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Reagan v. Dodson

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

December 14, 2016




          Parker Law Firm, by: Tim S. Parker, for appellant.

          Tucker Law Firm, by: Benny M. Tucker, for appellees.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Chief Judge

         Appellant Pamela Reagan appeals the November 2, 2015 order by the Howard County Circuit Court granting guardianship over her three minor children to Pamela's mother and stepfather, appellees Julie Dodson and Dennis Dodson. Pamela is not challenging the facts supporting the trial court's decision finding her unfit and placing her three children with the Dodsons; rather, she argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion to dismiss the guardianship petition and motion for directed verdict, which were based on two facts: (a) the original guardianship petition was unsigned; and (b) the Dodsons, as petitioners, never served or gave notice to Jeremy Pumphrey, the biological father of Pamela's children. She also argues that the trial court erred when it granted guardianship to the Dodsons without determining whether Pumphrey was unfit. We affirm.

         Pamela is the mother of C.P., age six; C.P., age three, and K.P., age two. The Dodsons originally were represented by Gregory Vardaman, but later substituted Jana Bradford as counsel. Pamela was originally represented by attorney Darryl Taylor. She too later substituted counsel, eventually being represented by Tim Parker. The petitions for guardianship allege that Pumphrey is the biological father of all three children, and his name appears on their birth certificates.

         On November 26, 2014, the Dodsons filed a verified ex parte petition for emergency guardianship of the person and estate, alleging that Pamela's three children were in danger due to her drug use as evidenced by a meth pipe being removed from the hands of Pamela's then ten-month old baby and Pamela's intention to reunite with Pumphrey, the alleged putative father, who until recently had been incarcerated. The trial judge signed the emergency ex-parte temporary guardianship over the children to the petitioners the same day. Thereafter, the temporary guardianship was extended numerous times, and twice upon the agreement of the parties.

         A signed amended petition for guardianship was filed by new counsel on September 10, 2015, and on September 29, 2015, a hearing was conducted in the Howard County Circuit Court. Pamela's attorney, Parker, after reviewing the court file and prior to testimony being taken, called to the trial court's attention in chambers, for the first time almost a year into the case, the fact that the original emergency petition for guardianship had not been signed prior to filing. Immediately before the final hearing began, Parker orally moved to dismiss the proceedings because the original emergency petition, although verified by Mrs. Dodson, had not been signed by Vardaman. He argued that it was a void pleading and that the trial court had no jurisdiction. The trial court inquired as to whether Parker had any case law involving children where the trial court was found not to have jurisdiction requiring the case to be dismissed, and Parker replied that he did not. This deficiency, as well as Pamela's objections and motion, were put on the record in the courtroom shortly afterward with Pamela's attorney arguing the same grounds for dismissal as well as that the children's biological father, Pumphrey, had not been served and had received no notice of the hearings in the case.

         The trial court allowed the Dodsons' counsel, Bradford, to respond, and she acknowledged the unsigned emergency petition filed with the trial court on November 26, 2014, that was verified by her clients. Bradford explained that since that time period, there had been two temporary orders entered and that Pamela had filed a motion to continue the temporary guardianship pending completion of discovery on or about June 29, 2015. Bradford noted that previously there had been no objection to the fact that the attorney did not sign the original verified petition.

         Bradford also explained that, since taking over as counsel, she had filed a signed amended petition on the guardianship, along with an alternative motion for grandparents' visitation rights, none of which had been responded to by Pamela. She stated that two motions for drug screens had been filed, one for Pamela and one for Pumphrey, the putative father, and neither of those had been responded to by Pamela. Parker responded that because Pumphrey had not been served, he would not be required to respond to it. Parker stated that he did not think he had ever consented to any time extensions.

         In denying the motion to dismiss, the trial court ruled that, with respect to the petition not being signed, in this situation where the grandparents had the children in their care and the mother was there, the court could not imagine that it would not be in the best interest of the children for it to hear the case and make a determination on the petition.

         At the conclusion of the Dodsons' case and at the conclusion of the hearing, Parker moved for directed verdict on the same basis that had been raised before-that the original petition had not been signed, which rendered the matter a nullity. The trial court again denied the motion and the renewal.

         The trial court granted the petition for guardianship on November 2, 2015. The guardianship order included findings that Pamela was unfit and that a guardianship was necessary for the children based on overwhelming evidence, including Pamela's drug use, the children's malnutrition, and one child's broken arm without evidence that medical treatment was provided. According to the order, Pamela did not visit the children from the time of the ex parte hearing and the temporary hearing until the final hearing. Pamela was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia subsequent to the filing of the petition for guardianship. The trial court made a finding that Pamela continued to associate with the ...

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