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Fronterhouse v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

October 23, 2019

RUSSELL FRONTERHOUSE APPELLANT
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AND MINOR CHILDREN APPELLEES

          APPEAL FROM THE SEBASTIAN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FORT SMITH DISTRICT [NO. 66FJV-17-520] HONORABLE LEIGH ZUERKER, JUDGE.

          Tina Bowers Lee, Arkansas Public Defender Commission, for appellant.

          Callie Corbyn, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          MEREDITH B. SWITZER, JUDGE.

         Russell Fronterhouse appeals from the March 15, 2019 order terminating his and Katrina Fronterhouse's parental rights to their four minor children, M.H., Z.F., P.F., and R.F. Katrina is not a party to this appeal. Russell challenges only the circuit court's best-interest finding, acknowledging there was sufficient evidence to support the statutory grounds for termination. Specifically, he contends "it was error for the trial court to find that termination was in the best interest of his children because the trial court failed to give preferential consideration to placing the children with their paternal grandmother, who had an approved ICPC [Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children] home study." We affirm.

         This matter began as a Family In Need of Services (FINS) case. It progressed to a dependency-neglect case when Katrina had an automobile a collision while the children were in the vehicle, and she tested positive for methamphetamine. Efforts to test Russell for drugs were unsuccessful. The children were placed in DHS custody in December 2017 and adjudicated dependent-neglected on January 24, 2018. The original goal of the case was reunification. As the case progressed, however, Katrina continued to have drug issues and Russell was incarcerated.[1]

         On January 30, 2019, the circuit court entered a permanency-planning order that changed the goal of the case to adoption following termination. The order explained that the underlying hearing had started December 13, 2018, and was continued to January 24, 2019; that DHS had received the approved ICPC home study for the paternal grandparents[2] the week of the December 13 hearing; that a visit with the grandparents was arranged prior to the January 24 portion of the hearing; and that "[t]he permanency planning hearing was completed on January 24, 2019 to address the issue of placement with family in Missouri." The order further provided that "mindful of the available permanency planning dispositions and in accordance with the best interest, health and safety of the juveniles, [the court] does hereby determine the goal of the case shall be adoption following termination."

         When the termination hearing began on February 14, 2019, the children had been out of the parents' custody since December 2017. The plan for adoption was to keep all four children together. They had never lived with the paternal grandparents, and there was no evidence of a strong relationship with them. Shortly after the termination hearing had begun, the circuit court recognized Deeanna Weimar, an attorney representing the paternal grandmother. The following colloquy occurred:

[Weimar]: I'm not a party to this matter at this point but the paternal grandmother contacted me this morning and she has requested I do an oral Motion to Intervene. I don't know if the Court is going to consider it, based on basically an approved ICPC Home Study that the Department denied without having a proper hearing as it required in the PPH Hearing, and so I was going to request on her behalf that -
The Court: I don't think the Department denied the ICPC. I don't think that's what -
[Weimar]: Well, the Department didn't place, and there was an approved ICPC and there was no placement with my client.
The Court: The Court didn't ...

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