Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery
IN RE T.L.W. and L.W.
Juvenile Appeal from Common Pleas Court Nos. 2015-2394,
MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by SARAH E. HUTNIK, Atty. Reg. No.
0095900, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Attorney
CHARLES W. SLICER, Atty. Reg. No. 0059927, Attorney for
1} The Montgomery County Department of Job and
Family Services, Children Services Division (MCCS), appeals
from the trial court's judgment entry sustaining appellee
Mother's objections to a magistrate's decision
regarding the disposition of her two minor children, LW. and
2} MCCS advances four assignments of error. First,
it contends the trial court erred in sustaining Mother's
objection to the magistrate's decision awarding MCCS
permanent custody of L.W. MCCS argues that the trial court
improperly rejected the magistrate's decision
"without conducting the statutorily required best
interest analysis." Second, MCCS claims the trial court
abused its discretion in rejecting the magistrate's
decision awarding MCCS permanent custody of L.W. Third, MCCS
asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in
rejecting the magistrate's decision awarding legal
custody of T.W. to Mother's cousin T.B. Fourth, MCCS
argues that the trial court erred in terminating the
agency's temporary custody of L.W. and T.W. and returning
legal custody to Mother "without conducting additional
3} The record reflects that MCCS filed separate
neglect and dependency complaints in April 2015 with regard
to Mother's children, L.W. and T.W. At the time of the
complaints, L.W. was two months old, and T.W. was 15 months
old. The complaints alleged that Mother was unable to care
for her children's basic needs as she lacked income and
appropriate housing. MCCS obtained interim temporary custody in
May 2015. The following month, both children were adjudicated
dependent. MCCS was granted temporary custody of L.W., and
Mother's cousin was granted temporary custody of T.W.
First and second extensions of temporary custody were granted
in both cases. Thereafter, in March 2017, MCCS moved for
permanent custody of L.W. and for legal custody of T.W. to be
granted to Mother's cousin. In April 2017, Mother moved
to have legal custody returned to her in both cases. The case
proceeded to a January 2018 hearing before a magistrate.
Based on the evidence presented, the magistrate awarded MCCS
permanent custody of L.W. and awarded Mother's cousin
legal custody of T.W. In separate March 8, 2018 decisions,
the magistrate found (1) that L.W. had been in MCCS'
temporary custody for 12 or more months of a consecutive
22-month period and that awarding the agency permanent
custody was in the child's best interest and (2) that
awarding Mother's cousin legal custody of T.W. was in the
child's best interest.
4} Mother filed objections and supplemental
objections to both of the magistrate's decisions.
Following briefing, the trial court resolved the objections
in an April 19, 2019 decision and judgment entry. With regard
to L.W., the trial court agreed with the magistrate's
determination that the child had been in MCCS' temporary
custody for 12 or more months of a consecutive 22-month
period. However, the trial court rejected the
magistrate's best-interest determination. Based on its
own review of the record, the trial court found it in
L.W.'s best interest to be reunited with Mother. As a
result, the trial court sustained Mother's objection to
the magistrate's decision, overruled MCCS' motion for
permanent custody, and sustained Mother's motion for
legal custody. With regard to T.W., the trial court again
rejected the magistrate's best-interest determination and
found it in the child's best interest to be reunited with
Mother. Consequently, the trial court overruled Mother's
cousin's motion for legal custody and sustained
Mother's motion for legal custody. The trial court also
granted MCCS six months of protective supervision. This
appeal by MCCS followed.
5} In its first assignment of error, MCCS contends
the trial court failed to conduct "the statutorily
required best interest analysis" before denying its
motion for permanent custody of L.W. MCCS notes that R.C.
2151.414(D)(1) obligated the trial court to "consider
all relevant factors, including those set forth in the
statute, when determining whether an award of permanent
custody to the agency was in L.W.'s best interest. MCCS
also notes that while the trial court "need not
specifically enumerate each of the R.C. 2151.414(D)(1)
factors in its decision, 'there must be some indication
on the record that all of the necessary factors were
considered.' " In re K.T.1, 1st Dist.
Hamilton Nos. C-170667, et al., 2018-Ohio-1381, ¶14,
quoting In re G.B., 10th Dist. Franklin No.
04AP-1024, 2005-Ohio-3141, ¶ 17. Here MCCS asserts that
the trial court merely summarized the evidence as it
pertained to each statutory best-interest factor. MCCS argues
that this was insufficient, as a matter of law, to
demonstrate that the trial court "considered" the
best-interest factors as required by R.C. 2151.414(D)(1).
MCCS argues that the trial court's analysis and holding
did not mention the best-interest factors, focusing instead
on other issues. Therefore, MCCS urges us to reverse the
trial court's decision based on an error of law, namely a
failure to "truly consider the best interest of L.W.
