Parent Trying to Restore Parental Rights Not Entitled to Delayed Appeal
The Ohio Supreme Court today held that delayed appeals for parents who have lost parental rights are not constitutionally required to protect their interests.
In a 6-1 decision, the court determined that Ohio law already provides parents with the chance to fully participate in proceedings involving the termination of parental rights. Because parents are notified, given representation if needed, and can appeal a decision, their due process rights are met, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concluded in the majority opinion.
The ruling rejects the appeal of a Clark County mother who was reported repeatedly for not properly caring for her young son and who later voluntarily surrendered her parental rights. The decision affirms the judgment of the Second District Court of Appeals.
Clark County Family and Children Services received information in September 2011 that the mother of B.C., a one-year-old child, needed housing, employment, and benefits assistance. A social worker contacted the mother, but she did not show for an appointment and moved without giving a forwarding address. A month later, the agency got a report that the woman had overdosed. She and her son were given a place in a shelter for homeless mothers and their children, but B.C.’s mother did not participate in the residence’s program and was asked to leave.
The child also had some significant health issues, and a juvenile court gave temporary custody of B.C. to the children services agency in December 2011.
In a hearing one year later, B.C.’s mother agreed that it was in her son’s best interests to put him in the permanent custody of the agency, and she surrendered her parental rights. Permanent custody was given to the agency on February 12, 2013, and B.C. was adopted by his foster family six months later.
Four days after the adoption was finalized in August, B.C.’s mother appealed and asked the Second District Court of Appeals for permission to file a delayed appeal.
The appellate court dismissed her case because it was not filed within 30 days after February 12, 2013, when the permanent custody order had been filed. The Second District also notified the Ohio Supreme Court of a conflict between its judgment and a decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed to address the conflict and also accepted an appeal from B.C.’s mother.
A rule of appellate procedure allows a defendant in a criminal, delinquency, or serious youthful offender proceeding to ask a court to accept a delayed appeal. B.C.’s mother argued that she should be given the same right to a delayed appeal to protect her due process rights because the U.S. and Ohio supreme courts have recognized the basic civil right parents have to raise their children and because terminating parental rights is a state intrusion on the sanctity of the family.
Justice Lanzinger considered the due process claim based on the three factors cited in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mathews v. Eldridge (1976).
She wrote that the appellant meets the first Mathews factor – having a significant private interest as B.C.’s parent. Justice Lanzinger noted, though, that a parent’s rights are always subject to and subordinate to the child’s welfare.
Looking at the record, the court also determined that the “risk of error in this case was minimal under existing procedures and that a delayed appeal is not necessary to protect against an erroneous deprivation of appellant’s interest.” Justice Lanzinger explained that B.C.’s mother appeared before the court and voluntarily gave up her parental rights, she was represented by a lawyer, the court made the appropriate statutory findings, and she chose not to file a timely appeal when permanent custody was given to the children services agency.
The last Mathews factor involves the government’s interest in promoting the child’s welfare.
“To allow delayed appeals for a parent whose parental rights have been terminated would inject further uncertainty into the process of placing the child in a permanent home and postpone resolution of custody, contrary to the child’s best interest,” Justice Lanzinger wrote. ”The expedited appeal process was designed to promote permanency and to alleviate the pervasive limbo of the foster-care system. … We are not persuaded that due process requires the additional delay that appellant espouses.”
Justice Lanzinger concluded that the second and third factors do not support allowing a delayed appeal in this case and delineated the many procedural safeguards that exist to protect due process rights of parents in parental termination cases.
The majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Sharon L. Kennedy, and Judith L. French. Justice William M. O’Neill dissented.
Noting that the Ohio Supreme Court has equated terminating parental rights to the death penalty in more than one case, Justice O’Neill argued that “parents who have lost their children can look to neither a statute nor a rule for the same delayed-appeal right that Ohio has chosen to grant to criminal defendants.”“The Supreme Court of Ohio can promulgate a rule authorizing the appellate court to grant a hearing on a delayed appeal where necessary,” he wrote. “Surely society, and the judiciary, would be well served by a mechanism by which a competent court could revisit the case. Isn’t this parent entitled to the same due process as a petty thief?”
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