Assigned On Briefs October 24, 2014
Direct Appeal from the Circuit Court for Crockett County No. 3319 Clayburn Peeples, Judge
Bob C. Hooper, Brownsville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jessica L.
Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter and Jason Irving Coleman, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Jennifer C. Covellis, Jackson, Tennessee, Guardian ad Litem.
Brandon O. Gibson, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., and Kenny Armstrong, J., joined.
BRANDON O. GIBSON, JUDGE
I. Background and Procedural History
Cidney L. was born to Jessica L. ("Mother") in Jackson, Tennessee. No father is listed on the birth certificate, but a court order later established Michael B. ("Father") as Cidney's biological father. Father is deceased. When Cidney was born, Mother had one daughter from a previous relationship, L.L., born in March 2007.
Prior to October 2011, Mother and her two daughters lived primarily with Mother's sister, though other family members and acquaintances also kept the children from time to time. In October 2011, Mother was arrested in Illinois on federal charges that she persuaded an underage girl to join her in accompanying a male truck driver on a trip to Chicago for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. In April 2012, Mother pled guilty to federal charges of transporting an individual to engage in prostitution and was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of seventy-one months. Mother is currently incarcerated in a federal prison facility in West Virginia and is expected to be released in May 2016.
In November 2011, the Crockett County Juvenile Court declared Cidney and L.L. dependent and neglected and placed them in protective custody with the Department of Children's Services ("DCS"). Since then, L.L. has been placed with her biological father, while Cidney has been placed in several foster homes. For a short time, both girls were placed in the custody of L.L.'s biological father; however, because he was not able to care for both of the girls, Cidney was placed in foster care while L.L. remained in his custody. Next, DCS placed Cidney in the care of Larry H. and Patricia H. ("former foster parents"). However, the former foster parents were not in a position to potentially adopt Cidney, and DCS moved Cidney to the home of Donald B. and Tamara B. ("current foster parents") in August 2013. Cidney has resided with the current foster parents since, and they have shown interest in adopting her.
In January 2013, when Cidney was four years old, DCS filed a petition in Crockett County Circuit Court to terminate Mother's parental rights. Among other things, the petition asserted that statutory grounds for termination existed due to abandonment, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(1). DCS also asserted that termination of Mother's parental rights was in Cidney's best interest. A hearing on the termination took place on March 12, 2014. Mother was allowed to testify by phone.
The trial judge announced his decision at the conclusion of the hearing and entered a written order on May 29, 2014. The judge found by clear and convincing evidence that the statutory ground of abandonment had been established and that termination of Mother's parental rights was in Cidney's best interest. The trial ...