IN RE INTEREST OF DONALD B. AND DEVIN B., CHILDREN UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE. STATE OF NEBRASKA, APPELLEE.
CANDICE I., APPELLANT.
Juvenile Courts: Appeal and Error. An
appellate court reviews juvenile cases de novo on the record
and reaches a conclusion independently of the juvenile
Parental Rights: Proof. In order to
terminate an individual's parental rights, the State must
prove by clear and convincing evidence that one of the
statutory grounds enumerated in Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292
(Reissue 2016) exists and that termination is in the
children's best interests.
Parental Rights: Juvenile Courts: Pleadings.
In a termination proceeding, pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat.
§ 43-247(6) (Reissue 2016), a court may accept an
in-court admission from a parent as to all or part of the
allegations in the petition.
Pleas: Evidence: Waiver: Words and Phrases.
A judicial admission is a formal act done in the course of
judicial proceedings which is a substitute for evidence,
thereby waiving or dispensing with the production of evidence
by conceding for the purpose of litigation that the
proposition of fact alleged by the opponent is true.
Parental Rights: Proof. When a parent admits
to the State's allegations regarding the statutory ground
for termination of parental rights and that termination is in
the children's best interests, the State does not have to
prove those allegations by clear and convincing evidence.
Parental Rights: Juvenile Courts: Pleadings.
Because the primary consideration in determining whether to
terminate parental rights is the best interests of the child,
a juvenile court should have at its disposal the information
necessary to make the determination regarding the minor
child's best interests regardless of whether the
information is [304 Neb. 240] in reference to a time period
before or after the filing of the termination petition.
Evidence: Appeal and Error. In a review de
novo on the record, an appellate court reappraises the
evidence as presented by the record and reaches its own
independent conclusions with respect to the matters at issue.
Juvenile Courts: Jurisdiction: Statutes. As
a statutorily created court of limited and special
jurisdiction, a juvenile court has only such authority as has
been conferred on it by statute.
for further review from the Court of Appeals. Moore, Chief
Judge, and Pirtle and Arterburn, Judges, on appeal thereto
from the Separate Juvenile Court of Douglas County, Chad M.
Brown, Judge. Judgment of Court of Appeals reversed, and
cause remanded with directions.
J. Ekeh, of Ekeh Law Office, for appellant.
W. Kleine, Douglas County Attorney, Natalie Killion, and
Jennifer Chrystal-Clark for appellee.
Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik,
and Freudenberg, JJ.
I. petitions for further review of the Nebraska Court of
Appeals' decision affirming the termination of her
parental rights to one of her minor children based upon her
admissions and the State's factual basis presented at the
termination hearing. Upon a de novo review of the record, the
indistinguishable progress made by Candice with both children
does not support a sufficient factual basis that termination
of her parental rights was in only one child's best
interests. Accordingly, we reverse, and remand with
is the natural mother of Donald B., born in 2003, and Devin
B., born in 2004. In 2015, the juvenile court [304 Neb. 241]
adjudicated that both children shall be under the temporary
custody of the Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS). Since the adjudication, the children have remained in
the custody of DHHS.
Hearing on Termination of Parental Rights to Devin
January 2018, the State filed its third motion to terminate
Candice's parental rights to both Donald and Devin. Six
months later, the juvenile court held a hearing on the
to a "plea deal" announced at the hearing, Candice
admitted to count I (Devin was within the meaning of Neb.
Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3)(a) (Reissue 2016)), count II
(Candice failed to comply with several court-ordered
rehabilitation plans), count IV (Devin came within the
meaning of Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-292(1) (Reissue 2016)),
count IX (terminating Candice's parental rights was in
Devin's best interests), and count X (reasonable efforts
under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-283.01 (Cum. Supp. 2018) were
not required due to abandonment). And in return, the State
dismissed all the allegations as to Donald and the remaining
allegations as to Devin. As a condition of the "plea
deal," the State represented that Candice's
admissions would be treated as a "voluntary
the termination and permanency hearing, the court recited the
allegations contained in the third motion to terminate
parental rights. Before and after the recitation, the court
conducted a colloquy with Candice to advise her of the rights
that she would be waiving. Candice then admitted to the
Candice's admissions, the State set forth a factual basis
for the plea, and we summarize its recitation. It stated it
would show that Devin was removed from his parental care in
2015. As part of the removal, the court entered several
orders. Candice failed to comply with the orders to reunify
with Devin. Prior to filing the motion for termination, she
did not have contact with Devin for 2 years. And other case
[304 Neb. 242] professionals would testify to the lack of
contact between Candice and Devin. Devin's caseworker
would testify that she made efforts to engage Candice in
reunification. Based upon the caseworker's education,
training, and experience with the family, she would testify
that it was in Devin's best interests to terminate
Candice's parental rights.
upon Candice's admissions and the factual basis recited
by the State, the juvenile court made several findings.
Pursuant to count III, the court took judicial notice of its
own record and orders in the case. It found that (1) there
was a factual basis for the counts; (2) the admissions to the
motion were true by clear and convincing evidence; (3) the
plea was knowingly, intelligently, and understanding made;
and (4) it was in Devin's best interests to terminate
Candice's parental rights. It terminated Candice's
parental rights and found that "this is to be treated as
a voluntary relinquishment to this Court and it cannot be
used for any further filings or proceedings by the county
attorney or any other party." The hearing continued with
respect to Donald's status, during which evidence was
considered. We will return to that evidence later.
Court of Appeals' Decision
timely appealed and challenged the termination of her
parental rights. She assigned that the court lacked
authority to accept her admissions as a voluntary
relinquishment. Additionally, she assigned that the court
erred in terminating her parental rights to Devin.
Court of Appeals reasoned that the juvenile court was
empowered to accept Candice's admissions and to rely on
the admissions when terminating her parental rights. It
disregarded the cases she discussed about relinquishment of
parental rights, because, it said, those cases were concerned
about a juvenile court's authority to order DHHS to
accept a voluntary relinquishment from a parent.
Neb. 243] It also reasoned that based on Candice's
admission that termination was in Devin's best interests,
her acquiescence to the factual basis, and her reunification
efforts with Donald, there was sufficient evidence to
terminate her parental rights to Devin. It emphasized that
"[t]he record shows that although Candice ceased having
contact with Devin more than 2 years prior to the State's
filing the third petition for termination of parental rights,
she was maintaining contact with Donald." It concluded that
based on the record, it could find no basis to set aside the