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Alma S. v. Ariz. Dep't of Public Safety

245 Ariz. 146 (2018)

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Alma S. v. Ariz. Dep’t of Public Safety

Arizona Supreme Court

245 Ariz. 146 (2018)

Facts

Alma S. (defendant) was abused in a prior relationship by her two-year-old son’s father. Alma left that relationship and began living with Esdras R., the father of her two-month-old son, I.R. Esdras also abused Alma and both children. One day, while Alma was at work, Esdras beat I.R. severely. When Alma came home, she did not take I.R. to the doctor, even though Esdras was gone for hours. Alma’s relatives took I.R. to a hospital the next day, and the hospital found that I.R. had a rib fracture, a tibia fracture, and bruises. Both children were removed from Alma’s home, and the Department of Child Safety (the agency) (plaintiff) provided services to Alma and Esdras over a period of 18 months. Ultimately, finding that Alma was not able to protect the children, the agency petitioned to terminate Alma’s parental rights. A trial court determined that Alma met the statutory definition of an unfit parent. Next, the court ruled that termination was in the best interests of the children because their foster-care home was meeting their needs, the foster parents wanted to adopt them, and the children were adoptable by others. Alma did not appeal the finding that she was an unfit parent, but she appealed the finding that termination was in the children’s best interests. The appellate court reversed the juvenile court and employed a different standard for assessing whether termination was in a child’s best interests. The appellate court’s standard stressed the fundamental right of parents to raise their children. The appellate court ruled that termination required finding a substantial likelihood that a parent would not be able to parent appropriately in the future, not that someone else with greater parenting skills could also take care of the children. For the appellate court, if through services an unfit parent showed the ability to parent, a bond with the children, and a safe and stable living situation, then the fact that the children’s needs were met in foster care and that they were adoptable was subordinate to a parent’s rights in a best-interest analysis, unless termination alleviated a problem initiated by the parental relationship. The Arizona Supreme Court reviewed the case to determine the proper best-interest analysis.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lopez, J.)

Concurrence (Bolick, J.)

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