In re Interest of J.S., A.C., and C.S.

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In re Interest of J.S., A.C., and C.S.

Caselaw No.
No. 87-037; 227 Neb. 251, 417 N.W.2d 147 (1987)
Filed on
Thursday, December 24, 1987

Summary: Termination of parental rights was not support by the evidence that the mother had effectively completed the rehabilitation plan requirements related to the conditions of the adjudication, had not been given reasonable opportunity to complete other requirements, and many of the incomplete requirements were not reasonably related to the conditions leading to the adjudication. Further, the Juvenile Court erred by allowing in documentary evidence which did not allow the mother to cross-examine the author, violating her rights to due process. 

On January 17, 1985 the State filed a petition alleging that P.L.’s children, J.S. (2/26/74), A.C. (10/17/81), and C.S. (11/7/83), lack parental care by reason of the faults or habits of their mother. The same day the children were place in temporary custody of the DHHS. P.L. entered into an agreement with Social Services to follow certain child-care guidelines. On March 4, 1985 the children were removed from P.L.’s home after receiving unconfirmed reports that J.S. had been sexually assaulted by an adult friend of a baby-sitter. On April 4, P.L. admitted the allegations in the petition. The rehabilitation plan required 17 different services, including counseling, family therapy, parenting classes, a job workshop provided by Social Services, maintenance of a suitable residence, attendance of AA meetings, refraining from leaving the children with anyone during visitations and taking them in or near bars or lounges, and attending a course on speech therapy for C.S. On August 8, 1986, the State petitioned for termination of parental rights, alleging that P.L. willfully failed to correct the conditions leading to the adjudication, persisted in neglect of her children, and was unfit due to her habitual use of alcohol. The State presented evidence of the mother’s failure to comply with requirements to attend a job workshop, speech therapy for C.S., producing rent receipts, not leaving the children with anyone during visits, not entering bars or lounges with the children and attending AA meetings. Additionally, the State presented a documentary report created by Social Services containing information from an unknown source regarding events between 1983 and 1985 leading to the adjudication. The Juvenile Court granted the termination on the grounds that she had willfully failed to comply with the plan and persistent neglect and failure to provide care for her children. 

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the termination with directions. The Court found that although the formal rules of evidence do not apply to dispositions, procedural due process requires the defendant have the opportunity to cross examine any witnesses against them. The mother was denied the right to cross-examination by the admission of the documentary report because the author was unknown. The Court considered the record without the documentary report. To determine if a provision of the rehabilitation is reasonably related to the goal of reunification, the Court considered whether a cause and effect relationship exists, whether the provision tends to correct, ameliorate, or eliminate the conditions leading to adjudication. The Court found that the mother had effectively completed the requirements of attending parenting classes because many of the completed requirements went to parenting concerns. She also effectively completed the job workshop requirement when she contacted the State’s vocational rehabilitation program. P.L did not have a reasonable opportunity to attend the speech therapy classes for C.S. because the classes finished just after the order was given and had not started again when the petition for termination was filed. The Court found the remaining requirements were immaterial to correcting, ameliorating, or eliminating the conditions that led to the adjudication. Producing rent receipts was immaterial because P.L. had produced two and it was clear to the court that she was continuing to pay rent. The requirement not to leave the children with anyone during visitations was immaterial because it effectively encouraged P.L. to leave the children alone when she needed to run a quick errand. Similarly, the requirement that P.L. not to enter a bar or lounge was impractical because she did not have a phone and a lounge owned by a family member was directly next door. She would go there to use the phone and the children would play with cousins and other family. Finally, the requirement that P.L. attend AA meetings was immaterial because there was no evidence she had a problem with alcohol, she had not been evaluated for a problem with alcohol, and the court did not find that portion of the petition to be supported by the evidence. The Court instructed the lower court to hold an evidentiary hearing to establish that the proposed rehabilitative plan is reasonably related to the objective of correcting, ameliorating, or eliminating the conditions requiring adjudication.