Supreme Court of the State of Washington
Opinion Information Sheet
Docket Number: 81720-1
Title of Case: In re Welfare of C.S.
File Date: 01/21/2010
Oral Argument Date: 10/13/2009
SOURCE OF APPEAL
Appeal from Ferry County Superior Court
Honorable Allen C Nielson
Barbara A. Madsen Signed Majority result only
Charles W. Johnson Signed Majority
Gerry L. Alexander Signed Majority
Richard B. Sanders Majority Author
Tom Chambers Signed Majority result only
Susan Owens Signed Majority
Mary E. Fairhurst Signed Majority
James M. Johnson Signed Majority
Debra L. Stephens Did Not Participate
H. Joseph Coleman,
Justice Pro Tem. Signed Majority
COUNSEL OF RECORD
Counsel for Petitioner(s)
Lila Jane Silverstein
Washington Appellate Project
1511 3rd Ave Ste 701
Seattle, WA, 98101-3647
Counsel for Respondent(s)
Sheila Malloy Huber
Attorney at Law
Po Box 40124
Olympia, WA, 98504-0124
Stephen H. Hassett
Office of the Attorney General
Po Box 40124
7141 Cleanwater Dr Sw
Olympia, WA, 98504-0124
Counsel for Minor(s)
Colton Singleton (Appearing Pro Se)
Colville,, WA, 99114
Counsel for Other Parties
Kelly Singleton (Appearing Pro Se)
Washington State Penitentiary
1313 N. 13th Ave.
Walla Walla,, WA, 99362
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
In re the Matter of the Welfare of No. 81720-1
D.O.B. 10/05/1999, ) En Banc
a minor child under the age )
of eighteen. Filed January 21, 2010
SANDERS, J. -- We are asked to decide whether termination of the parent-
child relationship was permissible under RCW 13.34.180 where a child was taken
from the custody of his mother due to the mother's substance abuse; the mother
* For purposes of this opinion, the minor child's initials are used in place of his
corrected her substance abuse problems; but her parental rights were still
terminated based upon her alleged inability to address the special needs of her
child with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), for which the State
offered her no services.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. In re Welfare of C.S., noted at 144 Wn.
App. 1020 (2008). Although the mother was willing and able to participate in
training, the State did not offer it. Because RCW 13.34.190 requires the State to
do so, we reverse the trial court's order terminating the mother's parental rights.
Facts and ANALYSIS
C.S. was born on October 5, 1999 to Amy Sampey (formerly Amy
Singleton) and Kelly Singleton. Due to substance abuse Ms. Sampey ceased
taking care of C.S. on September 5, 2002, and a trial court found C.S. dependent
on November 5, 2002. A child is dependent when he or she is abandoned,
abused, neglected, or otherwise endangered for lack of a suitable caregiver. See
RCW 13.34.030(6). "A dependency is a period during which parents have an
opportunity to correct parental deficiencies." In re Dependency of A.W., 53 Wn.
App. 22, 28, 765 P.2d 307 (1988); see also RCW 13.34.020, .025(1), (2)(a).
During C.S.'s dependency the State provided Ms. Sampey with services to
address her only identified parental deficiency, substance abuse. Numerous
attempts to treat her substance abuse failed, but in November 2004 she entered
and successfully completed a substance abuse treatment program.1 She has
remained sober since that time, verified by urine samples twice a week, and
actively and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous,
and an outpatient program. The State did not identify any additional parental
deficiencies as a basis to continue the dependency nor did it offer additional
remedial services. Yet the State did not seek to reunite Ms. Sampey with C.S.,
even though she had overcome her identified parental deficiency.
Instead the State filed a termination petition on November 8, 2005
asserting Ms. Sampey's substance abuse was a parental deficiency warranting
termination. This is extraordinary considering Ms. Sampey had been sober for
the year preceding that petition. See In re Dependency of A.W., 53 Wn. App. at
28 ("Only if it is determined that the efforts to cure parental deficiencies have
been unsuccessful and additional services will not remedy those deficiencies in
the foreseeable future, will a termination petition be filed."); see also In re
Welfare of H.S., 94 Wn. App. 511, 523, 973 P.2d 474 (1999) ("The issue at
termination is current unfitness.").
A biological parent has fundamental liberty and privacy interests in raising
1 While battling her substance abuse Ms. Sampey had a second son, D.A., with
her boyfriend, Robert Auxier. D.A. was removed from Ms. Sampey's care in
May 2004. She regained custody of him in 2005 and has raised him since that
time. The dependency action for D.A. has since been dismissed because Ms.
