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Taylor v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

September 4, 2019

Robert L. TAYLOR, Appellant

Page 267


         J. Tyler Henderson, Little Rock, for appellant.

          One brief only.


         N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge

          This appeal arises from the circuit court’s November 8, 2018 order terminating the parental rights of Robert L. Taylor to his then seven-year-old daughter, CT. The child’s biological mother consented to the termination of her parental rights, so she is not party to this appeal. 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), Taylor’s counsel has filed a motion to withdraw as counsel and a no-merit brief asserting that there are no issues of arguable merit to support an appeal. The clerk of this court delivered to Taylor, by certified mail, a copy of his attorney’s motion and brief along with a letter informing him of his right to file pro se points for reversal, but no pro se points have been filed. Counsel’s brief contains an abstract and addendum of the proceedings below, discusses the adverse ruling to terminate, and explains that there is no meritorious ground for reversal. After applying the appropriate standards of review, we affirm the order terminating Taylor’s parental rights and grant counsel’s motion to withdraw.

          Termination 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.

Page 268

Houseman v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 227, 491 S.W.3d 153. 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. Id. We review termination-of-parental-rights cases de novo. Id. The grounds for termination of parental rights must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, which is the degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established. Id. When the burden of proving a disputed fact is by clear and convincing evidence, 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. Id. 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. Id.

          Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 6-9(i)(1) allows counsel for an appellant in a termination case to file a no-merit petition and motion to withdraw if, after studying the record and researching the law, counsel determines that the appellant has no meritorious basis for appeal. The petition must include an argument section that includes all circuit court rulings that are adverse to the appellant on all objections, motions, and requests made by the party at the hearing from which the appeal arose and an explanation why each adverse ruling is not a meritorious ground for reversal. Ark. S.Ct. R. 6-9(i)(1)(A). Additionally, the petition’s abstract and addendum are required to contain all rulings adverse to the appellant made by the circuit court at the hearing from which the order on appeal arose. Ark. S.Ct. R. 6-9(i)(1)(B).

          Counsel states that any argument challenging the two statutory grounds for termination or the best-interest findings would be wholly frivolous. Counsel further states that there were no other adverse rulings except the findings supporting the termination of Taylor’s parental rights. Counsel is correct.

          In October 2017, the Department of Human Services (DHS) took emergency custody of CT, her older half sister, MR, and her younger half brother, CR. Taylor did not have custody of CT because he was in prison. Taylor had received and served a fifteen-year prison sentence for second-degree sexual assault, and thereafter, Taylor failed to register as a Level II sex offender, leading to a five-year prison sentence for that offense. The biological mother of all three children was in a drug-treatment facility.

          When DHS took emergency custody in October 2017, the children were being cared for by Taylor’s brother and the brother’s girlfriend. The brother’s ex-wife had taken one-year-old CR to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with severe head trauma and other significant injuries not consistent with the story provided by Taylor’s brother and the brother’s girlfriend. Their story was that about a week before, CR had fallen down some stairs at home. DHS’s investigation led to the conclusion that Taylor’s brother had severely physically abused CR. Over the next year, several hearings were conducted in which Taylor was ordered to ...

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