FROM THE OUACHITA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 52JV-17-11]
HONORABLE DAVID W. TALLEY, JR., JUDGE
Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for
A. Sharum, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
J. GLADWIN, Judge
Ouachita County Circuit Court granted permanent custody of
the minor child, D.D., born June 23, 2014, to Bobby Delee,
her father, and closed the dependency-neglect case that
appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) had
brought against D.D.'s mother, appellant Laura Meyers.
Meyers argues on appeal that the trial court erred because
she did not receive notice that permanent custody and a
no-reunification-of-services request would be considered at
the scheduled adjudication hearing. She also argues that the
trial court's order is void because the trial court
failed to find that the child had been adjudicated
dependent-neglected and that the trial court erred because it
failed to follow the required provisions of the juvenile
code. Appellees ADHS and the attorney ad litem contend that
this court should affirm the trial court's oral finding
of dependency-neglect, enter the finding of
dependency-neglect in writing, and affirm the child's
placement with her father. Appellees also argue that we
should reverse and remand the trial court's decision to
close the case and not order reunification services because
Meyers did not receive the required statutory notice before
the case was closed. We reverse the trial court's order
granting permanent custody to Delee, closing the case, and
ordering no reunification services because Meyers did not
receive the required statutory notice. We remand for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Facts and Procedural History
filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect
on February 13, 2017, and an ex parte order granting ADHS
custody was filed on the same day. The petition alleged that
D.D. was dependent-neglected based on parental unfitness. The
attached affidavit of Bridgette Patterson, a family service
worker (FSW) for ADHS, states that a report was received that
D.D., who lived with Meyers, was covered from head to toe in
roach bites. Patterson completed a health-and-safety
assessment on January 31, 2017, and observed that the house
was infested with roaches, two dogs were in the house and had
left feces on the floor, the home was cluttered with clothes,
and the sink was full of dirty dishes. Patterson also saw
bites on the child's legs, arms, stomach, and back, and
Meyers had not sought medical care for the child. Meyers told
Patterson that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia,
ADHD, bipolar disorder, and a "split personality, "
but Meyers said that she did not take medication and had not
been to a doctor or counselor for these issues. The affidavit
described two prior agency involvements, one in Georgia,
which was found to be unsubstantiated, and another in
Arkansas on September 9, 2016, when Meyers took D.D. to
Ouachita Valley Clinic where it was discovered that the
two-year-old was behind on her vaccinations and was covered
in a rash, thought to be scabies. Meyers told the clinic
worker that D.D. had cockroach bites, and Meyers was covered
in bites as well. Meyers told the clinic that she has three
other children, two of whom were in their dad's custody
because she had tried to kill him. The other child, who was
born with a birth defect, had been placed for adoption.
Meyers was told about services for D.D., such as speech and
physical therapy, but Meyers said that she did not trust
doctors and did not want anyone to come into her home. These
allegations were found to be true, a protective-services case
was opened, and ADHS attempted to provide services from
October 2016 until January 2017, when Patterson conducted the
the entry of the emergency order, Meyers was appointed
counsel, and on March 21, 2017, the trial court signed an
order for compliance with Regulation 7 of the Interstate
Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) to request a
home-study assessment on Delee because he lived in Tennessee.
On March 22, 2017, a probable-cause order was filed wherein
the trial court found that the emergency conditions that
caused removal continued and it was necessary that D.D.
remain in ADHS custody. ADHS was ordered to develop an
appropriate case plan for the child and family and to provide
services as appropriate to achieve the goal of the case plan.
The trial court found that Meyers had agreed to start
counseling and complete her psychological evaluation before
the adjudication hearing and ordered her to do so. An
adjudication hearing was set for March 15, 2017; however, the
hearing was continued until April 19, 2017.
parents attended the adjudication hearing with their counsel,
and Patterson testified to the allegations set forth in the
affidavit attached to ADHS's original petition.
Photographs of Meyers's home taken during Patterson's
January 31, 2017 visit were admitted in evidence. On
cross-examination, Meyers's counsel asked Patterson what
efforts were made to prevent having to remove the child from
Meyers's custody. The following colloquy occurred:
ADHS Counsel: That's not relevant to the finding of
Meyers's Counsel: Are you not asking for a finding of
ADHS Counsel: That's a different finding.
Meyers's Counsel: Are we going to have another hearing on
ADHS Counsel: That's a part of the disposition finding.
Meyers's Counsel: But the court's not going to make
that finding today, so I'll reserve those questions.
That's all I have, Your Honor.
was then questioned by the attorney ad litem representing
D.D. At the conclusion of Patterson's testimony, the
following colloquy occurred:
Meyers's Counsel: I just want to be clear on one issue.
The Department today is not asking for a reasonable-efforts
The Court: I think that what they are doing is, they're
getting to this threshold and then we move into disposition.
That's the point where we talk about reasonable efforts.
ADHS Counsel: Correct.
Meyers's Counsel: To prevent removal?
ADHS Counsel: Right.
Meyers's Counsel: Okay.
testified that she has children other than D.D. and that she
had spent time in jail as a result of causing one child to
have a broken tibia. She also said that she recalled stating
in her psychological evaluation that she had tried to kill
the father of two of her children. She said that
[a]fter many years of physical, verbal, psychological, and
mental abuse, one day I just snapped on him. He kicked me in
my back and the last thing I remember is the cops being at
the house. From what they told me, they said I snatched him
by the throat and that if he hadn't hit me in my ribs, he
would have been dead. So, I personally don't have any
recollection of it. I only have what I was told.
I couldn't even tell you where my children were at the
time. When I blacked out, I had no clue where they were at.
That doesn't happen frequently for me. It took nine years
to happen once. I've been diagnosed with schizophrenia
for as long as I can remember. If I can remember that far
back, yeah, ...