Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Childrens Service Agency Can Seek Permanent Custody of Children after 12 Months of Care

The Ohio Supreme Court clarified today that a children services agency must file for permanent custody of a child who has been in the agency’s temporary custody for 12 of the last 22 consecutive months.

The Supreme Court majority’s decision rejected the argument of a Portage County mother that state law requires an agency to wait 22 months to seek permanent custody, giving parents time to meet reunification requirements before facing the loss of their parental rights.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Michael P. Donnelly stated the unambiguous language of R.C. 2151.414(B)(1)(d) clearly directs children services agencies to seek permanent custody once it has obtained temporary custody of a child for 12 months. The decision resolves a conflict between Ohio courts of appeal, which have interpreted the statute differently.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice Donnelly’s opinion. Justice Sharon L. Kennedy concurred in judgment only.

Justice R. Patrick DeWine dissented, stating the Court should dismiss the case because the court’s ruling would have no impact on the parties. Justice DeWine wrote that it was unnecessary for the Supreme Court to decide the case because the trial court below gave two independent bases for its decision, only one of which was challenged on appeal.  Regardless of which way the Supreme Court came out, it would not change the ultimate result, the dissent concluded. 

Justice Patrick F. Fischer joined Justice DeWine’s dissent.

Custody Rights Challenged
N.M.P., whose mother is identified as N.H., was declared dependent by a Portage County court in April 2015 and placed in the temporary custody of Portage County Job and Family Services. After one year in temporary custody, two extensions of six months each were granted, and N.M.P. was returned to his mother in March 2017.

Two months later, N.H. returned N.M.P. to his previous foster parents, and N.H. self-reported her inability to care for him. The agency again received temporary custody of the child. A case plan for the return of N.M.P. was adopted, and temporary custody continued. One year later, the agency reported that neither of N.M.P.’s parents made progress toward reunifying with the child, and the agency sought permanent custody of N.M.P.

After a July 2018 hearing, the court granted the agency permanent custody, and N.H. appealed. The Eleventh District Court of Appeals affirmed the decision on two grounds. It found that under R.C. 2151.414(B)(1)(d), the agency was authorized to seek permanent custody because N.M.P. was in the agency’s custody for 12 months within a period of 22 consecutive months. It also declared N.M.P. had been abandoned under R.C. 2151.414(B)(1)(b).

The Eleventh District noted that its position on the “12-of-22” issue conflicted with a Sixth District Court of Appeals decision, which found that an agency can seek permanent custody only after a 22-month period concluded.

Court Analyzes Law
Justice Donnelly, in response to the dissenting justices, noted that even if the Court’s decision has no impact on N.M.P. and N.H., the interpretation of the law is a matter of importance to all Ohioans and the issue should be resolved.

The opinion noted the mother argued that the law requires the agency to be involved for 22 consecutive months and, within that period, the child must be in temporary custody of the agency for 12 months. The reason for the requirement is to ensure parents have several months to implement a case plan aimed at reunification.

The Court stated the law’s language clearly states that it “simply requires 12 or more months of temporary custody within a consecutive 22-month period.” The reason for the 22-month period is to account for times when there is not a continuous 12 months of temporary custody, but rather the child has been removed from agency custody for a time, then returned.

“This might include a situation where a child had been in temporary custody for six months on one occasion, was briefly out of agency custody, and then returned for another six months — all within a consecutive twenty-two-month period,” the opinion stated.

The Court affirmed the Eleventh District’s opinion.

Dissent Maintained Decision Not Necessary
Justice DeWine wrote that the majority’s decision violated the long-held understanding that courts should only consider actual controversies and not issue advisory opinions.  Because the Eleventh District affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the child was abandoned, and that holding went unchallenged, the dissent stated that regardless of which way the Court decided the 12-of-22 issue, the agency still wins.

“Because the resolution of this appeal doesn’t affect the parties in the case one whit, our traditional rule tells us that we have no business deciding it,” Justice DeWine explained.

The dissent noted that the majority’s insistence on deciding the case in spite of the rule was “perplexing” because the Court has accepted another case, In re S.M., which presents the same challenge to the law.

“In that case the parties actually do have a stake in the outcome — and a decision would amount to more than an advisory opinion,” the dissent stated.

2018-1842. In re N.M.P., Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-1458.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.