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Fisher v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

December 13, 2017



          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant Carrie Fisher.

          Dusti Standridge, for appellant Michael Fisher

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          BRANDON J. HARRISON, Judge

         Under Arkansas law, the State may sever completely the rights of parents upon a finding by the circuit court that a statutory ground for termination of parental rights exists and a termination is in the children's best interest. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341 (Supp. 2017). Due process requires that the State support its allegations by at least clear and convincing evidence. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982). Michael Fisher and Carrie Fisher challenge the sufficiency of the State's evidence presented during a termination hearing in the Logan County Circuit Court. We hold that the circuit court's decision to terminate Michael and Carrie's parental rights was not clearly erroneous and affirm.

         I. Background

         In March 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) petitioned for emergency custody of K.F. and J.F. based on the affidavit of caseworker Terrie Goff. The court found that an emergency existed because the children had been left at an after-school program without a caregiver and that DHS custody was necessary to protect the juveniles' health, safety, and welfare. According to Goff, the children's mother, Carrie Fisher, was in jail, and no other family members were available to care for the children. The children's legal father, Michael Fisher, reportedly had stated that he was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, had no money or food, and to "just call DHS." Goff's affidavit noted nine "CHRIS Search" referrals for the children from 2013 to 2016.

         The circuit court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected in May 2016. The adjudication order states that Carrie stipulated that she was an unfit parent "due to drug addiction." At the time of the adjudication, Carrie was a patient at Valley Behavioral Hospital. The court found that Michael was a noncustodial parent, not fit, and that the children could not be safely placed in his custody because

[h]e could not tell the Court exactly where he was living as he could not recall the street number for his address. He did admit that the place he is living is not his own, nor was the place he lived before his current home. He was argumentative while on the witness stand and refused to answer questions. He also refused to screen for drugs either before or after Court. The Court finds his refusal and overall behavior to be indicators that he was under the influence of some substances.

         The court set the case goal as reunification. It ordered Carrie to submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment and complete all recommended treatment; submit to a psychological evaluation or mental-health assessment and complete any recommended counseling made by Valley at her discharge; obtain and maintain stable and appropriate housing; have sufficient income and reliable transportation; complete parenting classes and display improved parenting skills; submit to drug screening and hair-follicle testing; and "if she is going to continue to have a relationship with her current boyfriend, secure his cooperation in working on any of his issues and following the case plan."

         The court ordered Michael to "obtain counsel privately if he wishes to be represented by counsel as he is not entitled to appointed counsel;" submit to drug-and-alcohol and hair-follicle testing; watch "The Clock is Ticking" video; submit to a drug-alcohol assessment and complete any recommended treatment; complete anger-management classes; and have stable housing and sufficient income. It also found that the parents were divorced and as part of the divorce decree, Michael was ordered to pay $160 a week in child support. The court ordered that the divorce decree be provided to the office of child support enforcement and that DHS be the payee for support.

         The court entered a review order in July 2016 finding that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide the family services to achieve the goal of reunification. It stated,

The Court finds that the parents are not making progress towards reunification. The mother has not maintained stable housing. She has lived in several residences since this case opened. The mother receives disability income. She is working off community services time and paying fines regarding a criminal offense. The father reports that he is living in a home that [he] is remodeling for his brother and that [he] works at self-employment and is paid by the job. He reports having no transportation and that ...

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