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Garlington v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

February 14, 2018

TESHARA GARLINGTON APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

         APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-15-436] HONORABLE DAVID M. CLARK, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, 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 children.

          PHILLIP T. WHITEAKER, Judge

         Appellant Teshara Garlington's parental rights to her two children, B.B. and S.D., were terminated by order of the Faulkner County Circuit Court.[1] On appeal, she argues that the circuit court clearly erred in finding evidence to support the statutory grounds for termination.[2] We affirm.

         I. Background

         The Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) opened a protective-services case with Garlington in April 2015 based on a true finding of inadequate supervision. During the course of the protective-services case, Garlington had issues with her stability, relationships, and housing. In June 2015, Garlington contacted DHS to say that she was being abused by her live-in boyfriend and needed someplace to go. DHS took Garlington and her children to the Women's Shelter. A month later, DHS learned that Garlington and the children had been asked to leave the shelter and were living with a relative. Approximately two weeks later, Garlington contacted DHS again to advise that she and the children were homeless and unable to stay at her mother's house because the mother was living with a man who had sexually abused Garlington when she was a girl. DHS offered shelter services to Garlington, but she refused to go to another shelter. DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on the children at that point and filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect in July 2015, alleging the children were dependent-neglected as a result of abandonment, neglect, or parental unfitness.

         The circuit court adjudicated the children dependent-neglected in September 2015 based on the court's "acceptance of the parties' stipulation to a finding of dependency-neglect because the allegations in the petition and affidavit[3] are true and correct. Specifically, but not limited to, the mother did and does not have appropriate housing to care for the juveniles." The goal of the case was established as reunification with a concurrent goal of adoption. Garlington was ordered, among other things, to keep DHS informed of her residence and place of employment and to obtain and maintain stable housing and employment.

         In two separate review orders, the court found that Garlington was partially complying with the case plan, although she was still living with her mother, which the court deemed an inappropriate placement for the children. By the time of the permanency-planning hearing in July 2016, [4] Garlington's compliance had worsened. She continued to live in her mother's house, where she admitted she could not take the children back into her custody; she had not attended visitation or seen the children in over two months; she was unemployed; she did not maintain contact with DHS; and she was not attending counseling. The court determined that the goal of reunification was no longer appropriate and made adoption the primary goal, with a concurrent goal of relative placement.

         DHS filed a petition for termination of Garlington's parental rights alleging four statutory grounds: twelve-months failure to remedy; failure to provide significant material support; subsequent other factors; and aggravated circumstances. With respect to the twelvemonth failure-to-remedy ground, DHS specifically alleged that Garlington had been living with relatives or in homeless shelters throughout the case and had been unable to secure an apartment on her own.

         After DHS filed its petition, the circuit court ordered the parties to attend dependency-neglect mediation in October 2016. The court continued any hearing on the termination petition until February 2017 and then again to March 2017, as the parties requested additional time to conduct a staffing.

         The court conducted two hearings on the petition for termination of Garlington's parental rights: the first in March 2017 and the second in May 2017. At the conclusion of the March termination hearing, the circuit court granted Garlington's motion for directed verdict on the aggravated-circumstances ground, and the court also dismissed the failure-to-support and subsequent-factors grounds. Garlington's counsel then argued that DHS had failed to prove the twelve-month failure-to-remedy ground. Although counsel conceded that the children had been out of the house more than twelve months and that Garlington still did not have a home to which she could return with the children, counsel argued that DHS had failed to make meaningful efforts to assist Garlington with correcting the condition of her housing. The court did not specifically rule on counsel's arguments to dismiss the twelve-month failure-to-remedy ground. The court did express reservations about safely returning the children to Garlington, however, specifically stating:

My primary concern, though, is is it safe for the children to be returned to the custody of the mother? Can the ...

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