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In re M.M.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 14, 2013

IN THE INTEREST OF: M.M., A MINOR APPEAL OF: J.J., MOTHER IN THE INTEREST OF: R.E., A MINOR APPEAL OF: J.J., MOTHER

Appeal from the Order entered September 13, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Orphans Court at No. (s): A26-2012 Dependency 155-2010, 205-2011

BEFORE: PANELLA, ALLEN, and COLVILLE, [*] JJ.

MEMORANDUM

ALLEN, J.

J.J. ("Mother") appeals from the orders dated September 11, 2012 and entered September 13, 2012, terminating her parental rights to her daughter, M.M., born in October of 2008, and her son, R.E. IV., born in August of 2010, ("Children"), pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (8), and (b).[1] We affirm.

Lackawanna County Children and Youth Services ("CYS") first became involved with Mother at the time of M.M.'s birth. CYS was notified that Mother intended to bring M.M. home to a house with no working utilities and in imminent foreclosure. Upon inspection, CYS found the home unsuitable. Mother took M.M. to the home of her parents, M.M.'s maternal grandparents. CYS then closed M.M.'s case.

In April of 2009, CYS received anonymous reports that Mother was abusing prescription medications. Additionally, the reports detailed that M.M. was not up to date on immunizations and doctors' appointments, and that the family resided in deplorable conditions. CYS inspected the home, and found it unacceptable. Days later, Mother was arrested for attacking M.M.'s father, B.M., with a knife. Mother was incarcerated as a result of the incident, and M.M. was left in the custody of B.M., who was able to rectify the shortcomings regarding M.M.'s healthcare and the condition of the home. CYS closed M.M.'s case again. During her incarceration, Mother had no contact with M.M. N.T., 8/21/12, at 10.

In August of 2010, R.E. IV. was born to Mother and R.E. III. At this time, CYS was contacted by hospital personnel, who observed that Mother appeared drugged, and were concerned about Mother's ability to care for R.E. IV. CYS inspected the home where Mother intended to bring R.E. IV. and found it unacceptable. R.E. IV. was placed with his paternal grandparents. In September of 2010, R.E. IV. was adjudicated dependent, and CYS gained custody. Mother attended supervised visits with him at this time. In October 2010, he was removed from the home of his paternal grandparents, due to fears about the grandfather's criminal history, and placed with his current foster parents.

In November 2010, Luzerne County Children and Youth Services received information that M.M., who remained in B.M.'s care at this time, was not being properly cared for. CYS substantiated that report, and M.M. was removed from B.M.'s care and placed in foster care. Between

November of 2010 and July of 2011, the period of time that Luzerne County had an open case with M.M., Mother had "only a handful of supervised visits with M.M." Trial Court Opinion, 12/3/12, at 3 (citing N.T., 8/22/12, at 113-14). In July of 2011, M.M.'s case was transferred to Lackawanna County CYS, in part to place her in the same foster home as R.E. IV. Today, the Children reside with the same foster parents.

In May of 2011, R.E. IV. began trial visitation with Mother, and in July of 2011, he was returned to Mother's custody. In August 2011, however, Mother was again incarcerated, due to relapses in her abuse of prescription medication. R.E. IV. was returned to the home of his foster parents. On approximately April 20, 2012, Mother was released from prison, N.T., 8/30/12, at 125, and resumed supervised visitation with M.M.

On April 17, 2012, CYS filed petitions for the involuntary termination of Mother's parental rights to the Children, and for the involuntary termination of the parental rights of their respective fathers. On August 21, 29 and 30, 2011 and September 6 and 7, 2011, the trial court held hearings on the petitions.

On September 13, 2012, the trial court entered its order terminating Mother's parental rights pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1), (8), and (b).[2] On October 11, 2012, Mother simultaneously filed her notices of appeal and concise statements of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i) and (b).

On appeal, Mother raises three issues for our review:

1. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred as a matter of law and/or manifestly abused its discretion in determining that the Agency presented sufficient evidence to satisfy the grounds for termination of Mother's parental rights under 23 Pa. C. S. A. Section 2511(a)(1)?
2. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred as a matter of law and/or manifestly abused its discretion in determining that the Agency presented sufficient evidence to satisfy the grounds for termination of Mother's parental rights under 23 Pa. C. S. A. Section 2511(a)(8)?
3. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred as a matter of law and/or manifestly abused its discretion in terminating the Mother's parental rights in that clear and convincing evidence did not exist that said termination is in the best interest of the minor child(ren) under 23 Pa. C. S. A. Section 2511(b)?

Mother's Brief at 4.

We review appeals from the involuntary termination of parental rights according to the following standard:

[A]ppellate courts must apply an abuse of discretion standard when considering a trial court's determination of a petition for termination of parental rights. As in dependency cases, our standard of review requires an appellate court to accept the findings of fact and credibility determinations of the trial court if they are supported by the record. In re: R.J.T., 608 Pa. 9, 9 A.3d 1179, 1190 (Pa. 2010). If the factual findings are supported, appellate courts review to determine if the trial court made an error of law or abused its discretion. Id.; [In re] R.I.S., [__ Pa. __, __, 36 A.3d 567, 572 (2011) (plurality opinion)]. As has been often stated, an abuse of discretion does not result merely because the reviewing court might have reached a different conclusion. Id.; see also Samuel Bassett v. Kia Motors America, Inc., [__Pa.__], 34 A.3d 1, 51 (Pa. 2011); Christianson v. Ely, [575 Pa. 647, 654-655], 838 A.2d 630, 634 (Pa. 2003). Instead, a decision may be reversed for an abuse of discretion only upon demonstration of manifest unreasonableness, partiality, prejudice, bias, or ill-will. Id.
As we discussed in R.J.T., there are clear reasons for applying an abuse of discretion standard of review in these cases. We observed that, unlike trial courts, appellate courts are not equipped to make the fact-specific determinations on a cold record, where the trial judges are observing the parties during the relevant hearing and often presiding over numerous other hearings regarding the child and parents. R.J.T., 608 Pa. 9, 9 A.3d at 1190. Therefore, even where the facts could support an opposite result, as is often the case in dependency and termination cases, an appellate court must resist the urge to second guess the trial court and impose its own credibility determinations and judgment; instead we must defer to the trial judges so long as the factual findings are supported by the record and the court's legal conclusions are not the result of an error of law or an abuse of discretion. In re Adoption of

Atencio, 539 Pa. 161, 650 A.2d 1064, 1066 (Pa. 1994). In re Adoption of S.P., 47 A.3d 817, 826-27 (Pa. 2012).

Section 2511 of the Adoption Act provides in pertinent part:

(a) General rule.—The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated after a petition filed on ...

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