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In re C.L.H.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler

May 22, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: C.L.H.

         APPEAL FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS JUVENILE DIVISION Case No. JN2014-0366

          Jonathan W. Ford, Guardian Ad Litem

          Dawn S. Garrett, for Appellant A.H.

          Robert J. Qucsai, III, for C.W.

          Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Government Services Center, for Butler County Department of Job and Family Services

          OPINION

          S. POWELL, J.

         {¶ 1} Appellant, A.H., the mother of C.L.H. ("Mother"), appeals from the decision of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, granting legal custody of her daughter to J.H., the child's paternal cousin and then temporary custodian ("Cousin"), as opposed to either her or to D.B.B., the child's maternal grandmother ("Grandmother"). For the reasons outlined below, we affirm.

         {¶ 2} The child at issue, C.L.H., was born on February 4, 2014. Several months after her birth, on September 19, 2014, Butler County Department of Job and Family Services ("BCDJFS") filed a complaint alleging C.L.H. was a neglected and dependent child. The complaint was filed after C.LH.'s father, C.W. ("Father"), left C.L.H. with a family member claiming he was not able to properly care for the child. At this time, C.L.H. was suffering from a double ear infection and had a severe diaper rash. The complaint further alleged that "[Father] was in another county with a 16 year old runaway and [Mother] is using heroin and has not been caring for [C.L.H.]." It is undisputed that at the time the complaint was filed, Mother was in jail and Father's whereabouts were unknown. C.L.H. was then placed in the temporary custody of BCDJFS and appointed a guardian ad litem.

         {¶ 3} On December 18, 2014, BCDJFS filed a motion requesting the juvenile court to grant temporary custody of C.L.H. to Cousin. The guardian ad litem agreed that such placement would be in C.LH.'s best interest. The juvenile court subsequently granted BCDJFS's motion and placed C.L.H. in the temporary custody of Cousin. It is undisputed that C.L.H. has remained in the temporary custody of Cousin ever since.

         {¶ 4} On January 23, 2015, C.L.H. was adjudicated a neglected and dependent child. While Father attended the adjudication hearing, Mother did not. The juvenile court then held a disposition hearing and a case plan was established. Just as with the adjudication hearing, Father attended this hearing, whereas Mother did not. As part of its entry issued following this hearing, the juvenile court stated that "[i]n the event [Grandmother] contacts BCDJFS requesting custody of this child, the BCDJFS shall conduct a home study on [Grandmother]." It is undisputed that Grandmother thereafter contacted BCDJFS and the home study of Grandmother's home was approved.

         {¶ 5} On May 1, 2015, already having legal custody of Mother's two other children, Grandmother filed a motion requesting legal custody of C.L.H. The matter was then scheduled for a review hearing on July 28, 2015. Following this hearing, the juvenile court ordered new counsel be appointed for Father. All other prior orders were continued.

         {¶ 6} On September 22, 2015, the juvenile court held another review hearing. Following this hearing, both Grandmother and Cousin were joined as parties to the action. As before, all other prior orders were continued.

         {¶ 7} On December, 2015, Father filed a motion requesting the juvenile court award legal custody of C.L.H. to Cousin. Approximately three weeks later, on December 21, 2015, the juvenile court held yet another review hearing. However, because counsel for Father did not appear, all prior orders were again continued. The record further indicates that new counsel was also appointed for Mother after her former counsel was forced to withdraw.

         {¶ 8} On June 21, 2016, following still another review hearing, a legal custody hearing was held before a juvenile court magistrate on the parties' competing legal custody motions. At this hearing, the magistrate heard testimony from Mother, Father, Cousin, and Grandmother, among others. It is undisputed that at no time during this hearing did Mother or Grandmother object to the delay in conducting a hearing on Grandmother's motion for legal custody. It is also undisputed that Grandmother, who appeared pro se, did not present any evidence in support of her motion for legal custody. Following this ...


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