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Wright v. Arkansas Department of Human Services and Minor Child

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

October 24, 2018



          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 child.


         Appellant Nikki Wright appeals from an order of the Sebastian County Circuit Court terminating her parental rights to DW, born 12/30/2015. On appeal, appellant contends that (1) the trial court abused its discretion in denying appellant's motion for continuance, and (2) the trial court erred in finding that termination of appellant's parental rights was in the best interest of DW.[1] We disagree and affirm.

         On September 1, 2016, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) exercised an emergency hold on DW. In a petition for emergency custody and dependency-neglect filed September 6, 2016, DHS alleged that DW was dependent-neglected as defined by Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-303 (Supp. 2017). The affidavit in support of the petition alleged that DHS received a referral for failure to protect stating that appellant smokes "meth" around DW and takes DW "on service calls for prostitution." The affidavit further alleged that a DHS investigation occurred on September 1, 2016, which revealed the following: appellant had been working as a stripper at a gentlemen's club; she had multiple online ads on "'Backpage' aka Fort Smith Backpages online," a medium known for advertising escort services and prostitution; the home was cluttered with pornographic DVDs, Playboy magazines, and sexual paraphernalia within arm's reach of a child; there were small baggies all over the floor and a glass orange "meth" pipe; appellant tested positive for meth and THC; appellant stated the last time she consumed both was a week prior with DW's father; appellant stated DW's father had beaten her; appellant indicated she had given custody of DW to her mother by signing a form from the internet; appellant's mother arrived during the investigation and was arrested for narcotics; and appellant was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and endangering a minor. DHS exercised a seventy-two-hour-hold on DW.

         On September 6, 2016, the court granted the petition for emergency custody, and a probable-cause hearing took place September 7, 2016. The court found that there was probable cause that the emergency conditions that necessitated the removal of DW continued and that it was necessary for DW to remain in the custody of DHS based on parental unfitness because of appellant's drug use. On October 26, 2016, the court conducted an adjudication hearing and found that the allegations were true, specifically finding that DW was dependent-neglected due to parental unfitness and neglect due to appellant's drug use. The court set the goal of reunification and ordered that appellant have supervised visitation once a week. The court also provided that if the genetic testing showed that the putative father, Colby Bullington, is the biological father of DW, DHS had discretion to schedule visits between Bullington and DW. Appellant was ordered to obtain and maintain safe, stable, and appropriate housing; obtain and maintain verifiable employment and income sufficient to support the family; provide documentation of her income to DHS and of appropriate and safe transportation; comply with random drug screens, alcohol swabs, and hair-follicle tests; attend and complete a psychological evaluation and comply with recommendations; attend and complete parenting classes and provide proof of completion to DHS; visit DW regularly and appropriately; keep DHS apprised of her updated contact information; and inform DHS of any significant life changes. A review hearing was set for February 22, 2017. The order from the October 26 hearing was filed November 29, 2016.

         Following a review hearing on March 10, 2017, the court found that appellant had partially complied with the court orders and case plans:

Specifically, the Court finds the mother has: failed to maintain housing, the mother has only recently moved into a new residence in her mother's name; failed to obtain transportation, the mother has a suspended license, but she is still driving and has been arrested for driving with a suspended license; failed to obtain stable employment and has reported several employers in the past few months; the mother is participating in drug court, but has been late and has had to serve 24 hours in jail because of that; has complied with a drug and alcohol assessment and treatment and is complying with parenting and domestic violence classes, although it is reported that the mother arrives late, leaves early and plays on her phone during her parenting classes.

         A permanency-planning hearing was held on August 30, 2017. The court found that Colby Bullington is DW's legal father. The court ordered that the goal of the case be changed to adoption with DHS filing a petition for termination of parental rights. The court found that appellant had partially complied with the case plan but that she was incarcerated at the time of the hearing after multiple drug sanctions; that although she had complied with parenting education, the provider recommended further services due to her behavior and lack of improvement within the course; and that appellant had not visited DW since her incarceration.

         The permanency-planning order was entered September 20, 2017. Prior to its entry, DHS filed a petition for termination of parental rights on September 18, 2017. A termination hearing took place on November 29, 2017.

         At the hearing, appellant testified that she had been kicked out of drug court for fraternizing with felons and was incarcerated at the time of the termination hearing. She explained that she had been in drug court as a result of the conviction for drug paraphernalia found when DW was taken away. She testified that methamphetamine and weed were her "drugs of choice" and that she and Bullington used to do drugs together. Appellant explained that she and Bullington were no longer in a relationship but that he had been abusive, and sometimes the abuse occurred when DW was present. She tried to leave Bullington, but he would not let her. She said that Bullington had beaten her, including one time with her stripper pole; threatened to kill her; and once threatened to throw DW off a balcony to get appellant to stay.

         Appellant testified that she had been incarcerated since April 5, 2017, but had "made parole" and planned to go to OMART and the SWS program. She stated she did not have a place to go when she was released; had not gotten a driver's license and no longer had a vehicle; had not done drugs since DW was taken away; had not completed her parenting classes or domestic-violence classes; and had not visited DW since she was incarcerated in April 2017. Appellant hoped to save enough money during the sixteen-week OMART program to obtain an apartment and get a car. Appellant did not test positive while she was in drug court, and the sanctions she received were for being late and fraternizing. Appellant testified that ...

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