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Caruthers v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

April 12, 2017

DAKOTA CARUTHERS APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE GREENE COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 28JV-15-94] HONORABLE BARBARA HALSEY, JUDGE

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          MIKE MURPHY, Judge

         Dakota Caruthers appeals the April 4, 2016 order terminating his parental rights to E.C. He argues the lower court erred in (1) denying his motion to dismiss and (2) finding termination was in E.C.'s best interest.[1] We affirm.

         I. Facts

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised emergency control over then three-month-old E.C. on May 18, 2015, upon notice that the child's parents had been incarcerated in Missouri on shoplifting charges. A little over a month later, E.C. was adjudicated dependent-neglected for inadequate supervision, because he lacked an appropriate caregiver. The case progressed through two review hearings. Caruthers did not appear for either of the hearings. The court found at both hearings that Caruthers was partially compliant with the case plan, but he had never completed the drug-and-alcohol assessment ordered. The court continued both hearings with the goal of reunification.

         DHS filed its petition to terminate parental rights on April 4, 2016, alleging the grounds of failure to remedy, failure to provide material support, subsequent factors, and aggravated circumstances. The goal of the case was changed to adoption, and the termination hearing was set for August 4, 2016. Multiple motions to continue ensued, and each one was accompanied by a written order of the court articulating good cause as to why the hearing should be moved. The hearing was eventually held on September 9, 2016, 157 days after the filing of the petition.

         At the hearing, Holly Johnson, the DHS caseworker, testified that her main concern with Caruthers was his lack of stable housing. She testified that, while Caruthers did have housing throughout the case, he had moved all over town during that time, DHS had sometimes been unable to find him, and DHS had never been able to visit the home, despite multiple attempts. She also expressed concerns that he had changed jobs multiple times during the pendency of the case.

         Caruthers testified that, if the court allowed, he could take E.C. home with him that day-he had diapers, wipes, baby food, formula, and a crib-but he also acknowledged that he did not have stable housing. He explained that he made more money at each subsequent job he took.

         Caruthers admitted that he did not have his own place-he was living with a friend in an apartment-and that he did "have some trouble just kind of getting through life, maintaining a stable place, stable job, and making contact with the probation officers." He testified that he had been incarcerated on two more occasions while the case was ongoing.

         The court also heard testimony from an adoption specialist.

         The court terminated Caruthers's parental rights, finding that doing so was in E.C.'s best interest. The court noted that, while incarceration was the initial reason for removal, after the removal the family was unable to establish ...


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