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Humbert v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

April 22, 2015



Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, Dependency-Neglect Appellate Division, for appellant.

Tabitha Baertels McNulty, Office of Policy and Legal Services, for appellee.

Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor children.



Page 317


Appellant Steve Humbert appeals from the termination of his parental rights to his two sons, C.H. and M.H., who are ages seven and six respectively.[1] On appeal, Steve argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the termination. We affirm.

We review termination of parental rights cases de novo. Willingham v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014 Ark.App. 568. At least one statutory ground must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2013); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997). Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be established. Anderson v. Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Yarborough v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 96 Ark.App. 247, 240 S.W.3d 626 (2006).

This case was initiated on September 23, 2013, when appellee Department of Human Services (DHS) filed an ex parte motion for emergency custody. Attached to the motion was an affidavit by a DHS caseworker stating that DHS had taken an emergency hold of both children after a report had been made to the child-abuse hotline stating that the children's mother, Nycole, had been using methamphetamine and crack cocaine in a hotel room in the presence of the children. Steve was reportedly buying the drugs for Nycole. The caseworker went to Steve and Nycole's

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residence to inquire about the report, and Nycole admitted that she had recently used cocaine. Nycole then tested positive for THC, methamphetamine, and cocaine, and Steve refused a drug screen. Based on these circumstances, the trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on the same day DHS filed its petition.[2]

The children remained in DHS custody until November 6, 2013, when the trial court entered an order placing the children in their father's custody. That order provided that all of the children's visitation with their mother must be supervised by DHS. The trial court entered an adjudication order on November 12, 2013, wherein it found the children to be dependent-neglected based on parental unfitness and neglect due to Nycole's illegal drug use. The adjudication order stated that Steve had passed his drug screen, had a job and a place to live, and that placement of the children with him was in the children's best interest. The adjudication order reiterated that Nycole shall not have contact with the children unless DHS was present.

On January 21, 2014, DHS filed an emergency motion for an ex parte change of custody of the children from Steve back to DHS. The emergency motion was based on Steve allowing the children to visit Nycole without DHS supervision in violation of the trial court's orders. An attached affidavit by a caseworker stated that DHS had made an unannounced visit to Steve's apartment and found Steve and the boys there with Nycole. DHS attempted to drug screen Nycole, but she refused. Upon speaking with the boys, the boys disclosed that they had been seeing their mother on almost a daily basis since they had come to live with their father from foster care. The boys indicated that their mother had watched over them while their father was at work, that she had taken them on outings while their father stayed home, and that she frequently spent the night at the apartment. The boys stated that their parents often argued, which scared them. C.H. stated that his father had told him not to tell anyone that the boys were seeing their mother or ...

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