August 23, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Proof of Alleged Abuse Not Required Where Child Adjudicated Dependent Based on Lack of Parental Care

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of L.K. on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Dependency and Neglect—Sexual Abuse—Polygraph Examination—Treatment Plan—Testimony—Evidence—Attorney Fees—Discovery Violations—Sovereign Immunity.

L.K. alleged sexual abuse by her father, C.K. Although C.K. denied the allegations, he stipulated that L.K. was dependent and neglected because she lacked proper parental care. The court accepted his admission and adjudicated L.K. dependent and neglected. The Moffat County Department of Social Services (MCDSS) devised a treatment plan for C.K., which required, among other things, that C.K. take a polygraph examination as part of denier’s treatment. Moffat later moved to terminate C.K.’s parental rights. Among other things, the court found that C.K. had been referred for a polygraph examination but did not appear for it, and it granted the termination motion, citing C.K.’s failure to successfully complete treatment designed to address the allegations of sexual misbehavior with L.K. as sufficient evidence that he was unable or unwilling to provide nurturing and safe parenting to adequately address her needs.

On appeal, C.K. contended that the trial court committed reversible error by considering the denier’s treatment polygraph examination as evidence supporting its determination that he failed to successfully complete his treatment plan. He did not dispute either that his treatment plan required him to participate in denier’s treatment or that a polygraph examination was required in denier’s treatment. For these reasons, the court properly admitted evidence of efforts to schedule an appointment for a polygraph examination and evidence that C.K. did not keep the appointment, and the court did not err in considering this evidence in terminating C.K.’s parental rights.

Next, C.K. contended that MCDSS had the burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that his parental rights should be terminated, but the trial court erred by unfairly shifting the burden of proof to him when he decided not to testify in the termination hearing. When C.K. failed to present evidence, the court did not improperly shift the burden of proof, infringe on his privilege against self-incrimination, or draw impermissible adverse inferences.

Finally, C.K. contended that MCDSS did not prove its case by clear and convincing evidence, asserting the absence of such evidence that he had sexually abused L.K., which was the basis for the petition in dependency and neglect. However, the factual basis for adjudicating L.K. dependent and neglected had already been established, and MCDSS’s burden was to prove the criteria for termination, including C.K.’s failure to comply with his treatment plan. The Court of Appeals rejected the contention that the evidence was insufficient to support the judgment.

On cross-appeal, MCDSS contended that the trial court erred in assessing attorney fees against it for discovery violations. Sovereign immunity precludes orders assessing attorney fees against a governmental entity for discovery violations.

The judgment was affirmed and the sanctions order was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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