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In re R.S.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Ninth District, Summit

May 17, 2017

IN RE: R.S.

         APPEAL FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF SUMMIT, OHIO CASE No. DN 13-10-644

          DENISE E. FERGUSON, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          SUSAN J. LAX, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.

          SHERRI BEVAN WALSH, Prosecuting Attorney, and HEAVEN DIMARTINO, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for Appellee.

          JOSEPH KERNAN, Guardian ad Litem.

          DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY

          CALLAHAN, Judge.

         {¶1} Appellant, Linda S. ("Mother"), appeals from two judgments of the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division: one that placed her minor child in the legal custody of a maternal aunt, and a later judgment that decreased her weekly parenting time with the child from two to three unsupervised, overnight visits to two supervised visits of no more than four hours. This Court affirms.

         I.

         {¶2} Mother is the biological mother of R.S., born September 7, 2011, the only child at issue in this appeal. The child's father did not appeal from the trial court's judgments. Mother has older children who were removed from her custody many years ago because Mother had serious mental health problems and abused some of her children. Mother was convicted of felony child endangering and served a seven-year term of incarceration. Although Mother would later describe her acts of abuse as extreme physical discipline, CSB described the acts as torture, explaining that Mother had repeatedly inflicted pain on her children by beating and burning them, forcing them to eat their own vomit, and withholding medical treatment.

         {¶3} Mother has suffered from serious mental health problems since childhood and has received treatment only intermittently over the years. On October 2, 2013, R.S. was removed from Mother's custody pursuant to Juv.R. 6 because Mother was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward and CSB was unable to find a relative to care for the child at that time. Mother was not taking her prescribed psychiatric medications and was exhibiting symptoms of delusional thinking. Mother remained in treatment for 90 days pursuant to an involuntary commitment order of the probate court.

         {¶4} Mother later agreed that R.S. should be adjudicated a dependent child and be placed in the temporary custody of CSB. Mother's visits with R.S. were initially supervised because her irrational thinking posed a threat to the child. After Mother appeared to have stabilized her mental health through counseling and medication, the trial court expanded Mother's visits with R.S. to unsupervised, overnight visits in Mother's home.

         {¶5} CSB eventually moved to place R.S. in the legal custody of a maternal aunt ("Aunt"), with whom he had been living for the past year. Mother alternatively moved for legal custody of R.S. Prior to the final dispositional hearing, CSB moved for an order to relieve it from making reasonable efforts to reunify R.S. with Mother because Mother had been convicted of felony child endangering with respect to the child's older siblings. See R.C. 2151.419(A)(2)(a). The trial court issued a reasonable efforts bypass order two days later.

         {¶6} The matter proceeded to a hearing before a magistrate on the competing motions for legal custody. Evidence at the hearing revealed that, although Mother was taking psychiatric medication, she was no longer in counseling and CSB, mental health experts, and the guardian ad litem continued to have concerns about the ongoing stability of her mental health. The magistrate decided that legal custody to Aunt was in the best interest of R.S. Mother filed timely objections to the magistrate's decision. The trial court later overruled her objections and placed R.S. in the legal custody of Aunt. The trial court also ordered, among other things, that Mother pay no child support, that she have two overnight visits with R.S. each week, and that Aunt had the discretion to schedule a third overnight visit depending on "her assessment of Mother's stability."

         {¶7} One month later, without notifying Aunt or CSB, Mother contacted Akron Children's Hospital and R.S.'s counselor to report that R.S. had disclosed numerous acts of abuse by Aunt. An investigation failed to reveal any abuse. Instead, CSB became concerned that Mother was exhibiting symptoms of distorted thinking, as her allegations were incredible and tended to reflect her own acts or thoughts about abuse of children.

         {¶8} CSB moved to restrict Mother's visits with R.S. and requested an immediate hearing on the motion. The agency requested that Mother's visits with R.S. be supervised because it was concerned about Mother's mental health and believed that she posed a risk to R.S. if unsupervised visits were to continue. That same day, the trial court issued a temporary order that Mother's visits with R.S. be supervised, pending a hearing and further order of the court. Following a hearing before a magistrate and, after overruling Mother's objections to the magistrate's decision, the trial court ordered that Mother's visits be supervised and that they be reduced to two visits of "up to four hours."

         {¶9} Mother appealed from each judgment and her appeals were later consolidated. She raises four assignments of error to the trial court's legal custody judgment (Appeal Number 27857) and two assignments of error to its modification of her parenting time with R.S. (Appeal Number 28073). This Court will address each appeal separately and will consolidate some of the assigned errors for ease of review.

         II.

         Appeal ...


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