S.R., Mother v. J.N., Father and D.N., a Minor Child, 2009 CA-001621-ME
Issues: Family Court must determine truth or falsity of all allegations in a complaint and consider only the evidence in the record to reach its conclusions.
Published: Vacating and Remanding
S.R. (Mother) and J.N. (Father) were married in 2005 and their child, D.N. (minor child) was born later that year. In 2006, divorce proceedings were initiated and after two contentious years, divorce was granted and mother was awarded custody of D.N. Mother remarried and had another child in 2008. When Mother’s new marriage deteriorated, her husband (Rambo) contacted Father and alleged Mother’s conduct was putting D.N. at risk. Based on these allegations and Rambo’s affidavit, Father filed an Emergency Custody Petition and was awarded emergency custody on April 24, 2009. An adjudication hearing was held on July 21.
Father’s complaint alleged that after an all-night drinking episode, Mother was too intoxicated to take D.N. to school and that she did not take the medications prescribed for her bipolar disorder. Attached to the petition was Rambo’s affidavit alleging mother’s misconduct, Father and Rambo both testified at the adjudication hearing.
Mother and two witnesses also testified at the hearing and disputed the allegations of Father and Rambo. Nevertheless, the Family Court ruled D.N. was an abused or neglected child and placed him in Father’s care.
Mother appealed asserting the Family Court failed to determine the truth or falsity of the allegations in the complaint, made erroneous findings of fact regarding Rambo’s testimony, and erroneously concluding D.N. was neglected, especially in light of testimony that he was routinely cared for by competent caregivers.
When a court conducts an adjudicatory hearing following temporary removal of a child from a custodian, KRS 620.100 requires the adjudication shall determine the truth or falsity of the allegations in the complaint with the burden of proof on complainant. Findings of fact must be supported by substantial evidence in the record.
The Family Court determined the truth or falsity of only 2 of the 17 allegations in the petition. The conclusion that D.N. was abused or neglected was not supported by substantial evidence. The Family Court also went beyond allegations in the complaint and the testimony at the hearing and referred to evidence from prior proceedings and the court’s own knowledge acquired in the course of those prior actions; none of which was introduced into evidence at the adjudicatory hearing. While a court may take judicial notice of its findings of fact in a prior case, it is improper to consider the evidence from the prior action.
CA held that Family Court’s finding that D.N. was abused or neglected was erroneous as a matter of law because the court did not determine the truth or falsity of the allegations in the complaint and relied on information outside the record and as a result the conclusion that D.N. is abused or neglected is not based on substantial evidence.
CA vacated the Order finding D.N. an abused or neglected child and remanded to Family Court for entry of an order which determines the truth or falsity of all the allegations in the complaint and based only on the record in this case.