Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana

by
Under Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5, no family case manager at the Indiana Department of Child Services can oversee more than 17 children at a time who are receiving services. The statute does not require the Department to perform any specific, ministerial acts for achieving that number. Price, a family case manager, filed a proposed class action. She alleged that her caseload was 43 children and sought an “order mandating or enjoining [D]efendants to take all necessary steps to comply with [Section 5].” The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Price’s claim prior to class certification. Judicial mandate is an extraordinary remedy—available only when the law imposes a clear duty upon a defendant to perform a specific, ministerial act and the plaintiff is clearly entitled to that relief. The statute at issue does not impose a specific, ministerial duty. View "Price v. Indiana Department of Child Services; Director of Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

by
When an individual reported child abuse, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) told the reporter that his report was confidential. The Department however, released the report without redacting the identity of the reporter. The reporter and his family sued DCS for negligently disclosing the reporter’s identity, claiming that the statute requiring DCS to protect reporter identity - Ind. Code 31-33-18-2 (section 2) - implies a private right of action and that DCS created a common-law duty of confidentiality. The trial court granted summary judgment for DCS. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that DCS owed Plaintiffs a common-law “private duty” based on a hotline worker’s “promise” of confidentiality. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals decision, and held (1) section 2 provides no private right of action; and (2) there is no common law basis to impose a duty on DCS. View "John Doe #1 v. Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

by
The first required element a termination petition must allege establishes three waiting periods to give parents a time to reunify with their children and bars the Department of Child Services (DCS) from seeking termination until one of those three periods has passed. Here, DCS petitioned for termination of Mother’s and Father’s parental rights to their two daughters. DCS’s petitions alleged that two of the three waiting periods had passed. The trial court granted DCS’s terminations, finding that DCS proved both the six-month and fifteen-month waiting periods. Father and Mother appealed the termination of their rights as to their daughters. The court of appeals affirmed, determining that neither of the waiting period allegations in the petitions were true but finding the error harmless. Father sought transfer. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thus vacating the court of appeals opinion, and reversed, holding (1) DCS failed to prove the waiting periods it alleged and failed to allege the waiting period it could have proved; and (2) therefore, the trial court erred in terminating Father’s parental rights, and the error was not harmless. View "D.B. v. Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

by
The trial court found that the two minor children of Parents were “in need of services” under Ind. Code 31-34-1-1. Mother and Father filed separate notices of appeal challenging the child-in-need-of-services (CHINS) determination after the court held the dispositional hearing but before it entered the dispositional order. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal based on lack of jurisdiction on the grounds that Parents filed premature notices of appeal. The Supreme Court granted transfer and the trial court’s CHINS determination, holding (1) Parents’ premature notices of appeal did not deprive the court of appeals of jurisdiction to hear the appeal; and (2) on the merits, the trial court committed clear error in concluding that coercive intervention was required to ensure that the children were properly cared for. View "In re Matter of D.J." on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Father and Mother divorced. Mother later filed a motion for rule to show cause (contempt motion) alleging that Father should be held in contempt for failing to comply with the dissolution degree and a subsequent modification order regarding production of certain income and tax documents. Ultimately, the trial court found Father in contempt for failing to provide Mother tax documentation from 2010 forward pursuant to the parties’ dissolution decree. The court of appeals reversed the trial court for abuse of discretion because the court did not strictly comply with the rule to show cause statute and failed to give Father a way to purge himself of contempt. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the court of appeals opinion, and affirmed, holding (1) the motion for the rule to show cause contained sufficient factual detail so as to excuse strict compliance and protect Father’s due process rights; (2) Father waived his objections to the evidentiary findings of the trial court, and the trial court’s factual determinations were supported by the evidence; and (3) the trial court was not required to give Father an opportunity to purge himself. View "In re Marriage of Reynolds" on Justia Law

by
After Child was found to be a child in need of services as to Mother and Father, Department of Child Services filed a petition to terminate Father’s parental rights. After a termination hearing, the trial court concluded that, although Child and Father shared a close bond, continuation of the parent-child relationship posed a threat to Child’s well-being and that termination was in the best interests of Child. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court’s findings did not clearly and convincingly support its conclusion that termination of Father’s parental rights was in Child’s best interests. View "R.S. v. Marion County Dep’t of Child Servs. & Child Advocates, Inc." on Justia Law

