Friday, April 17, 2009
Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court grants transfer with opinion, applying new Appellate Rule 14.1
In In Re: T.S.; Indiana Dept. of Child Services, LaPorte County v. LaPorte County CASA, et al, a 6-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Dickson writes:
To provide an orderly and expedited procedure for appellate review of certain juvenile court decisions about placement recommendations made by the Indiana Department of Child Services ("DCS"), this Court promulgated Indiana Appellate Rule 14.1, which became effective January 1, 2009. Today's case presents the first appeal received under this new rule.
We hold that: (1) Rule 14.1 expedited appeals are available to the process of modifying dispositional decrees regarding child placement where a juvenile court does not follow DCS's recommendation, (2) the juvenile court must accept DCS's placement recommendations unless it finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the recommendation is "unreasonable" or "contrary to the welfare and best interests of the child," (3) a finding by the juvenile court that DCS's rec- ommendation is unreasonable or contrary to the child's welfare and best interests is reviewed on appeal for clear error, and (4) the juvenile court's placement determination in this case was not clearly erroneous.
T.S., a child, was removed from his mother's care because of allegations of physical abuse, found to be a Child in Need of Services ("CHINS"), and placed with his half-brother, K.S., in the foster home of K.S.'s paternal grandparents. After several months, DCS requested that T.S. be reunited, but the LaPorte Circuit Court, exercising jurisdiction as a juvenile court, decided it would be contrary to T.S.'s best interests to follow DCS's recommendation and imme- diately return him to his mother's care. The juvenile court found that T.S. should remain with the foster parents until the end of the school year.
DCS appealed the juvenile court's decision pursuant to Appellate Rule 14.1, challenging the court's placement order and contending that its recommendations had been neither unreason- able, based on the facts and circumstances of the case, nor contrary to the welfare or best inter- ests of the child. Both the juvenile court and the Court Appointed Special Advocate ("CASA") responded in support of the juvenile court's decision. The CASA also filed a motion in the Court of Appeals to dismiss the appeal on grounds that the juvenile court's decision was not within the category of rulings appealable under Appellate Rule 14.1. The Court of Appeals held that the juvenile court's ruling was subject to Appellate Rule 14.1 but found that the juvenile court "did not abuse its discretion in rejecting DCS's placement recommendation." In re T.S., 902 N.E.2d 332, 333 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009). DCS sought transfer, asserting that the Court of Appeals used the incorrect standard of appellate review. We granted transfer.