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In re R.L.M.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 29, 2015

In re R.L.M.

Assigned on Briefs Date: December 10, 2014

Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Sullivan County No. J16565 J. Klyne Lauderback, Judge

This is a parental termination case regarding R.L.M., the daughter of unmarried parents, V.R.G. (Mother) and J.M. (Father). The trial court found clear and convincing evidence of (1) a failure to provide a suitable home and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child's removal. The court also found, again by clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the child's best interest. Father appeals.[1] He contends generally that the evidence does not clearly and convincingly establish the grounds for termination and best interest. The Department of Children Services (DCS) takes a different approach. It concedes that an essential element of its case was not established by the proof. It contends that, as a consequence, the judgment of the trial court must be reversed. Because we agree with the State, we (1) reverse the judgment of the trial court terminating Father's rights and (2) dismiss the petition in this case.

Nicholas A. Schaefer, Kingsport, Tennessee, for the appellant, J.M.

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.

Charles D. Susano, Jr., C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney and John W. McClarty, JJ., joined.

OPINION

CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

In view of DCS's concession, we begin our analysis by focusing on an element common to both termination grounds initially relied upon by the State. That common element is an order, entered prior to the filing of the petition, in which the child was adjudicated dependent and neglected.

Two related statutes are implicated by the termination grounds alleged in this case, i.e., Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g) (2014) and Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-102 (2014). As relevant here, § 36-1-113(g), in addressing termination grounds, provides as follows:

(g) Initiation of termination of parental . . . rights may be based upon any of the grounds listed in this subsection (g).
* * *
(1) Abandonment by the parent or guardian, as defined in § 36-1-102, has occurred;
* * *
(3) The child has been removed from the home of the parent or guardian by order of a court for a ...

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