Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
IN RE A.C. A Minor Child [Appeal by Mother]
Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas
Juvenile Division Case No. AD-17919015
& Bartos, L.P A., and David Bartos, for appellant
Michael C. O'Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecuting
Attorney, and Rachel Eisenberg, Assistant Prosecuting
Attorney, for appellee Cuyahoga County Division of Children
and Family Services.
Laubacher & Company, Eric R. Laubacher, and Lauren M.
Strandbergh, for appellee Father.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
A. GALLAGHER, JUDGE.
1} Appellant-mother E.C. ("Mother") appeals from an
order of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile
Division (the "juvenile court") awarding legal
custody of her daughter, A.C., to A.C.'s father, appellee
2} For the reasons that follow, we find merit to the appeal,
reverse the juvenile court's judgment and remand the case
for the juvenile court to conduct an independent review of
the magistrate's decision in accordance with Juv.R. 40.
Background and Procedural History
3} On December 18, 2017, appellee Cuyahoga County Division of
Children and Family Services ("CCDCFS" or "the
agency") filed a complaint for neglect seeking temporary
custody of K.V. be awarded to CCDCFS and legal custody of
A.C. be awarded to Father. On January 9, 2018, Father was
granted predispositional emergency custody of A.C.
4} In February 2018, Father filed a motion for legal custody
of A.C. and Mother filed a motion for legal custody or,
alternatively, temporary custody to CCDCFS with placement
with Father or alternatively, temporary custody to A.C.'s
maternal grandmother. In March 2018, Mother stipulated to the
allegations of an amended complaint and the juvenile court
adjudicated A.C. to be neglected. Mother and Father stipulated
to a disposition of temporary custody to Father and, on March
29, 2019, the juvenile court granted temporary custody of
A.C. to Father.
5} In November 2018, Father filed another motion for legal
custody of A.C., Mother filed a motion for legal custody of
A.C. or, alternatively, to adopt a shared parenting plan and
CCDCFS filed a motion to modify temporary custody to legal
custody of AC. to Father.
6} On March 11, 2019, the magistrate held an evidentiary
hearing on the pending motions. The parties presented testimony
from five witnesses and over 20 exhibits were admitted into
evidence. The magistrate also heard from the guardian ad
litem regarding her report and recommendation.
7} At the conclusion of the hearing, the magistrate announced
her decision to grant legal custody of A.C. to Father,
setting forth her findings and explaining her decision as
As to [A.C.], I will find that the Agency has made reasonable
efforts to finalize the permanency plan for this child, and I
do find that it is in this child's best interest to be
committed to the legal custody of her father.
She is doing well in placement. Permanency is what we all
strive for in the best interests of the children. I do find
that it is in her best interest at this point to be placed in
the legal custody of her father.
Mother needs to maintain sobriety * * *[.]
Mother's own testimony before this Court was that
she's an alcohol[ic] and I understand that there's
difficulties in dealing with that, but you've got to get
that under control. It's not in the children's best
8} On March 12, 2019, the magistrate issued her written
decision terminating temporary custody, denying Mother's
motion for legal custody and granting legal custody of A.C.
to Father. In her written decision, the magistrate set forth
a finding that "the child's continued residence in
or return to the home of [E.C.], the mother, will be contrary
to the child's best interest." The magistrate's
written decision contains no other findings or reasoning for
9} On March 18, 2019, Mother filed a motion for a transcript
at Mother's expense. The motion contained a typographical
error and referenced two different hearing dates. On March
21, 2019, Mother filed an amended motion for transcript,
clarifying that she was seeking a transcript of the March 11,
2019 hearing. On March 25, 2019, Mother filed her objections
to the magistrate's decision as follows:
1. The Magistrate's Decision is against the manifest
weight of [the] evidence. Mother completed all services. The
child was residing with mother at the time of removal.
Reunification should be with mother. Mother was ready,
willing, and able to provide for her children. Mother had
appropriate housing, basic needs and has completed case plan
2. Decision failed to show a causational nexus showing that
any action by Mother was detrimental to the child.
3. Mother was denied admission of the testimony and evidence
regarding Father['s] historical patterns of behavior and
nefarious conduct. Further the evidence would show father had
reason and motive to ...