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Crawford v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

October 23, 2019

Tijuanna CRAWFORD, Appellant
v.
ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES and Minor Children, Appellees

Page 384

          APPEAL FROM THE MILLER COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 46JV-16-178], HONORABLE CARLTON D. JONES, JUDGE

          Leah Lanford, Arkansas Commission for Parent Counsel, for appellant.

         Ellen K. Howard, Office of Chief Counsel, for appellee.

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

          OPINION

         N. MARK KLAPPENBACH, Judge

          This appeal arises from the circuit court’s March 29, 2019 order terminating the parental rights of Tijuanna Crawford to her four children, KC, JM, DC, and DC1. No putative or legal father participated in these proceedings.[1] The children were removed from their mother’s legal custody in September 2016 by the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). Crawford was incarcerated at that time, and the children were taken from their maternal grandmother, who was deemed an unfit caregiver. The circuit court found that, after approximately two and a half years during which reunification services had been provided, the mother failed to demonstrate that she could provide a safe and stable home for her children. The circuit court found that DHS proved four statutory grounds on which to terminate her rights, and it also found that

Page 385

it was in the children’s best interest to terminate her parental rights. Crawford appeals and argues that the lack of express written findings of fact in the order requires reversal and remand to the circuit court to issue explicit findings of fact underpinning its legal conclusions. We affirm.

         In this case, DHS alleged, and the circuit court found that it proved, four statutory grounds provided in Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-27-341(b)(3)(B)(Supp. 2017) against Crawford: (1) one year out of custody and failure to remedy; (2) willful failure to provide significant support or to maintain meaningful contact with the children; (3) subsequent other factors preventing reunification; and (4) aggravated circumstances with little likelihood of reunification. In its order, the circuit court stated that it considered "the testimony, exhibits, statements of the parties and counsel, the record herein, and other things and matters presented," and it set out each of the statutory grounds with particularity. The order did not elaborate on the evidence that supported each statutory ground. Crawford’s appellate argument is a procedural one, not substantive. Crawford’s argument is unconvincing.

          Crawford did not request specific findings of fact from the circuit court, nor can she cite any authority for the proposition that the court in this termination proceeding is otherwise obligated to expressly make specific findings of fact to support each of its findings on statutory grounds and best interest absent a request to do so. See Chaffin v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2015 Ark.App. 522, 471 S.W.3d 251. The failure of a party to request special findings of fact amounts to a waiver of that right. Smith v. Quality Ford, Inc., 324 Ark. 272, 276, 920 S.W.2d 497, 499 (1996). In the absence of a statute or rule requiring specific findings of fact or a timely request for specific findings under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 52, the appellate court will ordinarily presume that the trial court made the findings necessary to support its judgment. See Curry v. Pope Cty. Equalization Bd., 2011 Ark. 408, 385 S.W.3d 130; Marshall v. Rubright, 2017 Ark.App. 548, 2017 WL 4800467; Chaffin, supra ; Am. States Ins. Co. v. Williams, 2010 Ark.App. 840, 2010 WL 5129958. "[W]hen the trial court fails to make certain findings of fact, the appellate court, under its de novo review, may nonetheless conclude that the evidence supported the decision." Chastain v. Chastain, 2012 Ark.App. 73, at 12, 388 S.W.3d 495, 502 (citing Hamilton v. Barrett, 337 Ark. 460, 989 S.W.2d 520 (1999)). In determining whether the circuit judge clearly erred in a finding, the appellate court may look to the whole record to reach that decision. Stehle v. Zimmerebner, 375 Ark. 446, 455, 291 S.W.3d 573, 580 (2009). Indeed, de novo review of the evidence makes it incumbent on the appellate court to review the entire record of the evidence presented to the circuit court. See ConAgra, Inc. v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 342 Ark. 672, 678, 30 S.W.3d 725, 729 (2000).

          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. Houseman v. Ark. Dep’t of Human Servs., 2016 Ark.App. 227, 491 S.W.3d 153. 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.

         To the extent that Crawford contends there is insufficient evidence on which to terminate her parental rights, we disagree. In our de novo review of this record, ...


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