July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: ADA Not Defense to Termination of Parental Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.Z. on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parent–Child Legal Relationship—Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Weld County Department of Human Services (Department) filed a dependency and neglect petition after mother was unwilling to follow through with treatment to address her multiple mental health diagnoses. The Department also asserted father had been diagnosed with severe depression. The court granted the Department custody of the child.

The court then adjudicated the child dependent and neglected and approved a treatment plan for the parents. After receiving the psychological and parent–child interactional evaluations, the Department moved to terminate the parents’ parental rights, asserting that no appropriate treatment plan could be devised to address their unfitness. Following a contested hearing, the court terminated the parent–child legal relationship.

On appeal, mother and father argued that CRS § 19-3-604(1)(b)(I) conflicts with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it allows the court to terminate parental rights of disabled parents without requiring the Department to provide them the rehabilitative services that other parents receive. The Court first addressed the Department’s assertion that the parents’ contention should be summarily rejected because the ADA is not a defense to termination of parental rights. Title II of the ADA does not limit the court’s authority to terminate a disabled parent’s rights when the parent is unable to meet his or her child’s needs. However, it does apply to the provision of assessments, treatment, and other services that a department provides to parents through a dependency and neglect proceeding before a termination hearing. Accordingly, the issue in this case is whether CRS § 19-3-604(1)(b)(I) is preempted by the ADA.

The type of preemption at issue here was conflict preemption, which voids a state statute that conflicts with a valid federal law. A conflict is found when compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility or when the state law stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and full execution of the purposes and objectives of federal law.

CRS § 19-3-604(1)(b)(I) permits termination of parental rights of mentally impaired parents without requiring the Department to provide them treatment plans. However, the Court held this does not conflict with the ADA’s requirement that a public entity make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. If rehabilitative services can be offered to address a parent’s mental impairment so that he or she can meet the child’s needs within a reasonable time, then termination is not authorized under CRS § 19-3-604(1)(b)(I). A finding that no treatment plan can be devised to address a parent’s unfitness caused by mental impairment is the equivalent of a determination that no reasonable accommodations can be made to account for the parent’s disability under the ADA.

In determining whether reasonable accommodations can be made to address the parent’s disability under the ADA, the court’s paramount concern is the child’s health and safety. The ADA does not protect an individual who poses a safety risk to others. The Court concluded that the trial court’s findings here satisfy the ADA requirement that no reasonable accommodations could be made to enable mother and father to participate in an appropriate treatment plan and rehabilitative services.

Father also argued the termination of his parental rights solely on the basis of his mental disability violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court disagreed. Parents who are unable to meet their children’s needs within a reasonable time, whether because of mental impairment or another statutorily enumerated reason, are not similarly situated to parents who have the ability to become fit within a reasonable time. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Becky Bye: 2012 Pegasus Scholarship Exchange Program in the English Legal System

Last year, I applied for, and was selected as a Pegasus Scholar for 2012 by the American Inns of Court. I encourage you to find out more information about the American Inns of Court by browsing the material on their website. Generally, the American Inns of Court oversees and supports local Inns throughout the country. These Inns contain judges, lawyers, law professors and law students who meet approximately once per month to discuss professionalism, ethics, and to mentor. Each Inn is subdivided into “pupilage groups” which are smaller groups that typically have one judge, several senior attorneys, several junior attorneys, and several attorneys. These groups also gather outside of the more formal once-per-month Inn meetings, and each group is responsible for one of the monthly programs presented to the Inn.

The American Inns of Courts are loosely based on the mentoring structure within the UK legal system for Barristers. As I understand (and I will certainly learn more about this when I go to London), aspiring Barristers must shadow or apprentice with Barristers, have dinners with them, and work with them until the Barristers are satisfied about their knowledge about the profession. When they are satisfied, that apprentice is “called to the Bar” and admitted to practice as a Barristers. (Note: Barristers wear wigs and practice in front of judges; Solicitors are attorneys that do not practice before judges but work with Barristers when their client must go to court).

The American Inns of Court sponsors the Pegasus Scholarship which allows two young lawyers who have a few years of experience to go to the UK for approximately six weeks (and in exchange, two young Barristers from the UK travel to the US). During the six weeks, the US attorneys work with different Barristers and learn about their legal system and all of its nuances. This experience includes watching oral arguments, engaging in legal research, eating dinner with the Inner Temple Inn in London, and visiting Barristers in Edinburgh, Dublin, and Belfast, amongst many other priceless opportunities.

Since my second year of law school in 2003, I have been a member of the William E. Doyle Inn of Court. Joining my Inn has been one of the best and most satisfying decisions I ever made. Over the years, I established numerous mentoring, professional, and personal relationships with judges, lawyers, and law students. I can talk to people within my Inn openly about any questions I might have about a sensitive issue or discuss any trials or tribulations. I can always turn to someone for more mentorship or guidance and feel that others know they can turn to me about any questions they have about the legal profession, jobs, and handling situations tactfully.

One of the attorneys I initially met, who has served as my mentor and confidant, received the Pegasus Scholarship in the 1990s. He constantly spoke highly of the experience and indicated that it might have been one of the best, most educational experiences of his life. Having studied abroad in college, I understood that this was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime educational experience.

I always kept the Pegasus Scholarship at the forefront of my mind, but the time never seemed right between job obligations, professional obligations, and weddings. Luckily, in 2012 everything came together to allow me to immerse myself in this scholarship (and luckily, I was selected as one of two people to receive it!). My fellow scholar is John DeStefano, whom I have not yet met except via phone and email.

You can read more about our bios and announcements by clicking here, and for more information about the scholarship and a link to a PDF brochure, please click here.

One of the reasons why I’ll be writing these blog posts, besides memorializing this unique opportunity for myself, is to allow others to experience this journey with me. As such, please post in comments section below any questions or topics you would like me to explore about the UK (and Irish) legal system, the Inns of Court, mentoring, the UK government system, or any other questions you have. I will post them on the blog or write back to you directly.

I leave for London on February 17, 2012 and arrive back in the United States on April 1, 2012. I’m crossing my fingers for decent weather!

Becky Bye is an attorney in the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in Golden, Colorado, where she practices in various areas of law, including environmental, administrative, and labor law. She received her J.D. from the University of Denver Strum College of Law and served as a chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Colorado Bar Association from 2010–2011. She has started a blog to document her experience abroad, where this post originally appeared.