Assigned on Briefs April 30, 2015
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Johnson City No. 42427 Sharon M. Green, Judge
In this termination of parental rights case, J.L.B., Jr. (Father), appeals the order terminating his rights to his minor daughter, T.L.G. (the Child). The Department of Children‟s Services (DCS) removed the Child from the home of her mother, G.M.G. (Mother) after Mother was arrested for domestic violence. DCS took temporary custody and placed the Child in foster care. The Child was subsequently adjudicated dependent and neglected. Some eight months later, DCS filed a petition to terminate each of the parents‟ rights. After a trial, the court granted the petition. The court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that (1) multiple grounds for termination exist, and (2) termination is in the Child‟s best interest. Father challenges the finding of grounds for termination, but does not question the court‟s decision that termination is in the Child‟s best interest. We affirm.
David L. Robbins (on appeal), Johnson City, Tennessee, and James J. Lonon (at trial) Johnson City, Tennessee, for the appellant, J.L.B., Jr.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Eugenia Izmaylova, 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.
CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., CHIEF JUDGE
The Child was born in Ohio to Mother and Father, an unmarried couple, in March 1998. At some later point, Mother moved to Tennessee. During 2005 or 2006, after Mother's four other children were removed from her custody, the Child was sent to live with Father. By then, Father was married and living in Ohio. In 2011, Father was indicted on multiple charges of engaging in criminal sexual conduct with the Child. Following Father's arrest, the Child came to Tennessee to live with Mother and a younger half-sibling.
On January 8, 2012, Child Protective Services investigated a report of a domestic altercation between Mother and the Child, who was then fourteen. As a result of the incident, Mother was arrested and the Child and her half-sibling were taken into DCS's protective custody. On January 12, 2012, DCS filed a petition seeking a dependency and neglect adjudication and temporary custody.
In February 2012, Father was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas, Butler County, Ohio, of five counts of rape, one count of attempted rape, one count of intimidation of a witness, and a misdemeanor count of reckless operation. For the felony offenses, he received an effective sentence of forty-three years in prison, which included both consecutive and concurrent ten-year sentences for the rapes and attempted rape convictions, totaling forty years, plus a consecutive thirty-six month sentence for his conviction on a charge of intimidation of a witness. On appeal, the latter conviction was reversed and vacated, resulting in an effective forty-year sentence. See State v. B., 5 N.E. 3d 1000 (Ohio Ct. App. 2013).
The Child was adjudicated dependent and neglected on August 24, 2012. DCS filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights on April 16, 2013. Trial on the petition was held on August 15, 2014. Father, who remained incarcerated at the Warren Correctional Institute in Ohio, appeared by telephone. He did not testify. The Child, then sixteen, also did not appear or testify at trial.
The Child had received therapy and counseling since entering state custody. DCS case manager Janis Smith testified that at the time of trial, the Child was "not well" and "having a hard time" emotionally. Since entering foster care, the Child had been moved from regular foster homes, to an agency foster home, and later to a group home. Then, shortly before trial, she attempted suicide while at the group home and was admitted to a "level four" secure facility reserved for children with severe emotional problems.
Teresa Fletcher, a licensed therapist, testified as an expert witness regarding child victimization, sex abuse treatment, and trauma-focused therapy. She saw the Child during weekly sessions for over a year until mid-July 2014. Ms. Fletcher diagnosed the Child with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the sexual victimization events, in addition to issues of physical abuse, abandonment, and a lack of parenting. While testifying, Ms. Fletcher became emotional upon concluding that it was "just very sad" that the Child had gone from initially making strides in a regular foster home to becoming a patient in a mental hospital. She concluded that the Child's struggles with her lack of permanency posed a significant barrier to overcoming her past and progressing in therapy.
At the conclusion of the trial, the court terminated Father's parental rights. The court found that clear and convincing evidence established multiple grounds for termination, to wit: abandonment by wanton disregard, severe child abuse, and a sentence of more than two years' imprisonment for severe child abuse. Also by clear and convincing evidence, the court further found that termination is in the Child's best interest. Father filed a timely notice of appeal.
As taken verbatim from his brief, Father presents the following issue for our review:
Whether the Trial Court erred in finding that there were grounds for Termination of [Father's] Parental Rights by Clear and Convincing Evidence.
With respect to parental termination cases, this Court has observed:
It is well established that parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children. While parental rights are superior to the claims of other persons and the government, they are not absolute, and they may be terminated upon appropriate statutory grounds. A parent's rights may be terminated only upon "(1) [a] finding by the court by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights have been established; and (2) [t]hat termination of the parent's or guardian's rights is in the best interest[ ] of the child." Both of these elements must be established by clear and convincing evidence. Evidence satisfying the clear and convincing evidence standard establishes that the truth of the facts asserted is highly probable, and eliminates any serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence.
In re Angelica S., E2011-00517-COA-R3-PT, 2011 WL 4553233 at * 11-12 (Tenn. Ct. App. E.S., filed Oct. 4, ...