FROM THE GARLAND COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 26JV-16-346]
HONORABLE TOM COOPER, JUDGE
Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
Jennifer Denen appeals from the termination of her parental
rights to her two children, M.F. and R.R. Pursuant to
Linker-Flores v. Arkansas Department of Human
Services, 359 Ark. 131, 194 S.W.3d 739 (2004), and
Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 6-9(i), Denen's counsel has
filed a no-merit brief and motion to withdraw asserting that
there are no issues of arguable merit to support an appeal
and that she should be relieved as counsel. A copy of
counsel's brief and motion was mailed to Denen, and after
being informed of her right to file pro se points, Denen
declined to file any points. We affirm the trial court's
order and grant counsel's motion to be relieved.
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Dinkins v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 344 Ark.
207, 40 S.W.3d 286 (2001). 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. Ark. Code Ann.
§ 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl. 2015); Mitchell v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 715, 430 S.W.3d
851. 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. Brown v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2017 Ark.App. 303, 521 S.W.3d
183. The appellate inquiry is whether the trial court's
finding that the disputed fact was proved by clear and
convincing evidence is clearly erroneous. Id. A
finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence
to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is
left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has
been made. Id.
August 17, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services
(DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and
dependency-neglect concerning M.F. (d.o.b. 6-26-12) and R.R.
(d.o.b. 9-22-15). The accompanying affidavit provided that
DHS had received a hotline report that M.F. had been observed
displaying inappropriate sexual and aggressive behaviors
indicative of possible sexual and physical abuse. DHS
scheduled interviews for the children at the Child Advocacy
Center. One of M.F.'s half-siblings (whose custody is not
at issue in this appeal) was interviewed, and he disclosed
that M.F. was called an "idiot all the time" and
"whooped regularly with a stick on the buttocks and
back." R.R.'s physical examination showed a
"horrible rash on her vagina and buttocks, " an
"extremely filthy" genital area, and a diaper area
with "dried feces, trash, and excessive discharge."
disclosed that she had been spanked by Denen and R.R.'s
putative father, Clarence Reed. She said that at times she
would not be fed at home, even though her siblings were
eating. At the time of the interview, she had a black eye,
scars on her wrist, and "severe bruising covering her
buttocks and down her leg." When a police officer asked
M.F. her name, she responded "Idiot." The affidavit
also detailed that Reed admitted zip-tying M.F.'s hands,
which caused the bruising, and calling her an idiot. Denen
acknowledged to the police that she knew Reed had been
abusing M.F. but had not stopped him. DHS exercised an
emergency hold on the children, and the trial court entered
two separate ex parte orders, one granting custody to DHS for
M.F. and R.R., and the other placing Denen's four other
children (half-siblings to M.F. and R.R.) in their
father's sole custody and suspending Denen's visits
with those children.
probable-cause hearing was held on August 24, 2016, and
continued M.F. and R.R. in DHS's custody. An adjudication
hearing was held one month later, and the court found by
clear and convincing evidence that M.F. and R.R. had suffered
from physical abuse and neglect and had also been subjected
to aggravated circumstances based on chronic abuse and
extreme cruelty. The goal of the case was set for adoption.
The adjudication order was not appealed. DHS then filed a
petition to terminate Denen's parental rights.
termination hearing, DHS first called Judy Jenson, the
investigator assigned to the case. She testified to the
details and allegations in the affidavit. Jenson said that
she concluded her investigation with a finding that Denen and
Reed had subjected a child to "Threat of Harm, Failure
to Protect, Striking a Child on the Face or the Head, Cuts,
Bruises or Welts, Failure to Thrive, Inadequate Food, [and]
Tying and Restraining a Child."
caseworker testified that Denen was facing criminal charges
based on the reasons the children entered foster care. The
caseworker further opined that termination was in the
children's best interest because the children would be at
risk of suffering the same abuse and neglect if returned to
also put on a counselor from the Child Advocacy Center who
provided therapy to M.F. The counselor, Karen Wright,
testified that M.F. suffered from PTSD and would require
therapy for quite some time to recover. During therapy, M.F.
had disclosed to Wright that her mom would tie her up and hit
her with a plastic bat, and Wright found the disclosure to be
very credible. Finally, DHS put on an adoption specialist who
believed both children are adoptable based on their
testified that she was willing to comply with the case plan.
She said she had not attempted to contact her children
because there was a no-contact order in place, and she did
not have a way to contact her caseworker from prison. She
testified she was incarcerated because she had been charged
with first-degree domestic battery, permitting child abuse,
and first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor child.
She also informed the court of some of the services she had
completed while in prison.
January 18, 2017, the trial court entered an order
terminating Denen's parental rights as to M.F. and R.R.
The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that
termination of parental rights was in the children's best
interest, and the court specifically considered the
likelihood of adoption, as well as the potential harm of
returning the children to Denen's custody as required by
Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(A). The trial
court also found clear and convincing evidence of three
statutory grounds under subsection (b)(3)(B).
no-merit brief, Denen's counsel correctly asserts that
there can be no meritorious challenge to the sufficiency of
the evidence supporting termination of Denen's parental
rights. Although the trial court found three grounds for
termination, only one ground is necessary to support the
termination. See Draper v. Ark. Dep't of Human
Servs., 2012 Ark.App. 112, 389 S.W.3d 58. In both the
adjudication order and the termination order, the trial court
found under Arkansas Code Annotated section ...