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No erroneous exercise of discretion in terminating parental rights, cont’d

V.A. v. M.W.P., 2019AP1098, District 2, 11/20/19 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity

V.A. petitioned to terminate the parental rights of her child’s father, M.W.P., who pled no contest to abandonment. M.V.P. argues the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion in ordering termination because it failed to dismiss the proceeding or give sufficient weight to the fact that V.A.’s husband, M.A., confronted the child’s GAL about his recommendation against termination, telling the GAL he’d “have blood on his hands.” (¶¶3, 13). No erroneous exercise of discretion here, says the court of appeals.

¶16  The conduct of which M.W.P. complains was conduct by M.A., not V.A. V.A., not M.A., is the petitioner and thus the party/“plaintiff” in this case. M.W.P. has identified no case in which our courts have approved of the “harsh sanction” of dismissal where the alleged wrongdoing was committed by a nonparty just because the nonparty may desire the same outcome as the plaintiff/petitioner. Furthermore, M.W.P. has not directed us to any evidence in the record, and we have not been able to find any, indicating V.A. engaged in any bad faith or egregious misconduct whatsoever, or that she even encouraged or in any way supported M.A.’s conduct of which M.W.P. complains. Thus, M.W.P. has provided us with no basis upon which to conclude the circuit court erred in declining to dismiss V.A.’s petition because of M.A.’s conduct.

It’s not as if M.A. had much of a connection to V.A., other than being married to her (the child’s mother, that is), which is nothing, really, right?

As for M.W.P.’s argument the circuit court gave insufficient weight to the “misconduct” (the court of appeals’ scare quotes, not ours) of M.A. and to the recommendation of the GAL with regard to terminating M.W.P.’s parental rights, the court of appeals finds no error, given the erroneous exercise of discretion standard of review:

¶18  On this point, M.W.P. merely invites us to reweigh the evidence presented to the circuit court. He cites heavily to the recommendation of the GAL because the GAL indicated it is in the best interests of E.W.P. to not terminate M.W.P.’s parental rights. M.W.P. conclusorily asserts the court should have given more weight to the GAL’s recommendation and “the uncertainties about M.A. as an adoptive parent as exhibited by his litigation behavior.” However, the weight given to presented evidence is left largely to the fact finder, here the circuit court. …. The court considered the appropriate statutory factors, as well as the GAL’s recommendation and M.A.’s “misconduct,” and thereafter made a rational decision. To prevail on appeal, M.W.P. must demonstrate how the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion, not just that M.W.P. prefers a different result and views the evidence differently than the court. ….

Did we mention that the standard of review is (face it, people!) metaphysically impossible to overcome? Yes, as it turns out, we did.

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