A.C.S.” On Christmas Eve, 2017, the Department received a referral when A.C.S. was born prematurely. Mother’s amniotic fluid had ruptured prematurely due to drug use. Tests confirmed that A.C.S. was prenatally exposed to methamphetamine. Shortly after her birth, A.C.S. was life-flighted to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington for treatment. Mother explained that she and Father had been in an on-and-off relationship for the past 20 years. At the time of the meeting, Mother and Father lived together in a camper on his family’s farm near Kendrick, Idaho. Mother disclosed that she actively used methamphetamine and had used methamphetamine while pregnant with A.C.S. She also explained that she and Father used methamphetamine together in their camper, sometimes with their children present. Mother described frequent incidents of domestic violence that occurred in the home: when the couple fought, it could become violent, where they would yell and throw appliances and other objects at each other. After an adjudicatory hearing where Father and Mother again stipulated to jurisdiction and custody, the Department worked with the parents to develop a case plan. At a review hearing in October 2018, the Department requested an early permanency hearing on the grounds that both parents had made little progress on their case plans. Agreeing that the parents had made very little progress up to that point, the magistrate court moved the permanency hearing up from December 2018, to November 26, 2018. At the permanency hearing, the magistrate court approved a permanency plan that sought termination of parental rights and relative adoption with the foster parents as the primary goal for each child. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Father failed to preserve his argument that Idaho Code section 16-1622(2)(g)(i) caused the magistrate court to violate his right to due process by moving the date of the permanency hearing from December to November. Further, the Supreme Court determined the magistrate court's decision to termination Father's parental rights was supported by substantial, competent evidence. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the magistrate court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights to B.L.S. and A.C.S. View "DHW v. John Doe" on Justia Law

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Mother Jane Doe appealed a magistrate court’s termination of her parental rights to her minor children “B.L.S.”, “X.V.S.”, and “A.C.S.” Mother’s amniotic fluid had ruptured prematurely due to drug use. Tests confirmed that A.C.S. was prenatally exposed to methamphetamine. Shortly after her birth, A.C.S. was life-flighted to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington for treatment. Mother explained that she and Father had been in an on-and-off relationship for the past 20 years. At the time of the meeting, Mother and Father lived together in a camper on his family’s farm near Kendrick, Idaho. Mother disclosed that she actively used methamphetamine and had used methamphetamine while pregnant with A.C.S. She also explained that she and Father used methamphetamine together in their camper, sometimes with their children present. Mother described frequent incidents of domestic violence that occurred in the home: when the couple fought, it could become violent, where they would yell and throw appliances and other objects at each other. After an adjudicatory hearing where Father and Mother again stipulated to jurisdiction and custody, the Department worked with the parents to develop a case plan. At a review hearing in October 2018, the Department requested an early permanency hearing on the grounds that both parents had made little progress on their case plans. Agreeing that the parents had made very little progress up to that point, the magistrate court moved the permanency hearing up from December 2018, to November 26, 2018. At the permanency hearing, the magistrate court approved a permanency plan that sought termination of parental rights and relative adoption with the foster parents as the primary goal for each child. Mother argued on appeal that the magistrate court abused its discretion by holding the permanency hearing 11 months after the children were placed in the Department's custody, and that the decision to terminate was not supported by substantial, competent evidence. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed termination of parental rights. View "DHW v. Jane Doe" on Justia Law