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In re V.E.H.

Court of Appeals of Georgia

July 8, 2003

In the Interest of V.E.H., a child.

Page 155

[262 Ga.App. 198] Kutner & Bloom, Jean M. Kutner, Cook, Lundy & Sanderson, Michelle G. Lundy, Peachtree City, Catherine B. Sanderson, for appellant.

Thurbert E. Baker, Atty. Gen., Dennis R. Dunn, Deputy Atty., Gen., William C. Joy, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., Shalen S. Nelson, Brenda A. Raspberry, Asst. Attys. Gen., James T. Chafin, III, for appellee.

ADAMS, Judge.

The mother of V.E.H. appeals the termination of her parental rights. [1] For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Page 156

V.E.H. was born on August 7, 1996. In November 1999, when V.E.H. was a little over three years old, her mother married Adrian Pinder after having known him for less than two months. In January 2000, Pinder beat V.E.H., inflicting injuries so severe she had to be placed on life support. The Henry County Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) was awarded emergency custody of V.E.H. pursuant to a 72-hour shelter care order, and the mother stipulated V.E.H. was deprived at the initial hearing. Legal custody of V.E.H. was awarded to DFACS on February 17, 2000, and the mother was not allowed any visitation with the child. On February 20, 2000, DFACS filed its 30 Day Case Plan, recommending that the mother's parental rights be terminated; on February 24, DFACS filed a petition to terminate her parental rights. The mother filed a "Motion for Visitation or Custody, Objection to Biological Parent's Visitation and Motion for 'Gag' Order" on March 10, 2000. A hearing was initially scheduled on the motion for March 16, 2000, but upon request of the biological father, the hearing was continued until March 30, 2000.

A case plan review hearing was scheduled for April 27, 2000, but was continued by request of the mother until May 4, 2000, so that the mother's newly retained attorney could prepare for the hearing. On May 4, 2000, the parties requested that the hearings on the case plan, the mother's motion for visitation, and a contempt motion that had been filed against the mother be consolidated and continued. On May 23, 2000, the matter was again continued due to a scheduling conflict of the mother's attorney. On June 13, the court granted another continuance until June 29, 2000, to allow receipt of doctor's reports and consideration of the mother's request for visitation. More than six months later, on January 25, 2001, the court granted another continuance until February 15, 2001, because the mother's attorney was not present. After another seven months, on August 16, 2001, another continuance was granted until August 30, 2001, because the mother's attorney was out of town and could not appear.

Judicial citizen review panel hearings were held on September 14, 2000, March 27, 2001, and September 25, 2001. In each instance, the panel recommended nonreunification with the mother based on [262 Ga.App. 193] concerns for the child's safety and the mother's failure to protect the child. Following each hearing, the juvenile court entered supplemental orders incorporating, approving, and adopting the review panels' findings and recommendations. In each of these orders, the juvenile court noted that a copy of the report had been provided to the parties and that none of the parties had requested a hearing or appealed the findings of the panel.

The hearing on the petition to terminate the mother's parental rights was held on December 6 and 7, 2001, and the order terminating the mother's parental rights was entered on February 14, 2002. This appeal followed.

1. The mother first argues that the juvenile court erred by failing to conduct a hearing or enter an order on DFACS' nonreunification case plan as required by subsections (e) and (h) of OCGA ยง 15-11-58. The juvenile court noted this "procedural deficiency" in the termination order, but found it would not bar granting the petition to terminate the mother's parental rights "in light of the overwhelming evidence supporting the non-reunification plan and the termination of parental rights and in light of the mother's having effectively invited and acquiesced in the oversight by asking for and agreeing in numerous continuances of court proceedings and by never pursuing the hearing."

We agree that the mother's repeated requests for continuances contributed in large part to the error of which she now complains. DFACS submitted its initial case plan in February 2000, and that case plan, as well as all subsequent plans and the reports issued by the citizen review panels, recommended that reunification not be attempted in this case because of the egregious nature of the injuries inflicted on V.E.H. while in her mother's care. As more fully set forth above, the mother agreed to or requested numerous continuances on the hearings scheduled to review the case plans, and she never pursued her right to an appeal following

Page 157

issuance of the reports from the citizen review panels recommending nonreunification. "It is a well-settled appellate rule that one cannot complain of errors or rulings which his own conduct procured or aided in causing." In the Interest of R.N. R., 257 Ga.App. 93, 95-96(2), 570 S.E.2d 388 (2002). However, as set forth more fully in Division 2, because reversal in this case is mandated due to the absence of clear and convincing evidence to support the termination of the mother's parental rights, the issue of reunification will need to be revisited upon remand in this case.

2. The mother next argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the termination of her parental ...


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