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Knight v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

November 8, 2017

DANIELLE KNIGHT APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE CLAY COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, EASTERN DISTRICT [NO. 11PJV-16-1] HONORABLE MELISSA BRISTOW RICHARDSON, JUDGE

          Terry Goodwin Jones, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge.

         Appellant Danielle Knight appeals from the order of the Clay County Circuit Court that terminated her parental rights to her son, S.L. On appeal, she challenges the circuit court's finding as to one of the two statutory grounds for termination; in addition, she argues that the circuit court erred in its finding of potential harm to the child if custody were returned to her. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On January 6, 2016, Knight was arrested following a search of her house that revealed methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia, weapons, and an active pipe bomb. S.L. was present in the home at the time of the arrest. The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) took custody of S.L. based on this arrest and because there was no other caretaker for S.L. at the time. S.L. was adjudicated dependent-neglected approximately a month later based on Knight's parental unfitness due to drug use.

         After adjudication, the circuit court found that Knight had only partially complied with the case plan. The court found that Knight had not remained drug free. Specifically, she tested positive for methamphetamine in May 2016, failed to submit to drug testing in December 2016, and tested positive again for drugs in January 2017. The court further found that Knight did not obtain and maintain stable employment throughout the course of the proceedings, and she failed to submit to a psychological evaluation. Additionally, the court found that Knight had pled guilty to drug charges. The court accordingly authorized DHS to file a petition for termination of parental rights.

         DHS filed a petition to terminate Knight's parental rights alleging, as statutory grounds for termination, twelve months failure to remedy, see Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) (Repl. 2015), and subsequent other factors, see Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)(a).[1] After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order finding that DHS had proved both grounds and that termination of Knight's parental rights was in S.L.'s best interest. Knight filed a timely notice of appeal from that order and now argues that the circuit court erred in finding that DHS proved the "failure to remedy" ground and in finding that S.L. would be at risk of potential harm if returned to her custody.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo but will not reverse the circuit court's ruling unless its findings are clearly erroneous. Dade v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 443, 503 S.W.3d 96. 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. In determining whether a finding is clearly erroneous, we have noted that in matters involving the welfare of young children, we will give great weight to the circuit court's personal observations. Jackson v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 440, 503 S.W.3d 122.

         The termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy and in derogation of the natural rights of the parents. Fox v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014 Ark.App. 666, 448 S.W.3d 735. As a result, there is a heavy burden placed on the party seeking to terminate the relationship. Id. The termination of parental rights is a two-step process that requires the circuit court to find that the parent is unfit and that termination is in the best interest of the child. T.J. v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 329 Ark. 243, 947 S.W.2d 761 (1997); Smith v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2013 Ark.App. 753, 431 S.W.3d 364. The first step requires proof of one or more of the statutory grounds for termination. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B). The second step requires consideration of whether the termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(A).

         III. Stat ...


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