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Trial court didn’t err in answering a question on special verdict form in TPR case

State v. Queentesta H., 2014AP761, District 1, 7/22/14 (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

The circuit court did not err in answering the first question of the special verdict forms submitted to the jury in Queentesta’s TPR trial because the jury could not have reached any other conclusion regarding those questions.

The first question of the special verdict forms asked if Queentesta had received court orders relating to a CHIPS proceeding and an out-of-home placement that contained the termination notice required by § 48.356(2). Queentesta argues the second notice, which was the last one she received, was overinclusive, as it cited grounds for termination not relevant to her. But she didn’t claim the concomitant oral warnings under § 48.356(1) were deficient, so the court concludes the warnings were sufficient under Cynthia E. v. La Crosse County Human Services Dep’t, 172 Wis. 2d 218, 227-28, 493 N.W.2d 56 (1992). From this it follows the circuit court didn’t err in directing a verdict on the adequacy of the warnings:

¶10    A trial court may grant a directed verdict in a termination-of-parental-rights case “‘where the evidence is so clear and convincing that a reasonable and impartial jury properly instructed could reach but one conclusion.’” Door County Dep’t of Health & Family Services v. Scott S., 230 Wis. 2d 460, 465, 602 N.W.2d 167, 170 (Ct. App. 1999) (quoted source omitted). Moreover, “[s]ummary judgment on the existence of grounds for termination is proper, in appropriate cases, where there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute regarding the grounds and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Racine County Human Services Dep’t v. Latanya D.K., 2013 WI App 28, ¶17, 346 Wis. 2d 75, 91, 828 N.W.2d 251, 258–259. Given the law we have already set out in Part II. A., no reasonable and impartial jury could reach any conclusion but that “yes” should be the answer to the first questions in each of the special verdicts. Thus, the trial court did not err in granting a directed verdict on those elements. …

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