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Meisch v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

May 22, 2019

STEPHANIE MEISCH APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILD APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE FAULKNER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 23JV-17-169] HONORABLE DAVID M. CLARK, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          One brief only.

          ROBERT J. GLADWIN, JUDGE

         Appellant Stephanie Meisch appeals the September 21, 2018 order by the Faulkner County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her two-year-old daughter, J.S.[1]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) (2018), Meisch's counsel has filed a motion to withdraw and a no-merit brief asserting that there are no issues of arguable merit to support an appeal. The clerk of our court sent copies of the brief and the motion to withdraw to Meisch's address of record informing her of her right to file pro se points for reversal pursuant to Rule 6-9(i)(3). The packet was returned undeliverable, marked "return to sender."[2] No additional contact information has been provided for Meisch to either the clerk's office or to the Public Defender Commission. Meisch has not filed any pro se points for reversal. We affirm the termination of parental rights and grant counsel's motion to withdraw.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         The case began on June 12, 2017, when a caller reported to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline that Meisch was on methamphetamine "really bad," that she was blowing smoke into J.S.'s face, that J.S. had "horrible" diaper rash, and that Meisch would stay up for days and then pass out for a week. An investigation resulted in appellee Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercising an emergency removal of J.S. An affidavit attached to the emergency petition filed on June 15 noted that Meisch smelled of marijuana and was acting erratically while holding then six-month-old J.S. The following day, the court signed an emergency order giving custody of J.S. to DHS based on Meisch's drug use as alleged in the affidavit. The circuit court's emergency order noted that the family had a history with the state of Arizona, where Meisch previously had her parental rights terminated to four other children.

         On June 27, the circuit court held a combined probable-cause and adjudication hearing and found that J.S. was dependent-neglected because Meisch was "visibl[y]" under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol while caring for J.S. The court also made a factual finding that Meisch had given birth to several other children and had lost custody of those children through legal proceedings in Arizona. The court ordered Meisch to cooperate and stay in contact with DHS; keep DHS informed of any and all status changes; participate in individual and family counseling as recommended by a therapist; refrain from illegal drugs and alcohol; submit to a drug-and-alcohol assessment; attend Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) meetings at least three times a week and provide written documentation of attendance to DHS; complete parenting classes and demonstrate appropriate parenting skills; obtain and maintain stable housing and employment; maintain a clean and safe home for herself and for J.S.; and demonstrate an ability to protect J.S.

         In October 2017, the circuit court noted in a review-hearing order that Meisch had (1) failed to appear at the hearing, (2) failed to comply with the case plan and court orders, (3) stopped attending visitation with J.S., and (4) made no progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes of J.S.'s removal. The court further noted that DHS had provided information that Meisch had moved to Arizona.

         At the January 2018 review hearing, the circuit court noted that Meisch's lack of compliance had not changed. She again failed to appear at the hearing, and she had neither had meaningful contact with DHS nor made any progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes of J.S.'s removal. Similar findings were made at the April 10 review hearing, except that Meisch made a request-though not appearing-for her mother to be considered for placement in Arizona. The court noted that Meisch had relocated to Arizona.

         On June 5, 2018, the court held a permanency-planning hearing and found in a subsequent order dated August 3 that the goal of the case would be adoption because J.S. was not being cared for by a relative and that it was not in her best interest to be placed with Meisch's mother. The court found that Meisch had not complied with the case plan or court orders in that she (1) had not had any contact with DHS or J.S. in five months;[3](2) was living in Arizona and had not completed the services outlined in the case plan and court orders, including drug rehabilitation, counseling, parenting, and visitation with her child; and (3) she had made no progress toward alleviating or mitigating the causes of J.S.'s removal from the home. The court set the case for a termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) hearing, and its findings were not appealed.

         On June 20, 2018, DHS filed a TPR petition alleging that Meisch was unfit to parent J.S. for the following reasons:

a. That [J.S.] has been adjudicated by the [c]ourt to be dependent-neglected on June 27, 2017 and has continued out of the custody of [Meisch] for twelve (12) months and, despite a meaningful effort by [DHS] to rehabilitate the parent and correct the conditions which caused removal, those conditions have not been remedied by [Meisch]. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(a) [Supp. 2017)].
b. That [J.S.] has been adjudicated by the [c]ourt to be dependent-neglected on June 27, 2017, and has continued out of the home of the noncustodial parent, Frank Sutter, for twelve (12) months and, despite a meaningful effort by [DHS] to rehabilitate the parent and correct the conditions that prevented the child from safely being placed in the parent's home, the conditions have not been remedied by Frank Sutter. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(i)(b).
c. [J.S.] has lived outside the home of [Meisch] and Frank Sutter for a period of twelve (12) months and both parents have willfully failed to provide significant material support in accordance with the parent's means or to maintain meaningful contact with the juvenile. Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(ii)(a).
d. The parents, [Meisch] and Frank Sutter, have abandoned the juvenile. Ark. Code Ann. ยง ...

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