Erica Suggs-Rendon v. Arkansas Department of Human Services

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November 30, 2005


[NO. J-01-463]




John Mauzy Pittman, Chief Judge

This is an appeal from the termination of appellant's parental rights. Appellant is the mother of S.S., born May 19, 1999, and of M.M., born October 9, 2000. Her children were removed and placed in the custody of the Arkansas Department of Human Services on December 21, 2001, because of neglect, malnutrition, inadequate food, and lack of supervision. S.S. was found in appellant's care in a dirty motel room with little food or clothing. M.M. had been left with a mere acquaintance for weeks without so much as leaving a means for the acquaintance to contact appellant. The transcript of this case, approximately fourteen hundred pages in length, details the efforts of DHS to reunite the family. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful and, after a hearing on October 31, 2003, an order was entered terminating appellant's parental rights to the children. On appeal, appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to support the order terminating parental rights. We do not agree, and we affirm.

Termination of parental rights is an extreme remedy in derogation of the natural rights of the parents. Nevertheless, parental rights will not be enforced to the detriment or destruction of the health and well-being of the child. Wright v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, 83 Ark. App. 1, 115 S.W.3d 332 (2003). Pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 9-27-341(b)(3) (Repl. 2002), the facts warranting termination of parental rights must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. In reviewing the trial court's evaluation of the evidence, we will not reverse unless the trial court clearly erred in finding that the relevant facts were established by clear and convincing evidence. Anderson v. Douglas, 310 Ark. 633, 839 S.W.2d 196 (1992). Clear and convincing evidence is the degree of proof that will produce in the fact-finder a firm conviction regarding the allegation sought to be established. Id. Furthermore, we will defer to the trial court's evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses. Wright v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, supra.

Arkansas Code Annotated § 9-27-341(b)(3)(B) establishes the following grounds for termination of parental rights:

(i)(a) That a juvenile has been adjudicated by the court to be dependent-neglected and has continued out of the custody of the parent for twelve (12) months and, despite a meaningful effort by the department to rehabilitate the parent and correct the conditions that caused removal, those conditions have not been remedied by the parent.

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(vii)(a) That other factors or issues arose subsequent to the filing of the original petition for dependency-neglect that demonstrate that return of the juvenile to the custody of the parent is contrary to the juvenile's health, safety, or welfare and that, despite the offer of appropriate family services, the parent has manifested the incapacity or indifference to remedy the subsequent issues or factors or rehabilitate the parent's circumstances that prevent return of the juvenile to the custody of the parent.

The trial court found that DHS had proven both of the above-listed grounds for termination by clear and convincing evidence.

Appellant's argument for reversal is that, by the conclusion of the case, she had remedied the "danger of extreme maltreatment" that caused removal, and that her parental rights should therefore not have been terminated and her children should be returned to her. We disagree. Our review of the record leads us to conclude appellant has devoted little effort and made negligible progress toward achieving the minimum level of stability necessary to be a parent. In any event, appellant's argument is addressed entirely to the first ground for removal found by the trial court. Although appellant acknowledges that "DHS seemed to change the focus of their concerns" as the case progressed, she makes no argument whatsoever challenging the correctness of the additional ground for termination found by the trial court, i.e., that subsequent issues arose subsequent to the filing of the petition that had not been remedied by appellant. The record clearly supports this finding.

There was extensive evidence that, since the filing of the petition, appellant willfully and repeatedly disqualified herself from the public assistance programs upon which her family relied. She lost her federally-subsidized housing assistance by failing to report to the housing authority, as required by her lease, that she had permitted another occupant with an additional income to live there with her. She likewise became disqualified from food-stamp assistance pending a fraud investigation by refusal to comply with the program rules. Similarly, appellant disrupted family stability by her flagrant disregard of traffic laws. Although her driver's license was suspended and she had neither insurance nor license plates on her vehicle, she persisted in driving, was ticketed for doing so, failed to appear in court or pay the tickets, had warrants issued for her arrest, was fined $1700, and was jailed for ten days. This is especially significant in light of the evidence that appellant never obtainedmeaningful employment as ordered and was, at the conclusion of the case, dependent entirely upon the income of an undocumented alien working under a fictitious name. Finally, there was evidence that appellant cursed, attempted to strike, hid from, and refused to cooperate with case workers; that she was able to afford satellite television and internet service but failed to pay any of the child support ordered by the court; and that she missed half of the scheduled visits with her children for no compelling reason. Under these circumstances, we think that it is so abundantly clear that the evidence supports the trial court's findings that subsequent issues adverse to the children's welfare arose subsequent to the filing of the petition, and that had not been remedied by appellant, that it would verge on the frivolous to argue to the contrary.


Gladwin and Glover, JJ., agree.