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TPR – Summary Judgment on Grounds

Rock Co. HSD v. Timothy F., 2011AP1354, District 4, 8/25/11

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Timothy F.: Carl W. Chessir; case activity

The court rejects Timothy F.’s challenge to grant of summary judgment as to grounds for termination (abandonment, § 48.415(1)(a)2.): even if Timothy arguably had “good cause” for not visiting his child (Timothy had absconded from probation in fear of possible revocation), no reasonable jury could find that he had good cause not to communicate with the child during that time:

¶6        For example, Timothy points to no facts supporting an inference that his predicament prevented him from using a telephone, the mail, or some other means of communication from afar.  There is nothing in the submissions suggesting that calling or writing would somehow have led to his apprehension.  Thus, I agree with the circuit court and the County that the submissions do not create a material factual dispute as to whether there was good cause for Timothy to fail to communicate.

¶7        In closing, I note that Timothy points to an observation made by the supreme court in Steven V.  There, the court observed that “[s]ummary judgment will ordinarily be inappropriate in TPR cases premised on … fact-intensive grounds for parental unfitness,” as opposed to grounds that are able to be proved by documentary evidence.  See Steven V., 271 Wis. 2d 1, ¶¶36-37 (emphasis added).  The court included abandonment in an accompanying list of grounds that are typically fact intensive.  See id., ¶36.  But this observation does Timothy no good here. This case is not fact intensive.  Rather, summary judgment here is consistent with Steven V.’s later explanation that, regardless which termination ground is involved, “[t]he propriety of summary judgment is determined case-by-case.”  See id., ¶37 n.4.

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