IN RE: J.W. J.W. J.W.
APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF SUMMIT, OHIO CASE Nos. DN 10-02-0092 DN 10-02-0093 DN 10-02-0094
WILLIAM T. WHITAKER, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
SHERRI BEVAN WALSH, Prosecuting Attorney, and HEAVEN DIMARTINO, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
(¶1} Appellant, April W. ("Mother"), appeals from a judgment of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, that denied her motion to vacate the November 2011 judgment that terminated her parental rights. This Court affirms.
(¶2} Mother is the natural mother of three minor children, each with the initials J.W., who now range in age from 10 to 14 years old. Pursuant to dependency and neglect complaints filed by Summit County Children Services Board ("CSB") on February 22, 2010, the children were removed from Mother's custody. The trial court later adjudicated them neglected and dependent children, based on Mother's stipulation that she had serious, untreated psychiatric problems and had not been providing for the basic needs of her children. CSB's history with this family dates back to 2005, when the children were removed from Mother's custody for more than two years for similar problems stemming from her untreated mental illness. Although the children were eventually returned to Mother's custody, CSB reopened a voluntary case with the family approximately one year later. The agency later filed dependency and neglect complaints to open an involuntary case because Mother was not working on the voluntary case plan. Mother had also committed a felony theft offense, for which she was incarcerated during part of the case planning period.
(¶3} CSB ultimately moved for permanent custody of all three children and the matter proceeded to a hearing on that motion. On November 30, 2011, the trial found that the children had been in the temporary custody of CSB for more than 12 of the prior 22 months and that permanent custody was in their best interests and, consequently, terminated Mother's parental rights. See R.C. 2151.414(B)(1). Mother did not appeal from that judgment.
(¶4} On February 26, 2013, Mother moved to vacate the permanent custody decision under Civ.R. 60(B)(4) and/or (5). She alleged that she was entitled to relief from the November 2011 permanent custody judgment because the children had not been adopted by the foster parents, as had been anticipated at the time of the permanent custody decision, and Mother had since achieved stability in her life through ongoing counseling. The trial court denied Mother's motion without a hearing, reasoning that she had failed to allege sufficient operative facts to demonstrate grounds for relief under Civ.R. 60(B). Mother appeals and raises one assignment of error.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIED WITHOUT [A] HEARING [MOTHER'S] TIMELY MOTION FOR RELIEF FROM JUDGMENT BECAUSE SHE HAD STANDING TO BRING THE MOTION AND SHE PRESENTED FACTS ESTABLISHING A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES FOR HER CHILDREN AND HERSELF WHICH DEMONSTRATED THAT IT WAS NO LONGER EQUITABLE THAT THE TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS SHOULD HAVE PROSPECTIVE APPLICATION OR THAT THE TERMINATION WAS IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILDREN.
(¶5} Mother argues that the trial court erred in failing to grant her motion to vacate the 2011 permanent custody judgment. We begin by emphasizing that Mother sought to vacate the judgment pursuant to Civ.R. 60(B), not to "modify or terminate" the permanent custody disposition under the court's continuing jurisdiction. See R.C. 2151.353(E)(2) (authorizing the trial court to modify the disposition of permanent custody upon motion by CSB or another party other than the "parent whose parental rights with respect to the child[ren] have been terminated[.]"). Nevertheless, because the court's ongoing jurisdiction tends to confuse the issues before us, an explanation of its scope is in order.
Juvenile Court's Continuing Jurisdiction
(¶6} In cases involving disputes over the custody of children, because the state's interest in overseeing the best interest of the children does not end when the court designates a custodian for the child, the trial court's jurisdiction continues. Post-judgment, continuing jurisdiction exists in other types of juvenile and domestic relations court cases. See, e.g., R.C. 3109.04(E) and Civ.R. 75(J). The sole focus here, however, is on the limited scope of the juvenile court's continuing jurisdiction after it terminates parental rights and places the children in the permanent custody of a children services agency.
(¶7} After the juvenile court issues a permanent custody order under R.C. 2151.414, it retains continuing jurisdiction over the children until they reach the age of majority or are adopted. R.C. 2151.353(E)(1); R.C. 2151.417(B). It is important to emphasize, however, that the trial court's jurisdiction continues only over the children, not their natural parents. Following the permanent custody decision, the parents "cease to be parties to the action." R.C. 2151.414(F). Upon the entry of the permanent custody judgment, Mother lost any right to be involved in the ongoing, post-judgment proceedings. Although Mother lost her right to participate in the proceedings, however, the trial court also lost all authority over her, as she was no longer subject to its jurisdiction.
(¶8} The trial court's post-judgment jurisdiction continued solely over the children and the agency to monitor the well-being of the children, the suitability of their placements, and the agency's efforts to facilitate their adoption. The trial court is required to review those issues at least every 12 months until the children are adopted or the court terminates the custody arrangement. R.C. 2151.417(C); R.C. 2151.417(H) (review hearings may be delegated to a referee or citizens review board, subject to review by the trial court).
(¶9} At the review hearings, all who have retained their ongoing status as parties are summoned to appear and are given the opportunity to testify and present evidence. R.C. 2151.417(F). The focus of each hearing is on the best interests of the children, including their safety, the appropriateness of continuing their current placement(s), and whether changes should be made to their permanency plan. R.C. 2151.417(A). Following each hearing, the trial court is further required to "determine what actions are required by the custodial agency and of any other organizations or persons in order to facilitate an adoption of the child and make any appropriate orders with respect to the custody arrangement or conditions of the child[.]" R.C. 2151.417(G)(4). Moreover, "at any time, " upon its own motion or the motion of one who remains a party to the post-judgment proceeding, the court may ...