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Friday, March 07, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of E.M. and El.M., E.M. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, a 24-page, 4-1 opinion, Justice Rush writes:

Decisions to terminate parental rights are among the most difficult our trial courts are called upon to make. They are also among the most fact-sensitive—so we review them with great deference to the trial courts, recognizing their superior vantage point for weighing the evidence and assessing witness credibility. Because a case that seems close on a “dry record” may have been much more clear-cut in person, we must be careful not to substitute our judgment for the trial court when reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence.

We granted transfer to reiterate that caution. Father’s eventual efforts to establish a relation-ship with his children were commendable, and DCS’s family preservation efforts with him could have been stronger. Yet the standard of review requires us to consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment—and in turn, to respect the trial court’s reasonable conclusion that Father’s efforts were both too little in view of his violence and earlier pattern of hostility toward services, and too late in view of the children’s urgent need for permanency after several years in out-of-home placement. The evidence was sufficient to support termination, so we defer to the trial court and affirm its judgment. * * *

Dickson, C.J., and David and Massa, JJ., concur.
Rucker, J., dissents with separate opinion. [which begins, at p. 16 of 24] In a carefully worded and well reasoned memorandum decision the Court of Appeals concluded there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court’s judgment terminating Father’s parental rights. In re E.M., No. 45A03-1208-JT-370 (Ind. Ct. App. May 8, 2013). It therefore reversed the judgment of the trial court. I agree with the Court of Appeals and thus respectfully dissent from the majority’s contrary view. * * *

[and at p. 24] Finally, in affirming the trial court’s judgment, the majority says: “the evidence here was close” and “the trial court could reasonably have reached either conclusion [to permit or deny the State’s petition for termination of parental rights].” Slip op. at 14. But this is not a game of horseshoes and close is not good enough. In order to terminate a parent’s parental rights the State must prove its case by clear and convincing evidence. It has failed to do so. Therefore I would reverse the trial court’s judgment.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 7, 2014 03:56 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions