ASHLEY SMITH AND ARCHIE COATS, JR. APPELLANTS
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES
FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, ELEVENTH DIVISION [NO.
60JV-16-132] HONORABLE PATRICIA JAMES, JUDGE
Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant
Ashley Smith. Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by:
Brett D. Watson, for appellant Archie Coats, Jr.
Imbeau, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.
Chrestman Group, PLLC, by: Keith L. Chrestman, attorney ad
litem for minor child.
RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, Judge.
Ashley Smith and Archie Coats, Jr., appeal separately from
the termination of their parental rights to their son, P.S.,
born May 17, 2013. Appellants' respective attorneys have
each filed a no-merit brief and motion to withdraw as counsel
pursuant to Linker-Flores v. Arkansas Department of Human
Services, 359 Ark. 131, 194 S.W.3d 739 (2004), and
Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 6-9(i), asserting that there are
no issues that would support a meritorious appeal.
Counsel's briefs contain an abstract and addendum of the
proceedings below, detail all adverse rulings made at the
termination hearing, and explain why there is no meritorious
ground for reversal. The clerk of this court sent copies of
the briefs and motions to withdraw to appellants, informing
them of their right to file pro se points for reversal.
Neither has done so. We affirm the orders terminating
Smith's and Coats's parental rights, and we grant
their attorneys' motions to withdraw as counsel.
was taken into custody by the Arkansas Department of Human
Services (DHS) in January 2016 after he was admitted to
Arkansas Children's Hospital with what appeared to be
second-degree burns from his waist down to his feet. The
circuit court entered an emergency order followed by an order
finding that probable cause existed to remove P.S. and to
maintain him in DHS custody.
adjudication hearing took place on March 30, 2016. At the
hearing, Dr. Rachel Clingenpeel, a physician at Arkansas
Children's Hospital, testified that P.S. had second-and
third-degree burns and that in her opinion, he was forcibly
submerged in hot water because the burn patterns presented
clean edges around his waist, and his knees and hands were
not burned, which demonstrated he was in a retracted seated
position when placed into the water. She said that if he had
fallen into the water, as Smith indicated, he would have
thrashed around and had burns on his knees and hands, as well
as splash burns on his body. At the conclusion of the
adjudication hearing, the court entered an order finding by
clear and convincing evidence-a higher burden than what is
required under the Juvenile Code-that P.S. was
dependent-neglected due to physical abuse, neglect, and
parental unfitness by Smith. The court further found that
P.S. was subjected to nonaccidental physical injuries by
Smith, that Smith failed to seek appropriate medical
treatment for P.S. because she did not want DHS in her life,
and that P.S. received treatment only because Smith had
summoned emergency help for herself several hours later (when
she was having an anxiety attack). The court concluded that
these facts constituted extreme cruelty and, thus, aggravated
circumstances. Smith did not file an appeal from that order.
August 18, 2017, DHS filed a petition for termination of
parental rights on the basis of three grounds: failure to
remedy, subsequent factors, and aggravated circumstances. The
court held a hearing on the petition on September 27, 2017.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court took the
case under advisement. On November 3, 2017, the circuit court
entered an order granting DHS's petition to terminate
appellants' parental rights on all three grounds. The
parents' separate notices of appeal followed.
of parental rights is a two-step process requiring a
determination that the parent is unfit and that termination
is in the best interest of the child. Houseman v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 227, at 2, 491
S.W.3d 153, 155. The first step requires proof of one or more
statutory grounds for termination; the second step, the
best-interest analysis, includes consideration of the
likelihood that the juvenile will be adopted and of the
potential harm caused by returning custody of the child to
the parent. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B), (A)
(Repl. 2015). Each of these requires proof by clear and
convincing evidence, which is the degree of proof that will
produce in the finder of fact a firm conviction regarding the
allegation sought to be established. Watson v. Ark.
Dep't of Human Servs., 2017 Ark.App. 484, 529 S.W.3d
review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo.
Dunbar v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2016
Ark.App. 472, at 9, 503 S.W.3d 821, 827. The appellate
inquiry is whether the circuit court's finding that the
disputed fact was proved by clear and convincing evidence is
clearly erroneous. Id. A finding is clearly
erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the
reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with a
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.
Norton v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2017
Ark.App. 285, at 2. In resolving the clearly erroneous
question, the reviewing court defers to the circuit court
because of its superior opportunity to observe the parties
and to judge the credibility of witnesses. Brumley v.
Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2015 Ark. 356, at 7.
dependency-neglect cases, if, after studying the record and
researching the law, appellant's counsel determines the
appellant has no meritorious basis for appeal then counsel
may file a no-merit petition and move to withdraw. Poss
v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 2014 Ark.App. 514,
443 S.W.3d 594. The petition must include an argument section
that lists all adverse rulings the parent received at the
circuit court level and explain why each adverse ruling is
not a meritorious ground for reversal. Id. The
petition must also include an abstract and addendum
containing all rulings adverse to the appealing parent that
were made during the hearing from which the order on appeal
arose. Id. Appellants' respective attorneys have
each determined there are no meritorious bases for appeals in
this case. We agree.
Smith's counsel explains that other than the termination
itself, there technically were no adverse rulings. However,
"out of an abundance of caution," counsel addressed
two additional rulings that could be considered adverse. The
first was the circuit court's denial of P.S.'s
placement with the juvenile's grandmother, Ms. Parker,
which occurred at a prior hearing but was referenced at the
termination hearing. The second was the circuit court's
statement that it could draw a negative inference about
Smith's culpability with regard to P.S.'s injuries
after Smith asserted her Fifth Amendment privileges against