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Parent’s challenges to TPR order affirmed under deferential standard of review

State v. M.H., 2023AP732, District I, 7/11/23, 1-judge decision ineligible for publication; case activity (briefs not available)

M.H. raises two challenges to a circuit court order terminating her parental rights. Under an exceedingly deferential standard of review, both claims fail.

The State filed this TPR petition  in November of 2022. (¶3). At a hearing held in December of 2022, M.H. did not appear. (¶4). As a result, the State moved for a default judgment and that motion was granted by the circuit court. (Id.). The circuit court ultimately entered an order terminating M.H.’s parental rights. (¶10).

On appeal, M.H. raises two arguments. First, she argues that the circuit court erred by entering a default judgment under these circumstances. (¶12). Specifically, she claims that the State’s attempts to serve her via publication were insufficient to give her actual notice of these proceedings. (¶16). However, COA concludes that service was proper and, thus, the circuit court did not erroneously exercise its discretion in granting the State’s motion. (¶19).

As COA acknowledges, § 801.11 recognizes three methods of obtaining service in a case like this. First, the State must attempt to personally serve the respondent. (¶16). In this case, the “record reflects that the State attempted personal service on M.H. three times, each at the address she had been known to live by DMCPS.” (¶17). Presumably, the State was then unable to satisfy the substitute service requirements of § 801.11(1)(b) and therefore elected to serve M.H. via publication pursuant to § 801.11(1)(c). (Id.). M.H.’s only dispute here is that the State published its notice in the wrong forum as, under § 985.02(1), “legal notice shall be published in a newspaper likely to give notice in the area or to the person affected.” (Id.). M.H. argues, in effect, that there was insufficient reason to believe that she resided in Milwaukee and, thus, publication in a Milwaukee newspaper was improper service. (Id.). COA rejects these arguments as undeveloped and conclusory, especially in light of her using a Milwaukee address when submitting her notice of intent to pursue postdisposition relief. (¶19).

The choice of publication in this case was a newspaper called “The Daily Reporter.” According to that periodical’s website: “The Daily Reporter is Wisconsin’s only construction niche media company. We’re also the official public notice publication of Milwaukee County.”

Second, M.H. argues that the circuit court erroneously exercised its discretion in terminating her parental rights. (¶20). Under the exceedingly deferential standard of review applicable to such decisions, COA wastes no time in affirming. (¶20). To the extent M.H. is arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s decision, COA agrees that this concededly slim record was nonetheless legally sufficient. (¶22).

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