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In re A.C.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

December 12, 2019

IN RE A.C. A Minor Child [Appeal by Mother]

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Case No. AD-17919015

         JUDGMENT: REVERSED; REMANDED

          Bartos & 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

          EILEEN 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 T.C. ("Father").

         {¶ 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.

         Factual 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.[1] 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[2] and the juvenile court adjudicated A.C. to be neglected.[3] 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.[4] 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 follows:

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 interest.

         {¶ 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 her decision.

         {¶ 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 services.
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 ...

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