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Bynum v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

September 20, 2017



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Jerald A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Molly Bynum[1] appeals after the Stone County Circuit Court filed an order terminating her parental rights to Z.L. (DOB 12-30-2013) and H.B. (DOB 8-26-2015) on January 24, 2017.[2] On appeal, appellant argues that the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights because (1) there was insufficient evidence supporting the grounds asserted in the joint petition to terminate parental rights and (2) there was insufficient evidence that termination was in the best interest of her children. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Appellant is Z.L.'s mother and resided in Searcy, Arkansas. Zachary Staffen-Lewis (Lewis) is the father of Z.L. and resided in Mountain View, Arkansas. Lewis had custody of Z.L. Lewis appeared in the Stone County Circuit Court on unrelated charges and was ordered to take a drug test. Lewis tested positive for methamphetamine and admitted to using marijuana. Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) was notified. DHS contacted appellant, and appellant advised DHS that Lewis had been physically abusive to her in the past. At some point, appellant threatened to kill herself and her baby, Z.L. Accordingly, on August 7, 2014, DHS filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and dependency-neglect of Z.L. The trial court granted the petition, finding that probable cause existed for the removal. Subsequently, the trial court filed a probable-cause order.

         An adjudication hearing was held on October 8, 2014. The record indicates that both parents attended the hearing, but appellant was incarcerated at the White County jail. The trial court found that Z.L. was dependent-neglected as defined in the Arkansas Juvenile Code and that Z.L. was subjected to inadequate supervision due to the drug use of the father and threat of harm by the mother due to her threat to kill her child. The trial court additionally ordered the following:

The parents are ordered to complete the case plan, comply with the orders of the Court, and cooperate with the Department. Additionally, the mother is directed to contact the Department and provide the Department with her address upon her release from the White County Jail. The Father is ordered to cease the use of methamphetamine and all other controlled substances not prescribed by a medical care provider.

         Subsequently, in an agreed order, Harold Staffen, Z.L.'s paternal great-grandfather, was given temporary custody of Z.L. However, the trial court ordered that the parents were not authorized to visit with Z.L. outside court orders and that the visitation must be supervised in DHS's discretion with the approval of the attorney ad litem.

         A review hearing was held on February 4, 2015, and the trial court found that appellant had not complied with the case plan. It noted that the mother had been incarcerated in the White County jail since the case was filed and that she had missed visitation. In a permanency-planning order filed on July 22, 2015, the trial court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to finalize a permanency plan but that it was continuing the case for a subsequent permanency-planning hearing to hear evidence on the issues regarding parental compliance, additional visitation, and educational issues.

         While the proceeding pertaining to Z.L. was ongoing, appellant gave birth to another child, H.B., on August 25, 2015. A petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect was filed after H.B. was removed from appellant's care. In the attached affidavit, it stated that H.B. was removed due to the open case in which appellant has unresolved mental-health issues that caused her to threaten harm to Z.L., necessitating Z.L.'s removal. The trial court granted the petition, and a subsequent order finding probable cause was filed.

         Around this time, DHS discovered that Harold Staffen, the temporary custodian of Z.L., had allowed Z.L.'s father, Lewis, to move into his residence despite a court order that prohibited visitation between Lewis and Z.L. without prior court approval. The trial court granted a motion for ex parte emergency change of custody of Z.L. and returned custody of Z.L. to DHS.

         At this point, the trial court proceeded with hearings for both Z.L. and H.B.; however, each child was at a different point in their respective proceedings. The trial court held an adjudication hearing regarding H.B. and a permanency-planning hearing regarding Z.L. on September 23, 2015. Regarding H.B., the record indicates that Anthony Bynum is his father, and the trial court found H.B. to be dependent-neglected. In the adjudication order, the trial court ordered the following:

The Parents [Molly Bynum and Anthony Bynum] are ordered to:
a. Cooperate with the department, comply with the case plan, and obey all orders of the court.
b. Keep at least weekly contact with the case worker, keep the department informed of current address, and notify the department of any changes in address, contact information, marital status or employment status.
c. Obtain and maintain clean safe and stable housing with the utilities turned on.
d. Allow the department access into the home for purposes of monitoring.
e. Obtain and/or maintain stable employment or income sufficient to support the family.
f. Remain drug free and submit to random drug screens with any refusal to comply or failure to submit a specimen within one hour to be deemed a positive result.
g. If prescribed medication, provide proof of medication to the Department on a regular basis to comply with the results ...

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