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In re K.H.B.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

December 23, 2014

IN RE: K.H.B., A/K/A BABY GIRL J., A/K/A K.J., A MINOR; APPEAL OF: ALLEGHENY COUNTY OFFICE OF CHILDREN, YOUTH AND FAMILIES

Argued October 22, 2014

Page 176

Appeal from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Orphan's Court Division, No(s): TPR 172 of 2013. Before MULLIGAN, J.

Alexandra Gruskos, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Rebecca K. Fenoglietto, New Kensington, for J.A.J, participating party.

Cynthia B. Moore, Pittsburgh, and Maegan S. Filo, New Kensington, for appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., ALLEN, and STRASSBURGER[*], JJ.

OPINION

Page 177

ALLEN, J.

Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families (" CYF" ) appeals from the orders entered on April 7, 2014, which denied CYF's petitions to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of K.B. (" Mother" ) and J.J. (" Father" ) to their minor daughter, K.H.B, (" Child" ), born in March of 2012, pursuant to section 2511(a)(5), (8), and (b) of the Adoption Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(5), (8), and (b). We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

This family has been known to CYF since 2007 due to Mother's and Father's drug, alcohol, mental health, and domestic violence issues. In 2008, four of Mother and Father's children were adjudicated dependent.[1] On March 29, 2012, CYF obtained an Emergency Custody Authorization (" ECA" ) for Child after Child was born. On March 30, 2012, Child was placed with Maternal Grandmother. On April 13, 2012, Child was adjudicated dependent due to the aggravated circumstances found against Mother and Father. Child remained with Maternal Grandmother until February 15, 2013. On February 15, 2013, Child was placed in Paternal Aunt's care.

Mother and Father's Family Service Plan Goals (" FSP" ) were: (1) to sign necessary releases of information; (2) to maintain relationship with Child through regular visits; (3) to contact and cooperate with CYF; (4) to participate in domestic abuse counseling; (5) to stabilize their mental health; and (6) to obtain appropriate housing. N.T., 2/10/13, at 8-9; 26-27. Father's additional FSP goals were: (1) to obtain drug and alcohol treatment; (2) to obtain drug screens; and (3) to obtain employment. Id. at 27.

On November 6, 2013, CYF petitioned for termination of Mother and Father's parental rights to Child. On February 10, 2014, March 26, 2014, and April 7, 2014, hearings were held on that petition. At the termination hearings, the following witnesses testified: Father; Paternal Aunt; Maryann Gordon, a clinical supervisor of Renewal Treatment, Inc.; Mother; Bonnie Antonucci, a CYF caseworker; and Dr. Neil Rosenblum, a licensed psychologist.

On April 7, 2014, the trial court determined that Mother and Father's parental rights to Child should not be terminated. The trial court found that CYF met its burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that grounds for termination existed against Mother and Father under 23 Pa.C.S.A § 2511(a)(5). However, the trial court further found that CYF did not meet its burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that termination met the needs and welfare of Child pursuant to Section 2511(b). On May 7, 2014 CYF timely filed notices of appeal from the decrees, along with concise statements of errors complained of on appeal, pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a)(2)(i) and (b). This Court consolidated the cases sua sponte on May 27, 2014.

Page 178

On appeal, CYF raises the following issues:

1. Did the trial court err as a matter of law and/or abuse its discretion when it denied CYF's petition to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 2511(b) after CYF proved by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights would best serve the developmental, physical, and emotional needs and welfare of [C]hild?
2. Did the trial court err as a matter of law and/or abuse its discretion when it denied CYF's petition to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father because [Child]'s foster mother is not agreeable to entering into a voluntary Act 101, Post-Adoption Contact Agreement with Mother and Father?

CYF's Brief at 2.

In reviewing an appeal from the denial of a petition for the termination of parental rights, we are mindful that:

[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., [614 Pa. 275, 283,] 36 A.3d 567, 572 (Pa. 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., 613 Pa. 371[, 455], 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. at 28-30], 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, 165,] 650 A.2d 1064, 1066 (Pa. 1994).

In re Adoption of S.P., 616 Pa. 309, 47 A.3d 817, 826-27 (Pa. 2012).

The burden is upon the petitioner to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the asserted grounds for seeking the termination of parental rights are valid. In re R.N.J., 2009 PA Super 248, 985 A.2d 273, 276 (Pa. Super. 2009).

Moreover, we have explained:

Page 179

[t]he standard of clear and convincing evidence is defined as testimony that is so " clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable the trier of fact to come to a clear conviction, without hesitance, of ...

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