The right to parent your child is a fundamental right, guaranteed by the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But, just like anything else in life, that right is not absolute. For example, parents who abuse their children, whether it be physical or verbal, do not have an absolute right to parent their child anymore. When a child is found to be in a detrimental home environment or found not having their basic needs met, then the State can become involved to protect the child. But there are limits to the State’s ability to intervene, such as when the claims have already been previously litigated in a prior CHINS proceeding. This was the issue at hand in the Court of Appeals recent decision of In the Matter of R.L.1 and the subject of this blog post.
In the Matter of R.L., the Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant Mother’s motion to dismiss the CHINS action. The relevant facts are as follows: In 2017, shortly after the Minor Child was born, the Indiana Department of Child Services (“DCS”) removed the child from Mother’s care, claiming that the child’s Mother and Father did not provide a stable home environment. DCS subsequently filed a CHINS petition based on these allegations. The trial court denied and dismissed the CHINS action in March of 2018, finding that Mother and Father did provide a stable home environment. Without telling Mother about the Court’s Order dismissing the charge, one of DCS’ workers contacted Mother, stating that she needed to do a home inspection. Shortly after this home first, the DCS worker filed another CHINS petition, claiming that the Minor Child was a CHINS.
At the trial, Mother moved to dismiss the action, claiming that the action was barred by the doctrine of Res Judicata. The trial court disagreed and found the Minor Child to be a CHINS. Mother appealed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with Mother, remanding the CHINS determination based on Res Judicata. In reaching their decision, the Court of Appeals noted the purpose of Res Judicata is to prevent repetitious litigation disputes that are essentially the same. This doctrine protects individuals from having to continuously defend themselves against the same charge. The Court of Appeals found that most all of the allegations contained in the new CHINS petition “were either litigated or were known to DCS at the time that it filed and litigated its 2017 CHINS.” Thus, “re-litigation of those issues was barred by res judicata.” In closing, the Court voiced their “concerns” regarding “the manner in which DCS litigated this case.”
CHINS proceedings are complicated and often very emotional for everyone involved. Whether you are the parent, guardian, or interested third party, knowing the status of developments in the law is the key to protecting your rights, as well as being an engaged citizen in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who deal with all aspects of CHINS proceedings throughout the state. Having counsel current on the latest developments in family law provides you with the best defense. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.