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Hollinger v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 20, 2017



          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 chilren.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge

         Appellant Ashley Hollinger appeals the order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her daughter, D.H., and her son, J.H. On appeal, she argues (1) that reversal is warranted because there was insufficient evidence presented to establish the grounds asserted in support of termination; and (2) that appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) failed to prove that termination of her parental rights (TPR) was in the best interest of her children. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         This case began on April 15, 2015, when the Fort Smith Police Department requested ADHS's assistance following several arrests, including the arrest of Ashley, [1] after a controlled drug buy in the home where Ashley and her children, D.H. and J.H., were living. At the residence, officers discovered marijuana, drug paraphernalia, hydrocodone, and amphetamine. Based on these events, ADHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect on April 20, 2015. In the attached affidavit, ADHS asserted that it had a previous history with Ashley's family dating back to 2012 that included protective-services cases.

         The trial court entered an ex parte order for emergency custody on April 20, 2015. On April 27, 2015, the trial court held a probable-cause hearing and entered the resulting order on May 6, 2015. The trial court held that the probable cause that necessitated the removal of D.H. and J.H. continued and that custody should remain with ADHS.

         The trial court held an adjudication hearing on June 22, 2015, and in an order that was not filed until September 30, 2015, the trial court adjudicated D.H. and J.H. dependent-neglected based on parental unfitness, threat of harm, and inadequate supervision. The trial court further found that the children were dependent-neglected as a result of Ashley's drug use and her arrest following the discovery of drugs and drug paraphernalia in the home where Ashley, D.H., and J.H. were living. The trial court set the goal of the case as reunification and ordered Ashley to obtain and maintain housing, income, and transportation; to complete parenting classes; to submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment as well as random drug screens; to submit to a psychological evaluation; to complete domestic-violence classes; and to resolve her pending criminal charges.

         A review hearing was held on October 5, 2015, with an order filed on March 2, 2016. The trial court continued the goal of reunification and found that ADHS had made reasonable efforts to achieve that goal. The trial court noted that Ashley had been released from jail during the review period, had completed the drug-and-alcohol assessment, was attending the recommended outpatient treatment, and had tested negative on her drug screens. Ashley was also attending parenting classes and was complying with the terms and conditions of her criminal sentences pursuant to the trial court's order. The trial court also noted that Ashley had not yet completed a psychological evaluation, ADHS was "between providers, " and that any resulting delay should not count against her.

         The trial court held a permanency-planning hearing on April 4, 2016, and entered an order on July 5, 2016, setting a concurrent goal of reunification and adoption with TPR. The trial court noted that Ashley was living with her boyfriend, D.J. Jennings (Jennings), and that the pair were fixing up a house in lieu of paying rent. Ashley was not employed and did not have her own transportation. ADHS did note that she had completed parenting classes, had completed a drug-and-alcohol assessment, and was attending the recommended outpatient-treatment program. Ashley resolved her criminal charges and received a suspended sentence, although she was arrested for failure to pay fines and expected to serve time in jail as credit toward her fines.

         On July 25, 2016, the trial court held a fifteen-month review hearing and subsequently entered an order on September 15, 2016. Therein, the trial court ordered the goal of the case to be changed to adoption. The trial court found that Ashley was not in compliance with either the case plan or the court orders, noting that she had stopped attending outpatient treatment in December 2015, and upon her release from jail, she had tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine. The trial court further noted that Ashley recently had been released from inpatient mental-health treatment at Levi Hospital in Hot Springs, had not resolved her criminal charges, and had not complied with the terms and conditions of her sentences.[2]

         ADHS filed a TPR petition on September 16, 2016. Therein, ADHS alleged that the following grounds supported TPR: failure to remedy; subsequent factors; and aggravated circumstances. ADHS further alleged that TPR was in the best interest of the children. The trial court held a hearing on ADHS's TPR petition on October 24, 2016. Melissa Dancer, ADHS's caseworker who had been assigned to this case since the children entered foster care, presented testimony. She stated that Ashley and Jennings had been staying in a home with another person when the drug arrests that prompted the opening of this case occurred. According to Dancer, Ashley was arrested on multiple charges but was ultimately convicted of two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia. Dancer stated that Ashley's ...

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