APPEAL FROM THE LONOKE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. JV-2011-54. HONORABLE SANDY HUCKABEE, JUDGE.
James Hensley, Jr., for appellant Raymond Edwards.
Tabitha Baertels McNulty, Office of Policy and Legal Services, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith Chrestman, attorney ad litem for minor child.
CLIFF HOOFMAN, Judge. VAUGHT and BROWN, JJ., agree.
CLIFF HOOFMAN, Judge
Appellants Raymond and Patricia Edwards appeal from the circuit court's denial of their motion for custody of their granddaughter, M.A.E., who had been adjudicated dependent-neglected and placed in the custody of appellee, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). On appeal, appellants argue (1) that their appeal was timely pursuant to Rule 2(c) of the Arkansas Rules of Appellate Procedure--Civil and (2) that there was insufficient evidence that the order denying them custody of M.A.E. was in her best interest. Because the circuit court's order did not comply with Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), we dismiss the appeal without prejudice for lack of a final, appealable order.
M.A.E. (12/26/07), along with her two brothers, A.E. (2/27/04) and M.E. (11/18/05), were removed from the custody of their parents, Trish Edwards and Bruce Allen, in March 2011 due to environmental neglect. The children were adjudicated dependent-neglected on May 3, 2011, and the case goal was set as reunification with the parents. Appellants, the children's maternal grandparents, filed a motion to intervene in the case, which was granted on July 6, 2011.
Appellants filed a motion for custody of all three children on May 9, 2012, arguing that the children were currently placed in separate foster homes and that it was in their best interest to be placed together in appellants' custody. A petition to terminate parental rights was filed on November 13, 2012. A.E. and M.E. were temporarily placed with appellants on June 20, 2013, while M.A.E. remained in the same foster home where she had initially been placed. However, the siblings participated in court-ordered supervised visitation with each other once per week. After a hearing held on November 4, 2013, the circuit court granted permanent custody of A.E. and M.E. to appellants but reserved ruling as to the placement of M.A.E., finding that it
was in her best interest at that time to remain in foster care and continue in the custody of DHS.
A second hearing on appellants' motion for custody of M.A.E. was held on April 30, 2014. DHS and the attorney ad litem recommended that appellants' motion for custody be denied based on evidence that M.A.E. had been adversely impacted by visits with her brothers and that she did not wish to live with appellants. Appellants, however, testified that it was in M.A.E.'s best interest to live with them and claimed that DHS, the attorney ad litem, and M.A.E.'s foster parents had engaged in systematic efforts to sever the child's relationship with her biological family so that she could be adopted by her foster parents. After hearing all the evidence, the circuit court found that, while appellants were good people that loved and cared for M.A.E. deeply, it was not in the child's best interest, nor was it best for her health, welfare, and safety, to be placed in appellants' custody. The court noted that it based this decision on M.A.E.'s testimony, as well as the testimony of the other witnesses. The court ordered that sibling visitation cease immediately, as it was not in the children's best interests, and that M.A.E. was to remain in her current foster home.
In the written order entered on July 31, 2014, the circuit court stated that appellants were dismissed from the case and that this was a final hearing on their motion for custody of M.A.E., with a termination hearing date to be set. By agreement of the parties, the court also included an Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) certificate indicating that there was no just reason for delay and that the judgment was final. Appellants filed a ...