Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
In re Allison H.
Download as PDF
Back to Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1999 ME 176
Docket:	Sag-99-175
on Briefs:	November 17, 1999
Decided:	November 29, 1999




	[¶1]  The mother of Allison H. appeals the judgment of the District
Court (West Bath, Field, J.) terminating the parental rights of both parents
following a four-day hearing.  In her appeal, the mother argues that there
was insufficient evidence to support the court's findings, and that the court
was precluded from adopting the conclusion included in the findings
drafted by the Department of Human Services that she was unable to take
responsibility for Allison.  We disagree and affirm the judgment.
	[¶2]  DHS first became involved with Allison and her parents when
Allison's mother fled the home with her after the father threatened to kill
the eleven month old baby.  The father was eventually convicted of
terrorizing the mother by threatening to kill their daughter.  The mother,
however, later dismissed the protection from abuse order issued by the
court following this incident and reunited with the father despite a warning
by DHS that this would endanger Allison.
	[¶3]  DHS filed a petition for a child protection order.  Relying on
promises from the mother that she would abide by the court's order, the
court granted her sole custody and ordered the father to have no contact
with Allison.  The mother again reunited with the father, and DHS removed
Allison from the mother's custody pursuant to a term in the child protection
order.  Ultimately, Allison was placed with her maternal grandmother.  The
father was subsequently arrested for assaulting the mother, and the couple
eventually divorced.
	[¶4]  The mother underwent a psychological evaluation and
participated in counseling.  However, during this time she disappeared for a
period of roughly a month and a half following a disagreement with Allison's
grandmother.  She quit her job and vacated her apartment to move in with a
man whom she had recently met.  She left no forwarding address. 
Eventually, DHS located her through the license plate number of the man
with whom she was living.  The mother then agreed to resume contact with
Allison, as well as rehabilitation and reunification efforts.
	[¶5]  Following her psychological evaluation, her evaluators concluded
that the mother was suffering from depression and displayed personality
difficulties including narcissistic and passive-aggressive features.  They also
noted that the mother exhibited a number of significant risk factors for
"parenting dysfunction."  Additionally, the mother's counselor expressed
concern over the mother's ability to provide a safe environment for Allison. 
She noted that the mother had issues with dependency that resulted in her
placing her needs above those of Allison.  The counselor stated that she did
not think that it would be appropriate to place Allison in her mother's care. 
Observing that Allison had already been in the care of someone other than
her parents for over half of her life, the court terminated the parental rights
of the mother and father.
	[¶6]  We will affirm an order terminating parental rights "when a
review of the entire record demonstrates that the trial court rationally could
have found clear and convincing evidence in that record to support the
necessary factual findings as to the bases for termination."  In re Denise M.,
670 A.2d 390, 392 (Me. 1996).  Contrary to the mother's contentions, there
is sufficient evidence in the record to support the court's determination
that she is unable or unwilling to protect Allison from jeopardy within a time
frame reasonably calculated to meet Allison's needs, and the court rationally
could have found by clear and convincing evidence that termination was in
Allison's best interest.  The mother has a history of placing her needs before
those of her daughter that has resulted in threats to Allison's safety.  Her
counselor testified that she has made little progress in counseling regarding
the problem areas in her life.  Allison has been out of her parents' care for
the majority of her life.  Her mother has failed to make the changes
necessary to remedy the situation and Allison cannot remain in an unstable
situation indefinitely.  The record supports the court's conclusions and
resolution of the situation.
	[¶7]  The mother also challenges the portion of the court's order
finding that she is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for Allison
within a time that is reasonably calculated to meet Allison's needs.  She
argues that the court was precluded from adopting that portion of the order
drafted by DHS, because the court did not include this specific finding in its
otherwise extensive oral findings of fact following the termination hearing. 
Initially we note that, although it is not automatic error to adopt one party's
proposed findings, see Weeks v. Weeks, 650 A.2d 945, 946 (Me. 1994); In
re Sabrina M., 460 A.2d 1009, 1012 (Me. 1983), we generally scrutinize
such findings to insure that the court properly performed its judicial
function.  See Weeks, 460 A.2d at 1012.  No such scrutiny is merited in this
case, however, as we are dealing with a different set of circumstances.
	[¶8]  We are not faced with a situation in which a court merely chose
to adopt one set of proposed facts over another as its own.  Cf. In re Sabrina
M., 460 A.2d at 1012.  Rather, the court made its own extensive oral
findings of fact at the conclusion of a four-day termination hearing.  The oral
findings reflect a careful weighing of the evidence, including specific
determinations of credibility and relative weight.  It is clear that the court in
no way abdicated its role as the ultimate arbiter of fact.  The court merely
requested that one party, DHS in this case, prepare the order pursuant to
the findings of fact it had already made.
	[¶9]  In this case, especially with respect to the court's findings
regarding the mother, the findings of fact drafted by DHS are more closely a
transcription of the court's own oral findings than a proposal.  The court
made specific oral findings that the mother was focused on her own needs
and not those of her child, that she had repeated excuses for not following
through on her obligations, that she acted irresponsibly by moving in with
her current boyfriend and severing contact with her child and DHS, that her
current living situation was not a safe one for Allison, and noted her struggle
in extricating herself from her abusive relationship with Allison's father.  All
of these findings are also included in the written findings drafted by DHS. 
The only finding with which the mother takes issue is the additional written
finding that she is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for Allison.
	[¶10]  Although the court did make an oral finding that the mother
was unable or unwilling to protect Allison from jeopardy, which is sufficient
to support the termination of the mother's parental rights when coupled
with the court's determination that termination was in Allison's best
interest, see 22 M.R.S.A. § 4055 (1)(B)(2)(b) (1992), it did not make the
explicit oral finding that the mother was unable or unwilling to take
responsibility for her.  Not only is this conclusion supported by the court's
oral findings of fact, however, but the absence of this finding would not
affect the outcome.  The court was justified in adopting this additional
finding in the written order, but it was not necessary to support its decision
made orally at the conclusion of the hearing.
	[¶11]  We can say with confidence in this case that the court more
than adequately performed its judicial function.  The court's conclusions
following the hearing demonstrate an earnest consideration of the testimony
and evidence before it.  Its decision is supported by the record and it did
not err by including the additional and nonessential determination
regarding the mother's ability to take responsibility for Allison in its written
	The entry is:
			Judgment affirmed.

Attorney for appellant: Gail F. Peabody, Esq. P O Box 270 Orr's Island, ME 04066 Attorneys for appellee: Andrew Ketterer, Attorney General Donald W. Macomber, Asst. Attorney General Matthew Pollack, Asst. Attorney General Lou Ann Clifford, Asst. Attorney General 6 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0006 Guardian ad Litem: Peter Poyner, CASA 45 Bay Point Road Georgetown, ME 04543 Attorney for father: Benet Pols, Esq. P O Box 791 Brunswick, ME 04011 Attorney for intervenor: M. Michaela Murphy, Esq. One Center Street Waterville, ME 04901