6} Upon review, we find MCCS' argument to be
without merit. It is nearly impossible to read the trial
court's opinion and conclude that it did not
"consider" the best-interest factors under R.C.
2151.414(D)(1). Near the outset of its ruling (which was 22
single-spaced pages), the trial court stated that it would
determine whether it was in the best interest of L.W. to
grant permanent custody to MCCS. (Montgomery C.P. No.
2015-2396, Doc. # 4 at 4). The trial court then stated that it
would consider all relevant factors, including those
identified in R.C. 2151.414(D)(1). (Id.). Following
that statement, the trial court devoted nine single-spaced
pages to identifying each best-interest factor and detailing
the evidence as it pertained to each factor. (Id. at
4-12). This exercise by the trial court, alone, persuades us
that it satisfied its statutory responsibility to
"consider" the best-interest factors. But the trial
court did more. In the pages that followed, it explicitly
engaged in a best-interest analysis. Among other things, it
found that Mother substantially had completed her case-plan
objectives. The trial court recognized that this fact was not
dispositive but found it to be a relevant best-interest
consideration. (Id. at 12-13). The trial court also
specifically analyzed the best-interest factor in R.C.
2151.414(D)(1)(d) regarding L.W.'s need for a legally
secure placement and whether it could be achieved without
awarding permanent custody to MCCS. (Id. at 14). The
trial court's analysis then took into consideration
"the significant time the child has been in Agency
custody and in the placement of the current foster family, as
well as the relationship that the child and foster family
have built." (Id. at 15).These considerations
implicated at least two additional statutory best-interest
factors. See R.C. 2151.414(D)(1)(a) and (c).
Finally, the trial court explained that it was considering
what would "best promote the care, protection, and
mental and physical development" of L.W. (Id.
at 16). This statement embodied the concerns underlying all
of the best-interest factors.
7} Having reviewed the record, we find no support
for MCCS' assertion that the trial court failed to
"consider the statutory best-interest factors or to
conduct the required best-interest analysis. Accordingly, the
first assignment of error is overruled.
8} In its second assignment of error, MCCS argues
that trial court abused its discretion in sustaining
Mother's objection to the magistrate's decision
regarding the best interest of L.W. Specifically, MCCS claims
the trial court disregarded overwhelming evidence that
awarding the agency permanent custody was in the child's
9} To obtain permanent custody and terminate
Mother's parental rights, MCCS was required to establish
by clear and convincing evidence that such a disposition was
in L.W.'s best interest and that the child had been in
the agency's temporary custody for at least 12 of the
preceding 22 months. In re J.N ., 2d Dist.
Montgomery No. 28247, 2019-Ohio-1800, ¶ 13. We apply an
abuse-of-discretion standard to the trial court's
resolution of the best-interest issue. In re L.T.,
2d Dist. Montgomery No. 26922, 2016-Ohio-605, ¶ 4. The
phrase "abuse of discretion" implies a decision
that is unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable.
Id. Therefore, we may not reverse the trial
court's decision based on a mere difference of opinion or
substitution of our judgment for that of the trial court.
With these standards in mind, we see no abuse of discretion
in the trial court's determination that awarding Mother
legal custody of L.W. was in the child's best interest.
As a result, the trial court did not err in declining to
award MCCS permanent custody.
10} In determining what is in the best interest of a
child, a trial court must consider all relevant factors,
including, but not limited to, (1) the interaction and
interrelationship of the child with the child's parents,
siblings, relatives, foster caregivers, and out-of-home
providers, and any other person who may significantly affect
the child; (2) the wishes of the child, as expressed directly
by the child or through the child's guardian ad litem;
(3) the custodial history of the child, including whether the
child has been in the temporary custody of public or private
children services agencies for 12 or more months; and (4) the
child's need for a legally secure permanent placement and
whether that type of placement can be achieved without a
grant of permanent custody. R.C. 2151.414(D).
11} In its decision, the trial court detailed the
evidence as it pertained to each of the foregoing factors.
(Doc. # 4 at 4-12). With regard to L.W.'s interaction and
interrelationship with others, the trial court noted that the
child was well bonded with a foster family that had cared for
him since April 2015. The trial court also found that L.W.
was bonded with Mother, who had maintained regular visits.
The trial court noted that L.W. sometimes asked to stay with
Mother after visits were completed. The trial court also
recognized that the foster parents had treated L.W. for pink
eye, reflux, and asthma. Additionally, the trial court noted
that L.W. had undergone counseling for anxiety-related issues
that manifested themselves while in the foster family's
care. The trial court observed that L.W. had special
"sensory" toys such as a trampoline, bean bags, and
12} As for L.W.'s wishes, the trial court noted
that the child was only two years old at the time of the
permanent custody hearing. As a result, the child's
wishes had not been ascertained or explored. With regard to
L.W.'s custodial history, the trial court recognized that