Summary of Decision July 23, 2012
Justice Hill delivered the opinion for the Court. Affirmed.
Case Name: IN THE MATTER OF THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO: KMO, DMO, CMO, AKO, DKO, MTO, ABO, EEO, and JBO, Minor Children HJO, aka HJK, v. THE STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES
Docket Number: S-11-0224
Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County, Honorable John C. Brackley, Judge.
Representing Appellant: Donald Lee Tolin of Law Offices of Donald Tolin, Casper, WY
Representing Appellee: Gregory A. Phillips, Wyoming Attorney General; Robin Sessions Cooley, Deputy Attorney General; and Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Kucera
Guardian ad Litem: Cynthia K. Sweet, Casper, WY.
Date of Decision: July 23, 2012
Facts: HJO (Mother), the biologic mother of nine minor children, appealed the district court’s order following a jury verdict terminating her parental rights. Mother contested the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the State of Wyoming, Department of Family Services (DFS) to terminate her parental rights, the appropriateness of the special verdict form submitted to the jury, the constitutionality of the termination statute which sets out the burden of proof, and alleged cumulative errors.
Issues: Mother presented four issues for the Court’s consideration:
I. Whether the trial court record contains sufficient clear and convincing evidence for the jury to find that the statutory requirements were satisfied for termination of parental rights of Mother as to present unfitness of Mother at the time of trial pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(v).
II. Whether the trial court committed reversible error by not requiring the jury to make a finding on the verdict form as to all of the required statutory elements for termination of parental rights under Claim II pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-2-309(a)(v) as to each child and each parent separately.
III. Whether Mother’s due process and equal protection rights under the Wyoming Constitution and the United States Constitution were violated because of the use of the lower burden of proof standard of “clear and convincing evidence” for termination of parental rights instead of the higher burden of proof standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
IV. Whether there was reversible error because of cumulative errors made throughout the termination of parental rights proceedings, thereby violating Mother’s procedural and substantive due process.
Holdings: The Court applied their strict scrutiny standard of review to this termination proceeding and found no reversible error. The district court’s order terminating Mother’s parental rights to her nine children pursuant to § 14-2-309(a)(v) was supported by clear and convincing evidence. The special verdict form given to the jury was appropriate, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing Mother’s special verdict form. The district court’s use of the “clear and convincing” standard of proof comported with constitutional law principles and did not violate Mother’s due process or equal protection rights. Finally, finding no errors by the district court, the Court did not reach the question of cumulative error. Affirmed.
Summaries are prepared by Law Librarians and are not official statements of the Wyoming Supreme Court
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Monday, July 23, 2012
Summary of Decision July 23, 2012