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Smith-McLeod v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

January 23, 2019

STEPHANIE SMITH-MCLEOD AND GREGORY MCLEOD APPELLANTS
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND I.M., MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE COLUMBIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 14JV-17-17] HONORABLE DAVID W. TALLEY, JR., JUDGE.

          Brett D. Watson, Attorney at Law, PLLC, by: Brett D. Watson, for appellant Stephanie Smith-McLeod.

          Katalina Wyninger, for appellant Gregory McLeod.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, Judge.

         Stephanie Smith-McLeod and Gregory McLeod appeal a Columbia County Circuit Court order terminating their parental rights to their daughter, I.M. Stephanie challenges the trial court's findings on both statutory grounds and best interest. Gregory challenges only the statutory grounds for termination. We find no error and affirm.

         I. Procedural Facts and History

         Gregory McLeod and Stephanie Smith-McLeod are the parents of I.M. The McLeod family has a history of involvement with the Arkansas Department of Human Services (Department). The Department investigated two unsubstantiated allegations in July 2012 and July 2016. In September 2015, the Department investigated a hotline call alleging that Stephanie was living in the woods with I.M. and that they had no food. These allegations were found to be true. The family moved in with a relative and a protective-services case was opened.

         On February 27, 2017, Stephanie was arrested on charges of kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a minor, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of a controlled substance. Gregory was arrested on charges of criminal mischief, resisting arrest, endangering the welfare of a minor, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana, and driving on a suspended license.[1] Their arrests came after they had removed a relative's child from the hospital because they feared the child would be taken by the Department under "Garrett's law." In order to escape with the child, Stephanie punched a nurse in the face. Stephanie subsequently admitted being under the influence of methamphetamine and K2 at the time of her arrest. Because two-year-old I.M. was with them at the time of their arrest, I.M. was taken into custody on a seventy-two-hour hold. The Department subsequently learned that a relative had been caring for I.M. for over two months before Stephanie's arrest and that Stephanie had never cared for I.M. long term.

         The Department filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. Stephanie and Gregory stipulated to probable cause and eventually stipulated that I.M. was dependent-neglected on the basis of neglect, admitting that they had failed to appropriately supervise I.M., which resulted in I.M.'s being placed in an inappropriate circumstance that created a dangerous situation and placed her at a risk of harm. Further, they admitted that they were unable to assume the responsibility for I.M.'s care and custody due to their arrest and incarceration.[2] At the adjudication hearing, Gregory and Stephanie were incarcerated but ordered to avail themselves of any and all services germane to the case plan that were offered through the Arkansas Department of Correction.

         At a subsequent review hearing, the court found that Stephanie and Gregory had not demonstrated progress toward the goals of reunification due to their incarceration. The court also found that they had been unable to complete and benefit from services under the case plan and had been unable to remedy the issues that prevented the safe return of I.M. to their care.[3]

         At a permanency-planning hearing held on March 2, 2018, the court noted that Stephanie had been incarcerated until February 21, 2018, and Gregory had been incarcerated for the duration of the case. The court then changed the goal of the case to termination of parental rights and adoption, finding that neither Stephanie nor Gregory had made any significant measurable progress toward achieving the goals established in the case plan, and neither had diligently worked toward reunification or placement of the child in the home.

         Based on this change of goal, the Department filed a petition to terminate parental rights as to both Gregory and Stephanie on twelve-month-failure-to-remedy[4] and aggravated-circumstances[5] (i.e., little likelihood that services would result in reunification) grounds and alleged that termination was in I.M.'s best interest. The court conducted a termination hearing and granted the petition to terminate parental rights, finding that termination was in I.M.'s best interest and that the Department had proved both statutory grounds. Stephanie and Gregory both appeal the trial court's order terminating their parental rights.

         II. Stand ...


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