FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT
[NO. 66FJV-16-284] HONORABLE JIM D. SPEARS, JUDGE
Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
W. GRUBER, Chief Judge
for Francesca Mercado brings this no-merit appeal from the
circuit court's December 28, 2016 order terminating
Mercado's parental rights to A.M., who was born on
February 27, 2016. 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), counsel
has filed a no-merit brief setting forth all adverse rulings
from the termination hearing and asserting that there are no
issues that would support a meritorious appeal. Counsel has
also filed a motion asking to be relieved. Mercado has filed
pro se points. The Arkansas Department of Human Services
(DHS) and the minor child's counsel have responded to
those pro se points. We grant counsel's motion to
withdraw and affirm the termination order.
of parental rights is a two-step process requiring a
determination that the parent is unfit and that termination
is in the best interest of the child. Houseman v.
Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App.
227, at 2, 491 S.W.3d 153, 155. The first step requires proof
of one or more statutory grounds for termination; the second
step requires consideration of whether termination is in the
juvenile's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(B), (A) (Repl. 2015). Each of these requires
proof by clear and convincing evidence, which is the degree
of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm
conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established.
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Norton v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2017
Ark.App. 285, at 2. Our inquiry is whether the circuit
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. Houseman,
supra. In resolving the clearly erroneous question,
the reviewing court defers to the circuit court's
superior opportunity to observe the parties and to judge the
witnesses' credibility. Brumley v. Ark. Dep't of
Human Servs., 2015 Ark. 356, at 7.
Mercado v. Arkansas Department of Human Services,
2017 Ark.App. 232, 519 S.W.3d 715 (Mercado I), we
recounted earlier proceedings in this case:
On June 17, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services
(DHS) exercised a 72-hour hold on three-month-old A.M. after
a medical examination at Arkansas Children's Hospital
revealed bone fractures, head trauma, brain damage, and a
subdural hematoma. A probable-cause order was entered on
August 17, 2016, continuing custody of A.M. with DHS. The
court held a hearing on September 12, 2016, after DHS filed a
motion to terminate reunification services. Dr. Karen Farst,
a specialist in child-abuse pediatrics who examined A.M. at
Children's, testified at the hearing that A.M.'s head
injury was a "near fatality" and that her injuries
were "indicative of physical abuse." Following the
hearing, the circuit court adjudicated A.M.
dependent-neglected with the stated goal of adoption, and
granted DHSs' motion to terminate reunification services.
The court entered a separate order denying appellant's
petition for a second medical-expert opinion. The court
attached Rule 54(b) certificates to both orders.
Mercado I, 2017 Ark.App. 232, at 1-2, 519 S.W.3d at
715-16. Mercado filed her notice of appeal in Mercado
I from the circuit court's orders adjudicating A.M.
dependent-neglected, relieving DHS from providing
reunification services, and denying Mercado's petition
for a second medical-expert opinion. However, her sole point
on appeal was that the circuit court erred in denying her
petition for a separate medical expert. We affirmed.
Id. at 3, 519 S.W.3d at 717.
order terminating Mercado's parental rights, the circuit
court found that the State had proved two statutory grounds.
The first ground states, as relevant to the present case:
(vi) The court has found the juvenile . . .
dependent-neglected as a result of neglect or abuse that
could endanger the life of the child, . . . which was
perpetrated by the juvenile's parent or parents or
stepparent or stepparents.
. . . .
(b) Such findings by the juvenile division of circuit court
shall constitute grounds for immediate termination of the
parental rights of one (1) or both of the parents;
Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vi)(a) & (b).
Under the second ground, a court of competent jurisdiction
has found the parent to have subjected any juvenile to
aggravated circumstances. Ark. Code Ann. §
9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix) (Repl. 2015). "Aggravated
circumstances" means, in relevant part, that a juvenile
has been "chronically abused, subjected to extreme or
repeated cruelty"; or that a determination has been made
by a judge that "there is little likelihood that
services to the family will ...