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Gipson v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division I

October 2, 2019



          Tabitha McNulty, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for appellant.

          Andrew Firth, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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


         Appellant Stormy Gipson appeals from the order of the Pulaski County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to her children, B.V. and H.B.[1] On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court abused its discretion when it denied her motion for continuance at the termination hearing. We affirm.

         On August 21, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) filed a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect. Attached to the petition was the affidavit of the DHS caseworker, which stated that on August 18, the child-abuse hotline received a report alleging that appellant was going to jail following a "drug bust" in the home. Sergeant Travis Cummings confirmed that appellant was being charged with possession of methamphetamine with purpose to deliver, simultaneous possession of drugs and guns, maintaining a drug premises, felony possession of drug paraphernalia, and felony child endangerment. Appellant admitted to the caseworker that she had been selling drugs out of the home in the presence of her minor children. Appellant tested positive for THC, methamphetamine, and amphetamine. Appellant expressed a desire for her children to be placed in the care of her mother, Joanne Gipson, who also resided in the home; however, Joanne also tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine. An emergency order was entered that same day placing the children in the custody of DHS. A probable-cause order was entered the following day continuing the children in the legal custody of DHS.

         On September 7, 2017, the circuit court adjudicated B.V. and H.B. dependent-neglected due to neglect and parental unfitness by appellant. After holding two review hearings and a permanency-planning hearing, the circuit court changed the case goal to adoption and authorized DHS to file a petition to terminate parental rights. On August 27, 2018, DHS filed the termination petition.

         The termination hearing was scheduled for October 17, 2018. On October 11, DHS requested a continuance because H.B.'s father had not been properly served with the termination petition. In granting the motion, the circuit court noted that B.V.'s putative father had also not been properly served with notice. The termination hearing was rescheduled for November 29.

         On November 29, the termination hearing was again continued until January 17, 2019, as a result of the court's finding that all parties had still not been properly served with the notices to which they were entitled, specifically noting that the warning order for B.V.'s putative father was defective.

         At the termination hearing held on January 17, 2019, appellant's counsel requested a continuance because appellant had been extradited to Texas on a parole violation and could not provide testimony via telephone as "Texas has no interstate phone system to allow testimony by inmates." Counsel argued that appellant "deserves a right to put on her defense"; however, he acknowledged that although the continuance request was for three months, it was unclear if appellant would be released from the Texas facility within that time frame.

         DHS and the ad litem both opposed the continuance request, noting that the termination petition had already been pending for eight to nine months, and the children had a need for permanency. The circuit court denied the motion and proceeded with the termination hearing.

         On January 31, 2019, the circuit court entered an order terminating appellant's parental rights to B.V. and H.B. on five statutory grounds: (1) failure to remedy, (2) failure to provide significant material support and maintain meaningful contact, (3) abandonment, (4) subsequent factors, and (5) aggravated circumstances. The circuit court further found that termination was in the children's best interest considering both the likelihood of adoption and the risk of potential harm to the children if returned to appellant. She now appeals from the termination order.

         On appeal, appellant does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the statutory grounds for termination of her parental rights or the circuit court's best-interest findings. She argues only that the circuit court erred ...

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