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In re S.B.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

August 8, 2019

IN RE S.B. A Minor Child [Appeal by L.S., Mother]

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case No. AD-17911375

         JUDGMENT: REVERSED AND REMANDED

          Timothy R. Sterkel, for appellant.

          Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney, Cheryl Rice and Colleen Cassidy Ulrich, Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys, for appellee, C.C.D.C.F.S.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          PATRICIA ANN BLACKMON, JUDGE

         {¶ 1} L.S. ("Mother") appeals the trial court's granting legal custody of her daughter S.B. to S.B.'s father. L.S. raises one assigned error for our review:

I. The trial court committed error when it denied mom's request for reunification and granted legal custody to dad.

         {¶ 2} Having reviewed the record and pertinent law, we find that the trial court's granting legal custody of S.B. to S.B.'s father ("Father") was an abuse of discretion not supported by the record. The goal in this case was reunification of S.B. with Mother after Mother completed her case plan. The undisputed evidence in the record shows that Mother completed her case plan. Yet the trial court granted legal custody to Father. Upon review, we find this decision unreasonable. Therefore, we reverse the trial court's judgment and grant legal custody of S.B. to Mother. The apposite facts follow.

         {¶ 3} On July 31, 2017, the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS") filed a complaint alleging that S.B., whose date of birth is September 13, 2007, was neglected and dependent. Specifically, CCDCFS claimed Mother had an open case against her regarding "excessive discipline" of another child who lived with S.B. and Mother in Mother's house. See In re: S.S., Cuyahoga C.P. Juvenile Division No. AD17907121. In the instant case, the juvenile court appointed a guardian ad litem ("the GAL") to represent S.B.'s interests and, on August 1, 2017, awarded emergency temporary custody of S.B. to S.B.'s father ("Father"). It does not appear from the record that Father was present at the emergency custody hearing.

         {¶ 4} On August 25, 2017, CCDCFS filed a case plan with the goal of reunification of S.B. and Mother. This case plan had two objectives for Mother: mental health counseling and parenting classes. The GAL filed a report on October 12, 2017, recommending temporary custody to Father. The court held an adjudication hearing on October 17, 2017, Mother admitted to the allegations in the complaint, and the court found that S.B. was neglected and dependent. The court committed S.B. to the temporary custody of Father with protective supervision.

         {¶ 5} On November 1, 2017, CCDCFS filed its semiannual review ("SAR") of Mother's case plan, in which it determined that Mother had completed her mental health counseling and was halfway through her parenting classes. Also on November 1, 2017, the court issued a journal entry adopting the October 17, 2017 magistrate's decision. The court's journal entry adjudicated S.B. neglected and dependent, ordered temporary custody to Father, and had a permanency plan of reunification with Mother.

         {¶ 6} On April 5, 2018, CCDCFS filed a motion to terminate temporary custody of S.B. to Father and for an order vesting legal custody of S.B. to Mother with no restrictions. On April 9, 2018, CCDCFS filed its second SAR, which concluded that Mother completed the mental health and parenting objectives, Mother made "significant progress" and was continuing her services, and CCDCFS had "no concerns" about reunifying S.B. and Mother. This SAR also concluded that the agency had "some concerns" that Father was not cooperating with Mother's visitation schedule.

         {¶ 7} On May 3, 2018, the GAL submitted his second report, which recommended S.B.'s reunification with Mother. On May 8, 2018, the court conducted an in camera interview with S.B. However, S.B.'s wishes and concerns as a result of this interview are not part of the record.

         {¶ 8} On July 23, 2018, the court held a hearing regarding CCDCFS's motion requesting legal custody to Mother. CCDCFS and the GAL recommended custody to Mother, finding that she complied with her case plan. Father represented ...


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