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Judith R. v. State, Dept. of Health & Social Services, Office of Children's Services

Supreme Court of Alaska

December 7, 2012

JUDITH R., Appellant,
v.
STATE of Alaska, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & SOCIAL SERVICES, OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES, Appellee.

Page 897

Olena Kalytiak Davis, Anchorage, for Appellant.

Megan R. Webb, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

Stephanie Pawlowski, Assistant Public Advocate, and Richard Allen, Public Advocate, Anchorage, for Guardian ad Litem.

Before: FABE, Chief Justice, CARPENETI and STOWERS, Justices.

OPINION

STOWERS, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Judith R. challenges the superior court's order terminating her parental rights to her son, Dexter.[1] The court terminated her rights based on her longstanding, unremedied mental illness. In its ruling on the record, the court, sua sponte, directed the parties to consult with Dexter's therapist

Page 898

about the advisability of allowing continued contact between Judith and Dexter following termination of Judith's parental rights, but the court's written order made no mention of post-termination contact. On appeal, Judith challenges the superior court's finding that termination of her parental rights was in Dexter's best interests and the court's failure to issue a " detailed order regarding post-termination visitation." Because the court's best interests finding was supported by substantial evidence and because the court was not required to address post-termination contact in its termination order, we affirm the superior court's decision.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

A. Judith

Judith suffers from serious mental health issues that, since 2005, have resulted in Dexter repeatedly being removed from her custody and, ultimately, resulted in termination of her parental rights. Judith does not contest the superior court's findings that her mental illness and emotional disturbance are unremedied and will almost surely continue, that she is unable or unwilling to consistently take medication that has been prescribed to treat her condition, that OCS made active reunification efforts to help her remedy her condition, or that her condition has harmed Dexter and placed him at an ongoing substantial risk of harm. We need not, therefore, discuss Judith's mental health issues or history in detail. But we provide a summary of Judith's condition and examples of her conduct in order to give context to our analysis of the superior court's finding that termination of Judith's parental rights is in Dexter's best interests.

Judith has struggled with mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence issues for at least ten years. At various times, she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder, psychotic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder, and she has been prescribed a variety of medications, including antipsychotic and antidepressant medicines. She has an extensive history of abusing alcohol, amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, and prescription medications. In the past five years, she has been hospitalized for treatment of mental health issues or received mental health crisis intervention services no fewer than 11 times, and she has been arrested on numerous occasions. In addition, she refuses to end a relationship with a man who physically and mentally abuses her, and she does not appreciate why OCS is concerned about that relationship. Richard Fuller, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist who evaluated Judith in fall 2011, concluded that she cannot function independently without monitoring and support by an agency that oversees the functioning of disabled individuals, and that she will not likely be able to maintain a stable environment for herself or Dexter at any time in the near future.

Dexter has been removed from Judith's custody four times: in 2005, when Judith told police officers and OCS that she was not willing to care for him; in 2006, when she was admitted to a hospital for medical and psychiatric treatment; in 2007, when she left a mental health crisis facility against medical advice; and in 2009, when she became suicidal and was unable to care for her son. Since the final removal, Judith has often exhibited behaviors that are inconsistent with safe parenting. Several examples are illustrative.

In February 2010, police officers responding to a late-night complaint of excessive " banging" in Judith's apartment reported that she was acting strangely and exhibiting extreme mood changes. Judith told the officers that after she ran out of her anxiety medication, her doctor told her to take care of her problems " naturally." She reported that she and her boyfriend, Kirk, had been drinking heavily. The officers issued Judith and Kirk a disorderly conduct warning. Later that night, police returned to the apartment where, although Judith was not at home, the door stood open. Judith then arrived in a taxi, shoeless, and explained that she had been chasing " the love of her life," who had run away from her. Officers ...


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