FROM THE CROSS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 19JV-14-39-4]
HONORABLE KATHLEEN BELL, JUDGE
D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for
Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
Melissa Peeler appeals from the circuit court's order
granting a petition for guardianship of her minor daughter,
P.P., that was filed by Joseph and Meredith Peeler (the
Peelers), in the open dependency-neglect case involving P.P.
On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court erred when
it allowed the Peelers to become parties to the
dependency-neglect case without first finding that they had
met the requirements of Ark. R. Civ. P. 24. We affirm.
the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), removed P.P.
(DOB 08/05/13) from the custody of appellant in June 2014.
The affidavit attached to DHS's petition for emergency
custody of P.P. stated that a safety check had been requested
on the home due to reports of domestic violence. An
investigation revealed that appellant and ten-month-old P.P.
were living in the home of P.P.'s great-grandmother,
Wanda Peeler (Wanda), although appellant was incarcerated at
the time of the caseworker's visit. Wanda indicated to
the caseworker that appellant had been charged with stealing
a television and other items from her home and that there had
been a physical altercation between appellant and Wanda's
son, Joe Peeler (Joe), over the theft, during which Wanda had
either been knocked down or had blacked out. Although Wanda
had evicted Joe from her home following the altercation, she
stated that she had then asked him to return so that he could
assist her in caring for P.P. Wanda indicated that both Joe
and appellant used drugs, and DHS performed a drug screen on
Joe, who tested positive for methamphetamine, THC,
amphetamine, and benzodiazapine. He admitted that he had used
methamphetamine that day even though he had been caring for
P.P. The affidavit also indicated that appellant had a prior
"true" finding of neglect in 2008 and that there
had been an unsubstantiated referral against appellant for
prenatal exposure in February 2014. DHS placed a
seventy-two-hour hold on P.P. D.Y., appellant's teenage
son who had been adopted by Wanda and her husband and who
also lived in the home, was not removed at that time.
circuit court granted DHS's petition for emergency
custody and found probable cause for the removal on July 24,
2014. P.P. was adjudicated dependent-neglected in August 2014
based on appellant's stipulation of inadequate
supervision due to illegal drug use. The circuit court noted
that DHS had been involved with the family since 2008 and
that appellant's parental rights had previously been
terminated as to two of her older children. The case goal was
set as reunification with appellant, with a concurrent goal
of relative custody.
after P.P. was removed from appellant's custody, she was
placed with appellant's brother and sister-in-law, Joseph
and Meredith Peeler. The Peelers served as P.P.'s foster
parents from July 9, 2014, until December 22, 2014, when the
circuit court authorized a trial home visit with P.P. The
court ordered that there was to be no one present in the home
with the exception of appellant, Wanda and her husband, D.Y.,
and P.P. The court further ordered that Wanda was to be
present to care for P.P. at all times and that appellant was
not allowed to be left alone with the child.
December 2014, the Peelers filed a petition for guardianship
of P.P. in the dependency-neglect case, along with a motion
to intervene, pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated section
28-65-107 (Supp. 2015). The Peelers alleged that P.P. was at
imminent risk of harm if returned to appellant's custody
due to appellant's history of drug use and neglect of
P.P. They attached an affidavit from Meredith further
detailing their concerns about appellant's ability to
care for P.P. DHS filed a response to the petition in January
2015, claiming that the Peelers could not demonstrate that
appellant was unfit and that the petition for guardianship
should be denied. Neither DHS nor appellant filed a response
to the Peelers' motion to intervene.
hearing was held on the petition for guardianship on July 6
and August 28, 2015. At the beginning of the hearing, the
Peelers noted that they had also filed a motion to intervene
that had not yet been granted. DHS objected to the
intervention, stating that there was no compelling reason for
the Peelers to intervene in the case. The Peelers responded
that the guardianship statutes mandated that their petition
for guardianship be filed in the open dependency-neglect case
and that their motion to intervene was not necessarily
required. DHS indicated that it had no objection to
proceeding on the guardianship petition.
stated that she also objected to the intervention. She argued
that the Peelers were not entitled to intervene under either
Ark. R. Civ. P. 24(a) or (b), and she requested that the
circuit court rule on the motion to intervene. The following
colloquy then occurred:
Court: Are you proceeding on your petition to intervene? The
petition for guardianship is required to be filed under
statute. In this case, is there any ...