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Reyes-Ramos v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

January 30, 2019



          William Shelton, Jr., for appellant.

          Ellen K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Appellant Marleny Reyes-Ramos appeals the Pulaski County Circuit Court's May 16, 2018 order terminating her parental rights to her three children.[1] On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court erred by finding that appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) offered her appropriate family services and that there was little likelihood of successful reunification. We affirm.

         I. Procedural History and Facts

         DHS filed a petition for ex parte emergency custody and dependency-neglect on May 1, 2017, alleging that three children were at substantial risk of serious harm as a result of abuse, neglect, and parental unfitness. The attached affidavit by DHS agent Tiffany Robinson avowed that appellant and Rolando Juarez lived together with Juarez's child, C.J. (born 9/26/2014), and appellant's two children, J.M. (born 5/13/2013) and D.R. (born 6/08/2011). Appellant and Juarez had taken C.J. to Arkansas Children's Hospital for vaccinations on April 26, 2017, when the medical staff noticed that he was covered in bruises. It was believed that C.J. had a ruptured gallbladder, but doctors discovered the gallbladder was still intact during emergency surgery. Doctors found a rib fracture, pancreas bruises, and a duodenal hematoma (an indication of trauma). The child also had several external bruises to his face, back, and bottom at different healing stages. Juarez told the doctor that C.J. had fallen into a table causing the bruise to his upper eye. Juarez also said that C.J. had vomited five times that day before going to the hospital. Dr. Hollingsworth told investigators that the injuries were consistent with those caused by blunt force. She also said that injuries to the abdomen, bladder, and the rib fracture were all fresh injuries. Detective Matt Harrellson and the hospital social worker, Trevor Arnette, informed Robinson of the above facts and alleged that Juarez had been arrested because he became aggressive when being interviewed by them. DHS removed all three children from appellant and Juarez's custody due to serious physical abuse and Juarez's arrest, and the ex parte order was obtained on May 1, 2017, wherein it was found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to prevent removal of the children from their home.

         After a hearing on May 8, 2017, an order was filed finding that probable cause continued to exist that the children should be protected and remain in DHS custody. The court found that it would be harmful to return appellant's two children to her because she had not been able to show that she could protect them from Juarez, who had allegedly harmed his son, C.J. The circuit court ordered that appellant would receive supervised visitation with her two children at the DHS office three times each week, two hours each visit.[2] Appellant was ordered to cooperate with DHS; notify DHS of any change in residence, phone number, place or status of employment; notify DHS if transportation assistance was needed for visitation or any services; and attend all medical appointments for the children when notified by DHS.

         All three children were adjudicated dependent-neglected by order filed July 3, 2017. The court made this finding by "more than a preponderance of the evidence" due to abuse and parental unfitness by Juarez and neglect and parental unfitness by appellant. The court also recited expert testimony regarding C.J.'s extensive internal injuries from blunt force trauma and a doctor's diagnosis of child physical abuse. The doctor testified that the parents' explanations for the child's injuries were not plausible. The court found that Juarez and appellant were not credible in their testimony about how C.J. had been injured. The court also recited testimony from D.R. that Juarez disciplined by hitting them with a closed fist and a belt and that she had told appellant when the abuse was happening. Detective Harrellson testified that he had charged Juarez with first-degree domestic battery after conducting his investigation, and the court found that Juarez had inflicted the injuries on C.J. The court specifically held that its prior finding that DHS had made reasonable efforts still stood.

         A July 21, 2017 disposition order held that the children were to remain in DHS custody. The goal of the case was reunification of D.R. and J.M. with appellant, with a concurrent goal of permanent custody with a fit and willing relative. The goal for C.J. was to obtain a permanent custodian, including permanent custody with a fit and willing relative, with a concurrent goal of adoption. Visitation orders remained the same, and the court also allowed appellant to visit C.J. under supervision for two hours each week. In addition, appellant was ordered to have a psychological evaluation and follow the recommendations; undergo individual/family counseling as recommended; take medications as prescribed; refrain from using illegal drugs or alcohol; complete parenting classes; obtain and maintain safe, stable housing and stable employment or income; maintain a clean safe home for herself and the children; demonstrate the ability to protect the children and keep them safe; and not discuss the case with the children unless in therapy. The court also found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide services to the family to prevent removal and safely reunify the family.

         On October 4, 2017, the circuit court consolidated the instant case with case No. JN 2017-960, wherein J.R., born to appellant and Juarez on August 4, 2017, was included in the pending dependency-neglect case.[3] By the same order, J.R. was adjudicated dependent-neglected, and appellant received supervised visitation with J.R. three times a week for two hours each visit. All orders remained the same, including that DHS had made reasonable efforts.

         The case was reviewed at a hearing held October 5, and by order filed October 20, the court found that the children should remain in DHS custody because appellant could not protect them. The court's order states, "The Court believes [appellant] is fearful of Mr. Juarez, who controls the household and everything in it." The court found that appellant was not credible and that she and Juarez had violated the court's order by having contact with the children on September 27, 2017. The goals remained the same for the children. The court found that DHS had made reasonable efforts to provide family services for each of the children to achieve the goal of the case.

         An order entitled "Review Order on Issue of Whether DHS Has Made Reasonable Efforts Regarding Juveniles' Separation and to Ensure the Juveniles Have Regular Consistent Visitation or Other Ongoing Contact" was filed December 4, 2017, and it reflects that DHS had made reasonable efforts to place the children together, having placed J.R. with D.R. and J.M. and having found no foster home available to accept all four children. Further, the court found ...

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