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Morton v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

June 17, 2015

BRITTANY MORTON, APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and MINOR CHILDREN, APPELLEES

Page 872

APPEAL FROM THE WHITE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. JV2013-243. HONORABLE ROBERT EDWARDS, JUDGE.

Dusti Standridge, for appellant.

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

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

BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge. KINARD and GLOVER, JJ., agree.

OPINION

Page 873

BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

Brittany Morton appeals the White County Circuit Court's decision to terminate her parental rights to her children M.M., C.M., and D.M. Morton argues that clear-and-convincing evidence does not support the termination grounds relied on by the circuit court and that the court erred in finding that termination was in the children's best interest. We affirm the circuit court.

I. Case History

The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) petitioned for emergency custody of M.M., C.M., and D.M. in September 2013 after Morton and Hector Morales, Morton's partner, were arrested and charged with DWI/DUI and endangerment of the welfare of a minor. The court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected in November 2013 because " the parents were stopped down in Jacksonville, Arkansas, allegedly doing 60 miles per hour in a 45 per hour zone; the child, D.M., was in the car looking dirty; the parents could not remember the last time the child was fed; the mother was positive for methamphetamines, marijuana, and benzodiazepines . . . and there is a true report on the family from 2008 for drug use causing inadequate supervision." The court noted in its April 2014 review order that Morton was " totally non-compliant with the case plan" and was in the Cleburne County jail facing new felony charges. The court also found that DHS had made " reasonable efforts" towards reunification. An October 2014 permanency-planning review order states that Morton was " not in compliance with the case plan and orders of the court. [She] lives with family and friends, she is unemployed, she has not completed substance abuse treatment; however, she does have a mental health appointment in October, she did complete her psychological evaluation, she did complete parenting, and she is testing clean from using controlled substances." The permanency-planning order also states that DHS had made reasonable efforts by providing substance-abuse treatment, parenting classes, psychological evaluation, and counseling, among other things.

DHS petitioned for termination of parental rights in October 2014, around the same time the permanency-planning order was entered. It alleged that terminating Morton's parental rights was in the children's best interest and that two statutory grounds for termination existed under Arkansas Code Annotated sections 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)( a) (failure-to-remedy ground) and 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)( a) (other-factors-arising ground).

During the November 2014 termination hearing, DHS caseworker Darby Miller testified that the department had past involvement with Morton and two of her children in 2008. She explained that the children were removed because of Morton's drug use and remained in foster care for two years; but the children were eventually returned to Morton, and the 2008 case was closed.

Caseworker Miller said that she was concerned about the children returning to Morton because, although Morton had attended a few NA meetings, she had not completed a drug-abuse assessment or received drug counseling. Miller also testified that Morton had no suitable housing, was only recently employed, and had not provided proof of income. Miller said that the children were " very ...


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