by
David Allen (Father) and Kimberly Allen (Mother) divorced in 2002. The parties agreed to share custody of their two children, with Father paying child support to Mother. The parties’ settlement agreement and dissolution decree did not provide for payment of college expenses. In 2010, the parties agreed to an order whereby basic child support for their daughter, Hunter, was terminated, Father became responsible for Hunter’s undergraduate educational expenses, and Mother became responsible for providing Hunter’s health insurance. In 2013, shortly before Hunter’s 21st birthday, when Hunter was a senior at Indiana University, Father petitioned the court for modification of the agreed order. Father advised the court that Hunter was considering post-graduate education in dental school and Father requested, among other things, an order regarding Hunter’s graduate educational expenses. Specifically, he sought to have Hunter’s dental school expenses apportioned between him and Mother. The trial court ordered that the 2010 agreement between the parties was to remain in effect: Father continued to be responsible for education expenses, this time, the cost of dental school for Hunter (less any contribution from Hunter through grants, scholarship, loans, etc.); Mother was responsible for Hunter’s health insurance. Father appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in not determining each parent’s presumptive share of educational expenses according to the Child Support Guidelines. Mother cross-appealed, arguing that the trial court did not have statutory authority to enter an educational award for graduate school expenses. The Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with Father that the trial court erred by essentially making Father liable for all dental school expenses that Hunter did not otherwise cover. It rejected Mother’s cross-appeal argument that the trial court lacks authority to order parents to pay for their child’s graduate school expenses. After its review, the Indiana Supreme Court found that while the statutory provision at issue provided for payment of “postsecondary” educational expenses, the term postsecondary was undefined. The Court held that the term “postsecondary,” as used in the provision permitting an award for postsecondary educational expenses, did not include graduate or professional school expenses. The Court reversed the trial court's order that Father pay the costs of Hunter's dental school. View "Allen v. Allen" on Justia Law

by
After an adjudication determining that each of three children - N.G., L.C. and M.C. - was a Child in Need of Services, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) filed petitions seeking the involuntary termination of the parental relationship between the children and their parents. The trial court granted the requested involuntary termination of the parental relationships. Mother appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the termination of her rights as to L.C. and M.C. but affirmed as to N.G. The DCS sought transfer. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed the trial court, holding (1) the trial court’s findings were supported by the evidence; (2) the trial court’s judgment terminating Mother’s parental rights and finding termination to be in the best interest of the children was supported by sufficient evidence; and (3) Mother’s due process claim was waived. View "A.C. v. Ind. Dep’t of Child Servs." on Justia Law

by
In 2014, the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) filed a petition alleging that M.B., a minor child, was a child in need of services (CHINS). While the CHINS case was still pending, M.B.'s paternal aunt and uncle (Aunt and Uncle) filed an independent action seeking custody of M.B. The trial court dismissed the action, concluding that Aunt and Uncle did not have standing to bring an independent custody action and that the circuit court did not have jurisdiction to hear the independent custody matter while the CHINS case was pending in the juvenile court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Aunt and Uncle had standing to bring the independent custody action; and (2) the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the independent custody action but should have stayed the proceedings and abstained from exercising its jurisdiction until the CHINS action concluded. Remanded to the circuit court. View "In re Custody of M.B." on Justia Law

by
When Father and Mother initially divorced they had joint legal and physical custody of their minor child. The trial court subsequently granted an agreed order giving primary physical custody to Father. The parties continued to share joint legal custody. Later, Mother filed a petition for modification of custody and a verified motion for rule to show cause why Father should not be held in contempt for not complying with the court’s legal custody order. The trial court denied both of Mother’s requests. The court of appeals reversed, concluding (1) some of the trial court findings regarding the custody issue were erroneous, and (2) Father was in contempt for making unilateral decisions about the child’s education and by not sharing information with Mother. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals’ opinion, holding that the trial court did not err in denying Mother’s motions for custody modification and for contempt, as there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s determination that a custody modification was not in the child’s best interests and that Father’s failure to abide by the court’s legal custody order was not willful. View "Steele-Giri v. Steele" on Justia Law