Sampey has remained sober and adequately cares for him.
his or her child, and the State can infringe upon those interests only when the
parent is endangering the child's physical or emotional welfare. See In re
Welfare of Sumey, 94 Wn.2d 757, 762, 621 P.2d 108 (1980); see also In re
Custody of Smith, 137 Wn.2d 1, 20, 969 P.2d 21 (1998) ("Short of preventing
harm to the child, the standard of 'best interest of the child' is insufficient to
serve as a compelling state interest overruling a parent's fundamental rights."),
aff'd sub nom. Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 68, 120 S. Ct. 2054, 147 L. Ed.
2d 49 (2000) ("[T]here is a presumption that fit parents act in the best interests
of their children."). The United States Constitution mandates that the State can
completely and irrevocably sever the rights of a parent to his or her natural
children only where the parent's unfitness has been shown by "at least clear and
convincing evidence." Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 747-48, 102 S. Ct.
1388, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599 (1982).
To satisfy this mandate Washington's termination statute requires certain
statutory factors be proved by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence before
termination may be considered. See RCW 13.34.180(1), .190(1)(a); In re
Dependency of K.R., 128 Wn.2d 129, 141-42, 904 P.2d 1132 (1995). Two of the
factors the State must prove are that the State has provided all necessary services,
reasonably available, capable of correcting the parental deficiencies, RCW
13.34.180(1)(d), and that there is little likelihood that conditions will be remedied
so that the child can be returned to his or her parent in the near future, RCW
At this termination hearing the trial court concluded Ms. Sampey had
remedied her substance abuse and any "psychological incapacity [or] mental
deficiency." Clerk's Papers at 47 para. 2 (Trial, Findings of Fact, Conclusions of
Law and Ruling) (addressing RCW 13.34.180(1)(e)). However, it also concluded
she lacked "the patience, presence of mind, skills, experience, time in a day, and
availability to care for [C.S.] -- given his special needs," and these conditions
showed there was little likelihood C.S. could be returned to Ms. Sampey in the
near future. Id. para. 3. The trial court terminated Ms. Sampey's parental rights.
C.S. has been diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional-defiant disorder,
obsessive-compulsive disorder, and sensory integration disorder, and these
conditions make him difficult to manage at times. Ms. Arlette Porter, his foster
parent, had difficulties addressing C.S.'s conditions until the State provided her
training on how to effectively deal with them and C.S. was put on medication.
This combination of training and medication has shown great success.
The State did not offer Ms. Sampey this training.2 RCW 13.34.180(1)(d)
2 The State argues doing so would have been futile due to her substance abuse
and mental health problems. "Where the record establishes that the offer of
services would be futile, the trial court can make a finding that the Department
has offered all reasonable services." In re Welfare of M.R.H., 145 Wn. App. 10,
25, 188 P.3d 510 (2008) (citing In re Welfare of Ferguson, 32 Wn. App. 865, 869-
requires "all necessary services, reasonably available, capable of correcting the
parental deficiencies within the foreseeable future have been expressly and
understandably offered or provided."3 Since this training, deemed necessary to
address C.S.'s behavioral problems, was not offered to Ms. Sampey, termination
of her parental rights was not warranted (even if this court assumes arguendo, as
the State asserts, that Ms. Sampey's inexperience in addressing C.S.'s conditions
can serve as a basis for termination).4 See RCW 13.34.180(1)(d), .190(1)(a).
The termination order must be reversed.
70, 650 P.2d 1118 (1982), rev'd on other grounds, 98 Wn.2d 589, 656 P.2d 503
(1983)). However, Ms. Sampey had been sober for 22 months by the time of the
termination hearing and the trial court concluded she had no lingering deficiency
from substance abuse or mental health issues that would preclude her from
caring for C.S., much less successfully completing training to do so.
3 The trial court characterized Ms. Sampey's alleged inability to address C.S.'s
special needs not as a "parental deficiency" under RCW 13.34.180(1)(d), but as a
"condition" preventing reunion under RCW 13.34.180(1)(e). The State is
charged with reuniting families where possible, see RCW 13.34.020, and with
providing necessary services to achieve that goal, see RCW 13.34.180(1)(d).
When a "condition" precludes reunion of parent and child, as here, regardless of
whether it can be labeled a "parental deficiency," the State must provide any
necessary services to address that condition as set forth in RCW 13.34.180(1)(d).
Otherwise the State could avoid providing services to preserve the family unit
simply by classifying a parental shortcoming as a "condition" instead of a
4 Ms. Sampey raises an additional argument we need not reach here, that a need
for outside help to address C.S.'s special needs cannot be a "condition" or
"parental deficiency" on which to base termination. See Pet'r's Supp. Br. at 19-
Termination was improper under RCW 13.34.180(1)(d). We reverse the
Court of Appeals and dismiss this termination proceeding.
Justice Richard B. Sanders
Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Susan Owens
Justice Charles W. Johnson Justice Mary E. Fairhurst
Justice Gerry L. Alexander Justice James M. Johnson
H. Joseph Coleman, Justice Pro
Justice Tom Chambers, result only