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In re Kayla E.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

January 9, 2015

IN RE KAYLA E., ET AL.[1]

Assigned on Briefs November 03, 2014.

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Lawrence County No. 1316128 Jim T. Hamilton, Chancellor.

M. Wallace Coleman, Jr., Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Laura M. E.

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and Jordan Scott, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P. J., M. S., and W. Neal McBrayer, J. joined.

OPINION

RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE.

Laura M. E. ("Mother") is the mother of five children and appeals the termination of her parental rights to one child, Shelby K., born June 2006.[2] Shelby, along with Kayla and Daniel, were placed in the custody of the Department of Children's Services ("the Department") on June 30, 2011, as a result of a dependent and neglect proceeding filed by the Department in Lawrence County Juvenile Court. An adjudicatory hearing was held on August 15, and on August 16, the court entered an order finding the children dependent and neglected within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 37-1-102(b)(1) and (12)(B), (F), and (G). Thereafter permanency plans were adopted on August 2, 2011, February 22, 2012, August 2, 2012, and January 24, 2013; Mother signed each of the plans.

The Department of Children's Services ("the Department") filed the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights in the Chancery Court of Lawrence County on January 14, 2013. The grounds alleged to terminate Mother's parental rights to Shelby were abandonment by failure to visit and support within the meaning of Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(i), (1)(C) and (1)(E), substantial noncompliance with the permanency plans, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(2), and persistence of conditions, Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3); the petition also alleged that termination of Mother's rights was in the best interest of Shelby.

Trial was held on April 30 and May 1, 2014, and on May 16, the court entered an order terminating the Mother's parental rights to Shelby K. and Daniel G. As respects the termination of Mother's rights to Shelby, the court found that Mother failed to comply with the responsibilities and requirements of the permanency plans and that she had not remedied the conditions that led to Shelby's removal from her custody; the court determined, for numerous reasons, that termination of Mother's rights was in Shelby's best interest.

Mother appeals, articulating the following issue:

I. Whether clear and convincing evidence supports the trial court's determination that termination of [Mother's] parental rights was in the best interests of Shelby K. K.

I. Standard of Review

A parent has a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of his or her child. Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651 (1972); Nash-Putnam v. McCloud, 921 S.W.2d 170, 174 (Tenn. 1996). Thus, the state may interfere with parental rights only if there is a compelling state interest. Nash-Putnam, 921 S.W.2d at 174–75 (citing Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982)). A party seeking to terminate the parental rights of a biological parent must prove at least one of the statutory grounds for termination. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c)(1); In re D.L.B., 118 S.W.3d 366–67 (Tenn. 2003); In re Valentine, 79 S.W.3d 539, 546 (Tenn. 2002). Secondly, the party must prove that termination of the parental rights of the biological parent is in the child's best interest. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c)(2).

Because of the fundamental nature of the parent's rights and the grave consequences of the termination of those rights, courts must require a higher standard of proof in deciding termination cases. Santosky, 455 U.S. at 766– 69; In re M.W.A., Jr., 980 S.W.2d 620, 622 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). Thus, both the grounds for termination and the best interest inquiry must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-113(c); In re Valentine, 79 S.W.3d at 546. In light of the heightened standard of proof in these cases, a reviewing court must adapt the customary standard of review set forth by Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). In re M.J.B., 140 S.W.3d 643, 654 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004). As to the court's findings of fact, our review is de novo with a presumption of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise, in accordance with Tenn. R. App. P. ...


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