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Robinson v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

April 26, 2017



          Tabitha McNulty, 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.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge

         Appellant Charlisha Robinson appeals a Lonoke County Circuit Court order terminating her parental rights to her daughter, N.B. Robinson does not contest the sufficiency of the evidence regarding statutory grounds to support terminating her parental rights. She only challenges the circuit court's best-interest determination, arguing that the circuit court clearly erred in concluding that termination of her parental rights was in N.B.'s best interest. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         On April 16, 2015, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) received a call from an investigator from the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) of the Arkansas State Police. CACD was investigating the death of Robinson's infant daughter, N.R., who died after an overnight stay at Robinson's cousin's house. A month prior to N.R.'s death, DHS had opened a case with Robinson after the child tested positive for cocaine at birth. As Robinson asserts in her brief, the cause of N.R.'s death was unknown and she was never charged with anything relating to the death.[1]

         N.R.'s death, combined with the fact that Robinson tested positive for THC on April 16, 2015, led DHS to exercise a 72-hour hold on N.B. DHS also filed an ex parte petition on April 20, 2015 requesting emergency custody and alleging that N.B. was dependent-neglected. That same day, the circuit court entered an ex parte order granting DHS emergency custody. The circuit court adjudicated N.B. dependent-neglected as a result of parental unfitness related to Robinson's drug use.

         At the permanency-planning hearing on April 19, 2016, the court heard testimony from the DHS caseworker assigned to the case. In an order entered on June 30, 2016, the circuit court changed the goal of the case from reunification to adoption.

         On May 5, 2016, DHS and the attorney ad litem for the minor child filed a joint petition for termination of parental rights alleging three grounds for termination. The circuit court held a hearing on the petition on September 14, 2016. At the hearing, Sher'Risa Johnson, another cousin of Robinson's, requested placement of N.B. The caseworker testified that Johnson had attempted to gain custody of N.B. when the case first opened, but DHS did not consider her for placement at that time because Johnson was not yet 21 years old. At the time of the termination hearing, Sher'Risa had turned 21 years old, and DHS had approved her home. Both Johnson and Robinson testified that before N.B. entered foster care, Johnson was N.B.'s primary caregiver.

         In an order entered on October 5, 2016, the circuit court found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in the best interest of N.B. to terminate Robinson's parental rights. In making its finding, the circuit court specifically considered the likelihood that the juvenile would be adopted and the potential harm to the health and safety of the juvenile caused by returning the juvenile to the custody of the parent. Robinson's timely appeal is now properly before this court.

         Our standard of review in termination-of-parental rights cases is well settled; we review these cases de novo. Dinkins v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 344 Ark. 207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). Termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of parents; however, parental rights will not be enforced to the detriment or destruction of the health and well-being of the child. Smithee v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark. 506, 471 S.W.3d 227. The termination of parental rights involves a two-step process in which the circuit court must find that the parent is unfit and that termination is in the child's best interest, considering the likelihood of adoption and the potential for harm if the child is returned to the parent's custody. Murray v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 431, 429 S.W.3d 288.

         A court must find that at least one statutory ground exists, 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). 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). In determining whether a finding is clearly erroneous, we give due deference to the opportunity of the circuit court to judge the credibility of witnesses. Dinkins, supra. The appellate court will not act as a "super factfinder, " substituting its own judgment or second guessing the credibility determinations of the court; we only reverse in those ...

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