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Ford v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

April 5, 2017

SAMANTHA NICOLE FORD, ANTHONY P. GUERRA, AND CHRISTOPHER D. FORDAPPELLANTS
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDRENAPPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, ELEVENTH DIVISION [NO. 60JV-15-623] HONORABLE PATRICIA JAMES, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant Samantha Ford.

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant Christopher Ford.

          Lightle, Raney, Streit & Streit, LLP, by: Jonathan R. Streit, for appellant Anthony Guerra.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          KENNETH S. HIXSON, Judge.

         Appellants Samantha Ford, Christopher Ford, and Anthony Guerra appeal separately from the termination of their parental rights. Samantha's parental rights were terminated with respect to her four children, M.W., age seven, N.W., age six, B.W., age three, and N.F., age one. Christopher is married to Samantha, and his parental rights were terminated as to his child, N.F. Anthony's parental rights were terminated as to his child, N.W. The father of M.W. also had his parental rights terminated, and the trial court found that B.W.'s putative father's parental rights had never attached. Neither M.W.'s father nor B.W.'s putative father has appealed.

         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), Samantha's counsel and Christopher's counsel have each filed a no-merit appeal and a motion to withdraw, stating that there is no issue of arguable merit to advance on appeal and that they should be relieved of counsel. Anthony's counsel has filed a merit brief, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that DHS provided meaningful services to him, and also erred in finding that no appropriate relative had come forward for placement of N.W. We affirm all three appeals, and we grant Samantha's and Christopher's counsels' motions to be relieved.

         We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Dinkins v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 344 Ark. 207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). At least one statutory ground must exist, in addition to a finding that it is in the child's best interest to terminate parental rights; these must be proved by clear and convincing evidence. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl. 2015); Mitchell v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d 851. Clear and convincing evidence is that degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction as to the allegation sought to be established. Anderson v. Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). The appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. J.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made. Yarborough v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 96 Ark.App. 247, 240 S.W.3d 626 (2006).

         These proceedings began on May 4, 2015, when DHS filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody of all four children. Attached to the petition was an affidavit of a family-service worker stating that DHS had taken an emergency hold of Samantha and Christopher's newborn son, N.F., because Samantha tested positive for methamphetamine on the day she gave birth. Christopher also tested positive for methamphetamine, and subsequent testing confirmed that the baby's meconium was positive for methamphetamine. The affidavit stated that both parents were dishonest about their use of illegal drugs and that they lacked employment or a stable residence. Based on these allegations, the trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on the same day the petition was filed. The other three children had been in Samantha and Christopher's custody, and after they were removed from the home one of the children, N.W., tested positive for methamphetamine on a hair test.

         On May 6, 2015, the trial court entered a probable-cause order. In that order, the trial court gave Samantha and each of the fathers visitation with their children contingent upon negative drug screens. Each of the parents were ordered to take parenting classes, attend counseling, submit to a psychological evaluation and to a drug-and-alcohol assessment, and maintain stable housing and employment.

         The trial court entered an adjudication order on July 1, 2015. The children were found to be dependent-neglected based on Samantha and Christopher's stipulation to neglect and parental unfitness, and specifically drug use by the parents. The adjudication order noted that, since the case began, Samantha, Christopher, and Anthony had all tested positive for methamphetamine and other illegal drugs on multiple occasions.

         On October 26, 2015, the trial court entered a review order finding that Samantha and Christopher had continued to test positive for methamphetamine, and that Anthony had not made himself available for drug screens. The trial court also found that the parents were only minimally compliant with the case plan. On April 13, 2016, the trial court entered a permanency-planning order finding that none of the parents ...


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