In the Matter of KB

In the Matter of KB, 2016 MT 73 (March 29, 2016) (McKinnon, J.) (7-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over KB’s abuse and neglect proceeding, and (2) whether Father received ineffective assistance of counsel.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) no.

Affirmed

Facts: KB was removed from her mother’s care in November 2012, at the age of 5, due to concerns about Mother’s inability to protect KB from domestic violence. KB was placed in kinship foster care with her aunt and uncle, where she has remained. Her younger sister, TH, also lives with aunt and uncle.

KB was adjudicated a youth in need of care in 2013, and the Department drafted a treatment plan for Father. Father changed the name to “checklist,” and signed it, and the district court approved it.

The Department petitioned to terminate Mother’s and Father’s parental rights in 2014. At the 2015 hearing, Mother consented to termination, but Father opposed it and asked for another six months to accomplish the tasks on his “checklist.” At the hearing, evidence showed that KB had flourished while living with aunt and uncle during the preceding 29 months. Aunt and uncle wished to adopt KB. Other witnesses testified that KB’s demeanor and attitude had changed for the better since living with her aunt and uncle.

Child protection specialist Silverthorne testified that Father’s treatment plan had not been successful.

Procedural Posture & Holding: At the end of the hearing, the district court terminated Father’s rights from the bench. It later issued findings, conclusions, and an order. Father appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) Trial courts have subject matter jurisdiction over all civil matters.

(2) Father claims ineffective assistance at three points: (a) when KB was adjudicated a youth in need of care, (b) when the district court characterized Father’s “checklist” as a treatment plan, and (c) when the district court exercised jurisdiction over KB’s proceeding.

Father cannot show prejudice from his counsel’s failure to object to the adjudication of KB as a youth in need of care. Nor can he show prejudice from his counsel’s failure to refer to the checklist as a treatment plan. The document specified the tasks Father needed to accomplish to become involved in KB’s life. Under the statute, it is a treatment plan. Finally, Father cannot show prejudice from his counsel’s failure to assert that the district court lacked jurisdiction, because as the Court has already held, the district court had jurisdiction.