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Curtis v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 20, 2017



          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Jerald A. Sharum, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

          Mary Goff, County Legal Operations, for appellee.

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


         Tammie Curtis appeals the Washington County Circuit Court's January 13, 2017 order terminating her parental rights to her son, Q.C., born October 18, 2013.[1] She argues the circuit court erred because the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, grounds for termination or that termination was in Q.C.'s best interest. We affirm.

         On September 9, 2015, DHS took a seventy-two-hour hold on Q.C. due to Curtis's arrest on several drug-related charges and a charge of endangering the welfare of a minor. On September 14, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect; an ex parte order of custody was granted the same day. The affidavit attached to DHS's petition indicated Curtis had left Q.C. with a man named Ingram Bell, who failed to properly supervise Q.C., leaving him in a dirty high chair while Bell slept upstairs. There was also evidence Curtis and Q.C. were present in the house during drug deals; although the drugs and drug paraphernalia had been confiscated at the time of Curtis's arrest, it was reported that both the drugs and drug paraphernalia had been located within Q.C.'s reach.

         On September 18, a probable-cause order was entered. Curtis was ordered to contact her caseworker once a week, attend individual counseling, refrain from using illegal drugs and alcohol, undergo a drug-and-alcohol assessment, submit to random drug screens, complete parenting classes, obtain and maintain stable housing and employment, demonstrate the ability to keep Q.C. safe from harm, follow the case plan, and resolve all criminal charges against her. A hair-follicle test was ordered to be performed on Q.C.

         In an order filed November 15, 2015, Q.C. was adjudicated dependent-neglected. This order provided that Q.C.'s hair-follicle test was positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines; it also continued the directives set forth for Curtis in the probable-cause order.

         A review order, filed March 11, 2016, stated Jacob Riles, identified as Curtis's fiancé, was present for that hearing. The circuit court found Curtis did not yet have stable housing and had not completed parenting classes; however, she had made sufficient progress to warrant expanded visitation and had complied with most of the court's orders and the case plan. The circuit court ordered Curtis, among other things, to continue individual counseling; submit to intensive outpatient substance-abuse counseling as her drug-and-alcohol assessment recommended; refrain from the use of illegal drugs and alcohol; submit to random drug-and-alcohol screens at least three times a month; complete twelve hours of parenting classes by July 1, 2016; obtain and maintain stable housing and employment; follow the case plan; demonstrate her ability to protect Q.C. and keep him safe from harm; and attend AA/NA/Celebrate Recovery meetings twice a week and provide proof to her caseworker. The circuit court further ordered Curtis and Riles to submit to drug screens that day.

         In a permanency-planning order filed August 24, 2016, the circuit court found Curtis was not fully complying with the case plan and orders of the court, was not making significant measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan, and was not diligently working toward reunification; the case goal was changed from reunification to termination of parental rights and authorization of a plan for adoption. While finding Curtis had complied with some court orders and parts of the case plan, the circuit court found she had not obtained and maintained stable and safe housing, having had six different housing situations since the inception of the case; she had maintained employment but had changed jobs since the last hearing; she had not demonstrated an ability to keep Q.C. safe from harm; she had not submitted to all drug screens as ordered, having missed eight drug screens since the last hearing and having failed to submit to any drug screens in June 2016; and she had not demonstrated she could safely and properly parent Q.C., despite having participated in parenting classes and counseling. The circuit court further noted inappropriate behavior with respect to Curtis's fiancé, Jacob Riles, finding that Curtis had fabricated a story about Riles attempting suicide to get his family's attention and that Riles was not a stable and fit father figure for Q.C., having referred to Q.C. as "n***a" on Facebook, and having posted photographs of alcohol and references to a "party" lifestyle on Facebook, which was not a proper influence for Curtis. Faced with these findings, Curtis stated to the court she intended to remain with Riles and marry him. Curtis was again ordered, among other things, to submit to random alcohol-and-drug screens at DHS direction at least three times a month; obtain and maintain safe and stable housing and stable employment; and attend AA/NA/Celebrate Recovery meetings twice a week and provide proof of such to her caseworker.

         On September 26, 2016, DHS filed a petition to terminate Curtis's parental rights. In addition to its assertion that termination of Curtis's parental rights was in Q.C.'s best interest, DHS relied on two grounds for termination in its petition: (1) Q.C. had been adjudicated dependent-neglected and had continued out of Curtis's custody for twelve months and despite a meaningful effort by DHS to rehabilitate Curtis and correct the conditions that caused removal, the conditions had not been remedied (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) (Repl. 2015)); and (2) other factors or issues arose subsequent to the filing of the original petition for dependency-neglect that demonstrate placement of Q.C. in Curtis's custody is contrary to his health, safety, or welfare and that despite the offer of appropriate family services, Curtis had manifested the incapacity or indifference to remedy the subsequent issues or factors or rehabilitate the circumstances that prevented placement of Q.C. with her (Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)((vii)(a)). After a hearing on the petition, the circuit court terminated Curtis's parental rights on both grounds in an order dated January 13, 2017.

         At the termination hearing, held December 16, 2016, family-service worker supervisor Lori Johnson (filling in for assigned caseworker Rachel Reader), testified that while Curtis was in partial compliance with the case plan, the root concerns of why Q.C. had come into DHS care had not been remedied. Specifically, Johnson's concerns were that Curtis had not submitted to random drug screens three times a month as ordered by the court. This was troubling to Johnson because one reason Q.C. came into care was due to Curtis's arrest on drug charges; Johnson did not believe Curtis had demonstrated the ability to protect Q.C. and keep him safe from harm; Curtis had a continued relationship with Jacob Riles despite the court's concern that he was not an appropriate person to be around Q.C.; Curtis failed to provide proof of full-time stable employment; and Curtis failed to provide proof she was participating in AA or NA or Celebrate Recovery meetings. Johnson testified Q.C. had no medical or behavioral issues that would preclude him from being adopted. She further stated the most important thing was for Q.C. to know he has a stable home and caregivers who can protect him and keep him safe, and she did not believe he would have these things if returned to Curtis's custody. On cross-examination, Johnson acknowledged Curtis had been in her current home for six months, and Ms. Reader had no concerns about the physical environment of the home. However, ...

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