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Carson v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

September 18, 2019



          Davidson Law Firm, by: Stefan K. McBride, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge

         Appellant Clayton Carson appeals from the order of the Lonoke County Circuit Court terminating his parental rights to his daughter, I.C. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         I. Background

         On May 4, 2017, the child-abuse hotline received a report of child maltreatment due to substance misuse against Cathryn Herron, I.C.'s mother.[1] Another call was received on May 16, 2017, from Dr. Farst at Arkansas Children's Hospital, stating that ten-month-old I.C. had been transported to the hospital by ambulance due to breathing difficulties, but the family left with the child prior to discharge. The Arkansas Department of Humans Services (DHS) opened a protective-services case on the family for medical neglect. For the next several months, family service worker (FSW) Jackson attempted to make contact with Herron; however, her attempts were unsuccessful. On August 7, 2017, Herron's mother contacted FSW Jackson stating that Herron had dropped I.C. off at her home and had expressed a desire to "sign over her rights" to I.C.; nevertheless, guardianship papers were not executed. On August 31, 2017, another family member, Elizabeth Brown, contacted DHS claiming that Herron had signed her rights to I.C. over to her and her husband. Upon inspection, the documents, though notarized, were determined not to be legally binding. Consequently, DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour hold on I.C. due to lack of a legal caretaker. On September 1, 2017, DHS filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. Attached to the petition was an affidavit in which appellant Clayton Carson was identified as the legal and/or putative father of I.C. The affidavit further detailed his address as Wrightsville Prison. The circuit court issued the ex parte order placing I.C. in the custody of DHS.

         Carson was present at the probable-cause hearing held on September 5, 2017, at which Herron stipulated to the emergency conditions necessitating removal. Carson was adjudicated the father of I.C. and was ordered to complete the classes available to him in prison.

         I.C. was adjudicated dependent-neglected on October 10, 2017, based on the parties' stipulation that she had no legal caregiver. The goal of the case was established as reunification, and Carson was granted supervised visitation with I.C. on the first and third weekends of each month at the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction (ADC) for an hour and a half, at the discretion of the facility. Carson was ordered to participate in all classes available to him at ADC; cooperate with DHS and follow the case plan; not use or possess controlled substances; submit to random drug screens and provide a proper sample when requested to do so; obtain a drug/alcohol assessment and follow its recommendations; successfully complete a drug-treatment program and follow all discharge recommendations if the drug-and-alcohol assessment recommends it; and submit to a hair-follicle drug screen at the request of DHS.

         The circuit court held a review hearing on January 23, 2018, at which Carson, who remained incarcerated at the Wrightsville Unit, was not present. The court found that I.C. continued to need services and ordered that she remain in the custody of DHS. While the court noted that Carson had been unable to exercise visitation with I.C. due to disciplinary action for fighting at the prison, the court authorized visitation for an hour every other week when he is off disciplinary restrictions, subject to the prison's discretion. The circuit court again ordered Carson to follow the case plan and continued the previous court orders.

         Carson was absent from the second review hearing that was held in April 2018. At the hearing, the circuit court suspended Carson's visitation with I.C. due to Carson's transfer to a prison facility in Texas. James and Susan Carson (Carson's grandparents) were granted visitation with I.C. every other Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and were specifically prohibited from taking I.C. to visit Carson while she was in their care. The court continued its previous orders and ordered Carson to follow the case plan.

         Although he had been moved to a prison facility in Pine Bluff, Carson was not present on July 24, 2018, for the third review hearing, at which the circuit court again continued its previous orders and noted, there would be "no visitation w/the father at this time."

         On September 4, 2018, the circuit court held a permanency-planning hearing at which it authorized a plan for adoption with DHS filing a petition for termination of parental rights. The court found that DHS had provided meaningful services, yet Carson had not made significant measurable progress, specifically noting that Carson had been incarcerated throughout the pendency of the case and had ...

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