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Turner v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

January 31, 2018

TIFFANY TURNER APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE UNION COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 70JV-16-59] HONORABLE EDWIN KEATON, JUDGE

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge

         Tiffany Turner appeals from the Union County Circuit Court's order terminating her parental rights to her son, JH, born December 8, 2015. She does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the termination decision. Her sole point on appeal is that the termination order is void and should be reversed because the circuit court failed to timely adjudicate JH dependent-neglected, depriving the court of subject-matter jurisdiction to enter any further orders in the case. We hold that the circuit court did not lose jurisdiction and affirm its order.

         Because appellant does not challenge the termination decision itself, only a brief recitation of the facts is necessary. The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised an emergency hold on JH on February 12, 2016, alleging neglect and parental unfitness after discovering JH crying inside a running vehicle, while appellant was inside the apartment. Appellant admitted having used methamphetamine the previous evening. On April 29, 2016, the circuit court entered an order finding that probable cause necessitating JH's removal continued to exist along with custody in DHS.

         On May 16, 2016, the circuit court held an adjudication hearing, which appellant and her attorney both attended. The circuit court found that JH was dependent-neglected based on appellant's drug use and placed temporary custody of JH with appellant's mother, Stephanie Watson. The court did not actually enter the adjudication order until January 25, 2017. The court entered an order of emergency change of custody on May 24, 2016, returning custody to DHS after a May 19, 2016, drug screen on Ms. Watson was positive for methamphetamine and amphetamines. The court held review hearings on August 15, 2016, and December 5, 2016. On February 6, 2017, the court held a permanency-planning hearing and changed the goal of the case to termination and adoption, specifically finding that appellant had not complied with the case plan and orders of the court. The court found that she had made "zero progress" and that she had no housing, had failed to complete drug treatment, had no income, had not visited regularly, and continued to test positive for drugs when DHS "catches her to test her." On February 7, 2017, DHS filed a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights.

         The court held a termination hearing on April 17, 2017, and entered an order terminating appellant's parental rights on July 12, 2017. The court found that appellant had subjected JH to aggravated circumstances, specifically finding that there was little likelihood that services to the family would result in successful reunification. The court also found by clear and convincing evidence that it was in JH's best interest to terminate appellant's parental rights.

         On appeal, appellant contends that we must reverse the circuit court's order terminating her parental rights because the court lost jurisdiction over the case when it failed to hold an adjudication hearing or enter an order adjudicating JH dependent-neglected within the statutory time frame. She argues that because the court had no jurisdiction to proceed with the case after that lapse, its order terminating parental rights is void.

         We turn first to the relevant statutory law and its application to the particular facts in this case. The statute governing adjudication hearings in dependency-neglect cases provides in relevant part as follows:

(a)(1)(A) An adjudication hearing shall be held to determine whether the allegations in a petition are substantiated by the proof.
(4)(A) The dependency-neglect adjudication hearing shall be held within thirty (30) days after the probable cause hearing under § 9-27-315.
(B) On a motion of the court or any party, the court may continue the adjudication hearing up to sixty (60) days after ...

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