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Beaty v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

November 15, 2017



          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          One brief only.

          DAVID M. GLOVER, Judge

         Lisa Beaty appeals the termination of her parental rights to her son, L.M., born May 13, 2016.[1] 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), her counsel has filed a no-merit brief purporting to set 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. Although notified by the clerk of this court of her right to files pro se points of appeal, Beaty has not done so. We affirm the circuit court's termination of Beaty's parental rights and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.

         Standard of Review

         Termination 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. Norton v. Arkansas Dep't of Human Servs., 2017 Ark.App. 285. The first step requires proof of one or more statutory grounds for termination; the second step, the best-interest analysis, includes consideration of the likelihood the juvenile will be adopted and of the potential harm caused by returning custody of the child to the parent. Id. Both steps require proof by clear and convincing evidence, which is the degree of proof that will produce in the finder of fact a firm conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established. Id.

         Appellate review for termination cases is de novo, and our inquiry on appeal 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. Id. In resolving the clearly erroneous question, the reviewing court defers to the circuit court due to its superior opportunity to observe the parties and to judge the credibility of witnesses. Id.

         Procedural History

         On July 8, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) was notified by Karis Chastain with Crimes Against Children Division that L.M. was hospitalized at Children's Hospital after being punched in the face by his father and suffering a traumatic-brain injury; L.M. also required use of a feeding tube due to his injury. L.M.'s father, Anthony McKown, was jailed for the domestic battery on his son, and Beaty was facing charges of first-degree child endangerment and possibly possession of drug paraphernalia. The detective working the case had concerns that neither Beaty or McKown was mentally capable of caring for L.M. DHS took a hold on L.M. on July 9, 2016, due to McKown being incarcerated for L.M.'s injuries and Beaty facing charges for child endangerment. Based on these facts, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody of L.M. on July 12, 2016, and an ex parte order granting DHS emergency custody was entered the same day.

         A probable-cause hearing was held on July 15, 2016, and an order was filed the same day continuing custody of L.M. with DHS. In the order, the circuit court found it necessary to continue custody of L.M. with DHS due to the severe injuries L.M. suffered at the hands of his father and because Beaty was being charged with endangering the welfare of a minor, with L.M. as the victim.

         An adjudication hearing was held on September 1, 2016. In an adjudication order filed on October 3, 2016, the circuit court found L.M. had been subjected to aggravated circumstances due to a life-threatening injury and being left with McKown, who was a registered sex offender. In the order, the circuit court set forth L.M.'s extensive injuries, as well as testimony from Dr. Karen Farst, an expert in pediatrics and child-abuse pediatrics. Dr. Farst testified as follows: L.M. likely would not have survived without immediate medical attention; very aggressive treatment was required to save his life; his injuries stemmed from physical abuse; he had permanent brain damage and suffered from seizures because of his injuries; and he would have long-term impairment from the injuries. The circuit court specifically found McKown caused L.M.'s injuries and had subjected him to aggravated circumstances due to extreme cruelty and life-threatening injuries. It further found Beaty had subjected L.M. to aggravated circumstances by leaving him in McKown's care, although he was a registered sex offender. Neither Beaty nor McKown appealed the adjudication-order findings.

         DHS filed a motion to terminate reunification services on October 6, 2016, on the basis that L.M. had been subjected to aggravated circumstances by both parents. Then, on November 8, 2016, a permanency-planning hearing was held, as well as a hearing on the no-reunification services motion. The circuit court filed both a no-reunification order and a permanency-planning order on November 18. The basis for the no-reunification order was that both parents had subjected L.M. to aggravated circumstances. In the permanency-planning order, the circuit court determined the goal of the case was to be changed to adoption; it also found DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services.

         DHS filed a petition to terminate parental rights on December 5, 2016, alleging termination was in L.M.'s best interest. For grounds to terminate Beaty's parental rights, DHS alleged the fact the juvenile had been found dependent-neglected as a result of neglect or abuse that could endanger the life of the child and was perpetrated by the juvenile's parent or parents, the subsequent-factor ground, and the aggravated-circumstances ground.[2] On March 28, 2017, after a hearing on February 16, 2017, the circuit court filed an order ...

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