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Sanders v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 5, 2016



          Leah Lanford, Ark. Pub. Defender Comm'n, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

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

          DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge

         Melanie Sanders's parental rights to her son T.B., born November 9, 2011, were terminated by the Pulaski County Circuit Court. Pursuant to Linker-Flores v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, 359 Ark. 131, 194 S.W.3d 739 (2004), and Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 6-9(i), her attorney has filed a no-merit brief asserting there are no issues that would support a meritorious appeal and a motion requesting to be relieved as counsel. The clerk of our court sent a certified packet to Sanders notifying her of her right to file pro se points, which she has done. We affirm the termination and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.

         According to the affidavit attached to the petition for ex parte emergency custody, DHS was notified by a hotline call in May 2014 that pills were being sold out of the residence where Sanders and T.B. were staying. When investigated, Sanders told police she did not

          "remove" any pills; Sanders would not allow police into the residence; she was "disoriented" and upset the police were there; and T.B. was outside barefoot in an area where there were broken glass and rocks. When police returned a few days later to check on Sanders, she told them she had smoked marijuana two weeks ago, she took "hydros" occasionally, and she had also taken some Adderall she had gotten from a friend. Sanders tested positive for methamphetamine and PCP. A hair-shaft drug test performed on T.B. revealed positive results for methamphetamine and THC. Based on this information, DHS took T.B. into custody in July 2014. The trial court granted DHS's petition for emergency custody in an order filed on July 14, 2014.

         A probable-cause order continuing the emergency order of custody was filed on July 17, 2014. In this order, Sanders was granted supervised visitation at the DHS office (or any other placed deemed acceptable by DHS) three times per week for two hours. T.B. was adjudicated dependent-neglected in an order filed on September 10, 2014, due to neglect and parental unfitness.

         A review order filed on December 18, 2014, stated Sanders needed to prove she had been drug free for a length of time and to establish an appropriate residence; visitation remained supervised. The trial court further found that while Sanders had substantially complied with the case plan and court orders by completing counseling, taking a drug-and -alcohol assessment, and taking parenting classes, and providing several negative drug screens, she still lived with a friend and not in her own home; she was unemployed; and, while she had attended some AA/NA meetings, she needed to attend meetings twice per week.

          A second review order was filed on April 17, 2015. This order continued supervised visitation. The trial court found Sanders had partially complied with the case plan and court orders, noting visitation had been appropriate, Sanders was employed, she had negative drug screens, and she had made some progress toward alleviating the causes of T.B.'s removal; however, the trial court noted Sanders had not attended any AA/NA meetings because she did not believe she needed to do so.

         In a permanency-planning order filed on July 8, 2015, the trial court changed the goal of the case from reunification to adoption, finding while Sanders had partially complied with the case plan, she still had no stable housing and there was a lack of participation in services, especially drug treatment. The trial court further found Sanders had made minimal progress toward alleviating the causes of T.B.'s removal. A review order filed on September 15, 2015, noted Sanders had minimal compliance with the case plan and court orders, finding she had missed five visitations; had not participated in drug treatment or provided AA/NA sign-in sheets; had tested positive for methamphetamine on one drug screen, negative on another, and had refused to provide a sample on two other occasions; had moved three times; her employment could not be verified; and had made no progress on alleviating the causes of T.B.'s removal. A fifteen-month permanency planning order, filed October 23, 2015, authorized a plan for adoption and found Sanders had minimally complied with the case plan and court orders. Specifically, the trial court found that Sanders had not attended AA/NA meetings or provided proof of such attendance; she was arrested on the day of the fifteen-month hearing for possession of a controlled substance, although she claimed the drugs did not belong to her; she continued to associate with individuals involved with drugs; she was often fifteen to twenty minutes late to visitation; and she sometimes fell asleep during visitation and had to be awakened and reminded to interact with her son.

         DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on November 6, 2015. In it, DHS alleged three bases for termination of Sanders's parental rights: (1) T.B. had been adjudicated dependent-neglected and had continued out of Sanders's custody for twelve months and, despite meaningful efforts to rehabilitate the parent and correct the conditions that caused removal, those conditions have not been remedied by the parent; (2) other factors arose subsequent to the filing of the original petition for dependency-neglect that demonstrate return of T.B. to Sanders's custody is contrary to his health, safety, or welfare and that, despite the offer of appropriate family services, Sanders manifested the incapacity or indifference to remedy the subsequent issues preventing the return of T.B. to her custody; and (3) Sanders had subjected T.B. to aggravated circumstances. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(a)(3)(B)(i)(a), (vii)(a), & (ix)(a)(3)(A) (Repl. 2015). In an order filed on February 19, 2016, the trial court found it was in T.B.'s best interest to terminate Sanders's parental rights on all three bases pleaded by DHS in its termination petition. Sanders filed a timely appeal.

         Sufficiency ...

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