FROM THE UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. JV2013-340]
HONORABLE EDWIN A. KEATON, JUDGE
Suzanne Ritter Lumpkin, Arkansas Public Defender Commission,
Dependency-Neglect Appellate Division, for appellant.
K. Martin, County Legal Operations, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, for A.P.,
E.P., and J.P.
R. BAKER, Associate Justice
December 17, 2013, the appellee Arkansas Department of Human
Services ("DHS") took a seventy-two-hour hold on
Priscilla Ponder's children, A.P., E.P., and J.P. after
the death of L.C., a sibling. Ponder is the appellant in this
matter. DHS and A.P., E.P., and J.P. are joint appellees in
this appeal and will be referred to collectively as
"DHS." The children were removed from the home, and
A.P. was placed with one set of relatives and E.P. and J.P.
with another set of relatives. On May 29, 2014, the circuit
court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected, and the
goal was set for reunification. The circuit court conducted
review hearings on June 16, August 4, and September 29, 2014.
On December 1, 2014, the circuit court conducted a
permanency-planning hearing and found that it was not in the
best interest of the children to return to Ponder, and the
goal was changed to identify permanent custodians. Also, at
the permanency planning hearing, the circuit court set a
review hearing to set permanent placement of the children for
January 5, 2015.
January 9, 2015, the circuit court conducted a review hearing
and granted permanent custody of the children to family
members. On January 12, 2015, the circuit court entered the
permanency-planning order. On January 26, 2015, the circuit
court entered orders with the permanent-custody placement of
the three minor children. From the permanent-custody orders,
Ponder appealed to the court of appeals. On January 27, 2016,
the court of appeals reversed and remanded the matter to the
circuit court. Ponder v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 61, 481 S.W.3d 785.
February 8, 2016, DHS filed a petition for review. On March
31, 2016, we granted DHS's petition for review and
granted supplemental briefing. On April 20, 2016, Ponder
filed a "Motion to Disregard DHS's Documents that
Were Tendered, But Not Filed, by the Supreme Court
Clerk's Office" which we took with the case. On May
19, 2016, both parties filed supplemental briefs. On appeal,
Ponder presents one issue: the circuit court erred in
granting permanent custody of the children to family members
because the award is not supported by sufficient evidence. We
have jurisdiction pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Appellate
Procedure – Civil 2(d) (2016).
court reviews findings in dependency-neglect proceedings de
novo, but we will not reverse the trial court's findings
unless they are clearly erroneous. Lamontagne v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2010 Ark. 190, 366 S.W.3d
351. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is
evidence to support it, the reviewing court, based on the
entire evidence, is left with a definite and firm conviction
that a mistake has been committed. Id. Furthermore,
we give due deference to the trial court's superior
position to determine the credibility of the witnesses and
the weight to be given their testimony. However, a trial
court's conclusions of law are given no deference on
appeal. Stehle v. Zimmerebner, 375 Ark. 446, 456,
291 S.W.3d 573, 580 (2009).
to Ponder's sole point on appeal, pursuant to Arkansas
Code Annotated section 9-27-334(a)(2)(A) (Repl. 2015), if a
juvenile is found to be dependent-neglected, the circuit
court may enter an order transferring custody of the juvenile
to a relative or other individual if to do so is in the best
interest of the juvenile. Ponder argues that the circuit
court erred in finding that it was in her three minor
children's best interest to be placed in the permanent
custody of relatives and asserts that there is insufficient
evidence to support the circuit court's findings.
Specifically, Ponder contends that the circuit court failed
to conduct a hearing or take evidence regarding the
permanent-custody placement, and the record is void of
evidence to support the circuit court's placement.
issue are the circuit court's January 26, 2015, orders,
which stated in pertinent part:
From the testimony, exhibits, statements of the parties and
counsel, the record herein, and other things and matters
presented, the Court, noting the best interests, welfare,
health and safety, case plan[, ] and appropriate statutory
placement alternatives, does hereby order . . .:
. . . .
At this time, return to the custody of the mother is contrary
to the welfare of A.P. and placement in the permanent custody
of . . . [the] paternal grandparents is in the best interest