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Taylor v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

April 25, 2018



          Lisa-Marie Norris, for appellant.

          Mary Goff, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Jessica Taylor appeals the Crittenden County Circuit Court's October 12, 2017 order terminating her parental rights to her two children, A.T.2 (born June 1, 2015) and J.T. (born December 16, 2016).[1] On appeal, Taylor's only argument is that the trial court erred in basing its termination order solely on a prior termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) order. We affirm.

         I. Facts

         Appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect on June 9, 2015, as to newborn A.T.2 because Taylor had refused to allow DHS to take custody of the child based on its open case involving A.T.1 (born March 18, 2014). The trial court granted an ex parte order for emergency custody of A.T.2 on June 10, 2015, based on the petition and attached affidavit that described Taylor's having given birth to A.T.2, not informing DHS of the birth despite the open DHS case, and locking herself and the baby in a camper with no utilities to avoid DHS's taking the child into custody.

         On June 18, 2015, DHS filed a TPR petition alleging that TPR was in both children's best interest pursuant to two statutory grounds set out in Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) & (vii) (Supp. 2017), with the latter ground being alleged in regard to only A.T.2. The trial court set a termination hearing on the TPR petition and scheduled A.T.2's adjudication hearing for the same date. To support the twelve-month ground, DHS alleged that A.T.1 had been taken into DHS custody due to concerns about Taylor's living situation and mental capacity. The child was adjudicated dependent-neglected on June 10, 2014, based on inadequate housing. Taylor was ordered to submit to a psychological evaluation and follow the recommendations, obtain safe and stable housing, obtain stable employment and/or income, complete intensive parenting classes, and submit to random drug screens. At the time DHS filed its TPR petition, Taylor did not have safe housing with functional utilities; A.T.1 was receiving the majority of her nutrition through a feeding tube in her stomach and was receiving speech therapy; Taylor was diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning; Taylor was denied her application to the housing authority because she did not provide all the needed information; and Taylor did not resubmit an application for housing and refused to attend day classes, choosing to continue her college courses and to live without working utilities. DHS alleged the same facts to support the other-factors ground, adding that A.T.2 had been born on June 1, 2015, while Taylor was living in the camper with no utilities. DHS emphasized that Taylor had been diagnosed with borderline intellectual functioning and lacked the skills to improve her capacity to be a better parent.

         The trial court filed an order terminating Taylor's parental rights to A.T.1 and A.T.2 on March 28, 2016.[2] Taylor appealed, and on October 5, 2016, this court affirmed the TPR order regarding A.T.1 but reversed the termination as to A.T.2. See Taylor v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 453, 503 S.W.3d 813.

         The trial court filed a review order on October 31, 2016, reflecting this court's decision on appeal. The trial court severed A.T.2's case from A.T.1's and found that returning A.T.2 to her mother would not be in the child's best interest. The goal of the case was adoption, and Taylor was granted weekly supervised visitation. Taylor was also ordered to continue to follow the case plan and all prior orders.

         DHS filed on January 5, 2017, a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect in A.T.2's case and alleged that J.T. had been born on December 16, 2016, during the pendency of the case. The attached affidavit stated that a DHS caseworker went to Taylor's residence on December 19, 2016, to complete a home assessment. The caseworker witnessed dogs in the home, holes in the ceiling where water was leaking into the room where the baby slept, cords "coming from an unknown location from the ceiling, " clutter, a space heater, and roaches. The trial court filed an ex parte order for emergency custody of J.T. on January 5, 2017.

         On January 10, 2017, the attorney ad litem filed a motion to terminate reunification services, citing Ark. Code Ann. §§ 9-27-327, -329, and -337. The grounds alleged were that the children had been subjected to aggravated circumstances in that Taylor's parental rights had been involuntarily terminated as to A.T.1 after Taylor had been offered services and could not remedy the condition that caused removal. A hearing was set for February 21, 2017. Also, on January 10, 2017, a probable-cause hearing was held. An order was filed reflecting that the orders remained largely the same for Taylor, and an adjudication hearing was set for February 21, 2017.

         There is no account of a hearing on February 21, 2017, in the briefs before this court, but a June 20, 2017 no-reunification-of-services and review order reflects that a hearing was held on March 28, 2017. The trial court found by clear and convincing evidence that Taylor had her parental rights involuntarily terminated as to A.T.1, and it was in A.T.2 and J.T.'s best interest that the ad litem's motion for no-reunification services be granted.[3] The trial court made a finding of aggravated circumstances in that, based on the history and length of the case, there was little likelihood that services would result in successful reunification. The goal of the case was "changed to adoption." A permanency-planning hearing was set for April 20, 2017, an order was filed on that date reflecting that the goal of the case was adoption, and the court ordered that Taylor continue to have weekly supervised visits with both children. An order adjudicating J.T. dependent-neglected was filed on May 23, 2017, and it reflects that the hearing was held on March 28, 2017, and a TPR hearing was set for June 6, 2017.

         DHS filed a petition on June 20, 2017, seeking a TPR order as to both A.T.2 and J.T. The grounds alleged applicable to Taylor were (1) twelve months out of custody and no remedy, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a); (2) failure to support, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ii)(a); (3) other factors subsequent to the dependency-neglect petition, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(vii)(a); (4) the parent had been sentenced in a criminal proceeding for a period of time that would constitute a substantial period of the child's life, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(viii)(a); and (5) parent subjected the child to aggravated circumstances due to the no-reunification-of-services order and the parent was found to have had her parental rights involuntarily terminated as to a child, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ix)(a)(3)‒(4). DHS ...

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