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Threadgill v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

September 6, 2017

AMANDA THREADGILL APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE YELL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NORTHERN DISTRICT [NO. 75NJV-15-33] HONORABLE TERRY SULLIVAN, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth and Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          LARRY D. VAUGHT, JUDGE

         This is an appeal from an order entered on December 19, 2016, by the Yell County Circuit Court, terminating appellant Ethel "Amanda" Thomas Threadgill's parental rights to her minor child, I.T. (born January 25, 2004).[1] Amanda argues that the circuit court clearly erred in terminating her parental rights because appellee, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), failed to prove grounds supporting termination. We affirm.

         The record shows that the initial removal by DHS of I.T. and her older sister, T.W. (born December 16, 1998), [2] from Amanda's custody was on July 31, 2015, based on allegations of neglect; specifically, failure to protect. The affidavit filed with the petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect alleged that the Arkansas State Police had an open investigation of sexual abuse of T.W.[3] perpetrated by Amanda's husband, Isaiah. As part of that investigation, Amanda had agreed to keep I.T. and T.W. away from Isaiah at all times. It was alleged in the affidavit, however, that Amanda, I.T., and T.W. had been seen in a vehicle with Isaiah and that Amanda admitted Isaiah was in the car with her and the girls.

         The circuit court adjudicated I.T. and T.W. dependent-neglected on October 7, 2015. The court found that T.W. gave a video-taped statement claiming that Isaiah sexually abused her and that she had been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. The court also found that there was evidence that T.W. had been sexually abused in the past by her grandfather, her uncle, and her mother's ex-boyfriend. Amanda testified at the adjudication hearing, denying that Isaiah sexually abused T.W. and claiming that T.W. made up the story. Amanda conceded that she broke her promise not to have Isaiah around T.W. or I.T. The court did not find that Isaiah sexually abused T.W.; however, the court did find that T.W. had been sexually abused in the past and now had a sexually transmitted disease. The court further found that Amanda had failed to comply with the protection plan and that T.W. was fearful to go home. The court found that the goal of the case was reunification and ordered Amanda to submit to drug testing; attend and complete parenting classes; obtain and maintain stable housing and income; attend counseling; cooperate with DHS; and comply with the case plan.

         A review-hearing order was entered on December 11, 2015, wherein the circuit court found that Amanda was complying with the case plan by attending counseling, parenting classes, and NA/AA meetings; attending visitation; and maintaining transportation. However, she was living with Isaiah, and he was her main source of income. A second review-hearing order was entered on April 22, 2016. In that order, the circuit court found that Amanda was complying with the case plan by completing parenting classes; attending counseling and visits; and having appropriate housing, income, and transportation.

         Following a permanency-planning hearing, an order was entered on August 10, 2016, wherein the circuit court found that there had been some progress toward the case plan but without further detail, found that not enough progress had occurred for reunification. The court set the matter for a fifteen-month permanency hearing, adding that the case could be heard as a termination-of parental-rights case if DHS filed and properly served a petition.

         DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on September 23, 2016. DHS alleged two grounds to support termination against Amanda-"failure to remedy, " Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) (Repl. 2015) and "subsequent factors, " Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)(a).

         After a hearing, the court, from the bench, granted DHS's petition to terminate Amanda's parental rights to I.W. The court found that DHS had made meaningful efforts to rehabilitate Amanda, which included parenting classes; counseling, which Amanda attended sporadically; visitation; and other assessments "to no avail." The court found that Amanda had had domestic-violence issues with her husband, Isaiah, to whom she was still married; she had very recently revealed that she had an addiction to methamphetamine; she had used methamphetamine during the case; she had moved numerous times during the case; and she was living with a new boyfriend, who gave her $300 a month to meet her expenses. The court lastly found that affording Amanda three additional months to work on her case would not result in reunification. The court stated that "there is just too much turmoil in this matter . . . we have had probably more hearings[4] in this case in fourteen months than we have had in I don't know how many cases that I have heard as a judge . . . I just don't see we are making progress . . . and this child needs permanency."

         In the termination order entered on December 19, 2016, the circuit court found that Amanda had an unstable financial situation; she failed to display improvement of her parenting skills; she failed to support her children during the case; she had an unstable relationship with Isaiah and had left him;[5] and she had moved back in with I.T.'s father for a day and a half in August 2016, during which time she had used methamphetamine with him. This appeal followed.

         We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Knuckles v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 463, at 2, 469 S.W.3d 377, 378. 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. Id., 469 S.W.3d at 379 (citing Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2013); M.T. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 58 Ark.App. 302, 952 S.W.2d 177 (1997)). 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. Id., 469 S.W.3d at 379. The appellate inquiry is whether the circuit court's finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. Id., 469 S.W.3d at 379. Credibility determinations ...


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