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Murphy v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 19, 2018

SHELBY MURPHY APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE UNION COUNTY C IRC U IT C O U R T [NO. 70JV-16-164] HONORABLE EDWIN KEATON, JUDGE.

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

          One brief only.

          LARRYD. VAUGHT, JUDGE.

         Shelby Murphy appeals the order entered by the Union County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her daughter, D.M. (born February 3, 2016). Murphy's counsel has filed a motion to withdraw and a no-merit brief pursuant to our rules and case law, stating that there are no meritorious grounds to support an appeal. Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 6-9 (2017); Linker-Flores v. Ark. Dep't of Human Servs., 359 Ark. 131, 194 S.W.3d 739 (2004). Our court clerk mailed-restricted delivery, return receipt requested-certified copies of counsel's motion and brief to Murphy's last-known addresses informing her of her right to file pro se points for reversal. Murphy has not filed pro se points for reversal, and the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) has not filed a brief. We affirm the circuit court's decision to terminate Murphy's parental rights and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.

         On June 20, 2016, DHS received reports of child maltreatment and environmental neglect regarding D.M. Specifically, it was reported that Murphy was using drugs while holding D.M. and that Murphy's home was filthy. That day, a DHS investigator went to Murphy's home and found the home was messy, not filthy, and that Murphy would not submit to a drug test. However, Murphy did submit to a drug test on June 28, 2016, and she tested positive for THC, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. DHS took custody of D.M., and on July 5, 2016, filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. An ex parte order was entered on July 5, 2016.

         D.M. was adjudicated dependent-neglected following a hearing on August 1, 2016, based on Murphy's drug use and environmental neglect. In its adjudication order, the circuit court directed Murphy to follow the case plan; obtain and maintain stable, clean, adequate, and suitable housing; obtain and maintain stable employment; complete parenting classes; submit to random drug testing and test negative on all tests; not use or possess illegal drugs; complete a drug assessment and follow the recommendations; and attend and participate in individual counseling. The court set the goal as reunification and ordered family services. Review hearings were held on November 21, 2016, and March 6, 2017.

         After a June 19, 2017 permanency-planning hearing, the circuit court entered an order finding that Murphy had not made significant, measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan. The court further found that Murphy had not diligently worked toward reunification, did not consistently visit D.M., did not comply with the case plan, did not complete intensive outpatient-drug treatment, did not complete substance-abuse treatment with the ACTS program, [1] did not complete parenting classes, and had been jailed twice during the case.

         On July 31, 2017, DHS filed a petition to terminate Murphy's parental rights alleging the failure-to-remedy, abandonment, and aggravated-circumstances grounds. DHS also alleged that termination of Murphy's parental rights was in D.M.'s best interest.

         At the termination hearing, DHS caseworker Eugenia Ford testified that D.M. had been removed from Murphy's custody on June 28, 2016, due to Murphy's inadequate supervision and drug use. Ford stated that the original goal of the case was reunification and that DHS offered the following services to Murphy: parenting classes; referrals for drug assessments, mental-health counseling, and the ACTS program; random drug screens; drug treatment; and visitation. Ford testified that Murphy maintained stable housing for only three months during the case, was in jail three times during the case, and was incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing. Ford said that D.M. had been in foster care for 446 days, and of that time, Murphy had been incarcerated for 291 days. Murphy was not in jail for 155 days and had fifty-seven opportunities to visit D.M., yet she attended only fourteen visits. Murphy's last visit with D.M. was in late May 2017. Ford said that when Murphy was not in jail, she was difficult to locate.

         Ford also stated that Murphy did not complete parenting classes. And although Murphy tested negative for illegal drugs several times in February, March, and May 2016, Murphy tested positive for methamphetamine on July 14, 2016.[2] Ford testified that Murphy admitted using methamphetamine in April 2017. Ford further stated that while Murphy completed the drug assessment, she did not complete the intensive outpatient treatment that was recommended. Her last treatment was on April 7, 2017. Murphy was also ordered to complete ACTS treatment; however, she failed to complete that treatment as well. Ford said that Murphy was discharged from counseling in April 2017 for nonattendance. Ultimately, Ford requested that the circuit court grant DHS's petition to terminate Murphy's parental rights to D.M.

         Crystal Williams, a DHS adoption specialist, testified that D.M. is healthy and young and that there are no known medical or physical barriers to her adoption. Williams further stated that using DHS's data-matching tool, there were 398 adoptive families who matched a child with D.M.'s characteristics and that DHS knows of specific families who may wish to adopt her.

         Murphy testified that she heard Ford's testimony and did not disagree with it. She admitted that she was currently incarcerated, adding that she was scheduled to attend a court hearing the next day and that she intended to plead guilty in exchange for five years' probation. Murphy also admitted that if released, she did not know where she was going to live but that her family was going to help her. Murphy conceded that she has a drug problem and needs help. Murphy stated that she participated in some outpatient drug treatment but felt that she needed an inpatient program. She also testified that she attended two counseling sessions and then stopped because she "got high again."

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the circuit court found that DHS had met its burden of proving that the aggravated-circumstances ground supported termination of Murphy's parental rights and that termination was in D.M.'s best interest. The circuit court entered ...


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