Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. Nos. 95-J-889, 95-J-913, & 95-J-914
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Maag
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS
Honorable Lewis E. Mallott, Judge, presiding.
This case is an interlocutory appeal of right from the final judgment of the circuit court of Madison County, terminating the parental rights of respondent K.M. (the mother), with respect to three of her minor children. The parental rights of B.T. (the father) were also terminated; however, this appeal is only on behalf of the mother. No questions are raised on the pleadings, and the mother filed a timely notice of appeal.
The mother contends that the evidence does not sustain the findings of the circuit court that she was an unfit parent. We disagree for the following reasons.
In the circuit court, a finding of parental unfitness must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. In re Pronger, 118 Ill. 2d 512, 526, 517 N.E.2d 1076, 1081 (1987). The circuit court's finding will not be reversed, however, unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence, since that court had the opportunity to see the witnesses and evaluate their credibility. In re J.P., 261 Ill. App. 3d 165, 174, 633 N.E.2d 27, 34 (1994). For a finding to be against the manifest weight of the evidence, the "opposite result must be clearly evident from a review of the evidence." J.P., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 174, 633 N.E.2d at 34.
The circuit court's finding is entitled to great deference. J.P., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 174, 633 N.E.2d at 34. It is not the function of this court to reweigh the evidence or to reassess the credibility of the witnesses. In re I.D., 205 Ill. App. 3d 543, 550, 563 N.E.2d 1200, 1205 (1990). "Each case concerning parental unfitness is sui generis, unique unto itself." In re Adoption of Syck, 138 Ill. 2d 255, 279, 562 N.E.2d 174, 185 (1990). We must be mindful that a finding of parental unfitness may be based on evidence sufficient to support any one statutory ground, even if the evidence is not sufficient to support other grounds alleged. In re J.A.S., 255 Ill. App. 3d 822, 825, 627 N.E.2d 770, 774 (1994).
In the case at bar, the petition to terminate parental rights alleged that the mother was an unfit person for (1) failing to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the minors' welfare and (2) demonstrating habitual addiction to drugs, other than those prescribed by a physician, for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness hearing.
Pursuant to the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/0.01 et seq. (West 1996)), one of the grounds of unfitness is the "failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern[,] or responsibility as to the child's welfare." 750 ILCS 50/1D(b) (West 1996). Since the language of section 1D(b) is in the disjunctive, any of the three grounds identified therein--the failure to maintain a reasonable degree of interest or concern or responsibility as to the welfare of the minors--may be established as a basis for unfitness. See J.P., 261 Ill. App. 3d at 174, 633 N.E.2d at 34.
This case commenced on October 18, 1995, with the State filing petitions to adjudicate the minors T.T., C.T., and B.T. neglected. Specifically, all of the petitions alleged that T.T. was a newborn whose blood or urine contained cocaine and that the mother was not providing him with the proper or necessary support, education, or medical or other remedial care recognized under State law as necessary for his well- being. All of the petitions also alleged that the minors' mother has a substance abuse addiction which inhibits her ability to provide adequate care and supervision for the three children.
On November 16, 1995, the circuit court entered an order for continuance under supervision and ordered as follows: (1) that the parents cooperate fully with the Department of Children and Family Services (Department) and Family First, (2) that the parents cooperate with and successfully complete any parenting lab arranged for them by the Department, (3) that the mother undergo and successfully complete evaluation and recommended treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism as arranged by the Department, and (4) that the parents allow the Department access to their home for the purpose of monitoring this order.
On February 5, 1996, the State filed a petition to revoke supervision because Family First could not locate the parents on five attempts in one week. On February 28, 1996, the court revoked supervision by agreement, found the minors neglected, and placed them in the custody of the mother, whom the court again ordered to cooperate with the Department, attend parenting classes, complete drug treatment, allow the Department home access, and tell the Department where she lives at all times.
On March 6, 1996, the State filed supplemental petitions seeking adjudications of neglect, adding the ground that the parents left the minors with a relative without making arrangements for their care. Although the mother was previously pro se, she submitted an affidavit of indigence and the court appointed an attorney to represent her. That same day, the circuit court held a shelter care hearing and found probable cause to believe that the minors were neglected as alleged in the supplemental petition. B.T., the father, was present and was also represented by an attorney.
On October 25, 1996, a petition to terminate parental rights as to all three minors was filed. The petition stated that B.T. admitted paternity and was, at that time, residing at the Madison County jail. The petition also stated that the mother was residing at the St. Clair County jail. The petition also alleged that C.T.'s father was C.H., who was, on the date of the petition, residing at the federal correctional institution in Memphis, Tennessee.
The allegations contained in paragraph seven of the petition state that the mother was unfit for the following reasons: (1) she failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the welfare of the minors and (2) she has demonstrated habitual addiction to drugs, other than those prescribed by a physician, for at least one year immediately prior to the commencement of the unfitness proceeding. The petition also alleged that B.T. and C.H. were unfit fathers.
The mother denied the allegations of paragraph seven.
On March 19, 1997, a hearing was held on the petition to terminate the mother's parental rights. The mother failed to appear and her attorney requested a continuance. The attorney told the court that her client received some devastating news that day from a case worker, and counsel stated, "[A]pparently this has caused here [sic] to be unable to attend Court." ...