Session May 19, 2015
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 178859 Sophia Brown Crawford, Judge No. M2014-01753-COA-R3-PT
James A. Rose, Madison, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Anthony W. G. Avery Mott, Nashville, Tennessee, Guardian Ad Litem.
Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., and Richard H. Dinkins, J., joined.
ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE
This is the second appearance of this matter in the Court of Appeals. After the first trial to terminate the parental rights of Anthony M. ("Father"), an appeal was taken in which this Court found that Father's rights were terminated upon a ground that was not pled. In re Anthony R., No. M2012-01412-COA-R3-PT, 2013 WL 500829, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 8, 2013). The trial court's judgment was reversed and remanded. Id.
On August 26, 2013, a second petition to terminate Father's parental rights was filed, alleging abandonment by failure to visit; abandonment by failure to support; abandonment by incarceration when confined under a sentence of ten years or more and the child is under eight years old; failure to make payments toward the support of the mother during the four months immediately preceding the birth of the child; and wanton disregard for the welfare of the child by engaging in illegal conduct that led to incarceration. Father filed an answer and sought to dismiss the petition based on res judicata.
The trial court held a hearing on December 4, 2013. On August 27, 2014, the trial court issued an order terminating Father's parental rights on the ground of wanton disregard. The trial court determined that res judicata did not apply and that the other grounds pled were not supported by clear and convincing evidence. Father appealed.
Standard of Review
"A parent has a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of his or her child." In re Serenity B., No. M2013-02685-COA-R3-PT, 2014 WL 2168553, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 21, 2014), perm. app. denied (July 14, 2014). Only when there is a compelling state interest may the state interfere with parental rights. Id. "An order terminating parental rights shall have the effect of severing forever all legal rights and obligations of the parent or guardian of the child against whom the order of termination is entered and of the child who is the subject of the petition to that parent or guardian." Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(l)(1).
Terminating a parent's fundamental parental rights has severe consequences; thus, termination cases require a higher standard of proof. In re Serenity B., 2014 WL 2168553, at *2. To terminate parental rights, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground for termination exists and that termination is in the child's best interest. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(c); In re F.R.R., III, 193 S.W.3d 528, 530 (Tenn. 2006). "Clear and convincing evidence
'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 Serenity B., 2014 WL 2168553, at *2 (quoting In re M.J.B., 140 S.W.3d 643, 653 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2004) (internal citations omitted)).
This Court must review the trial court's conclusions of law de novo with no presumption of correctness. In re Valentine, Jr., 79 S.W.3d 539, 546 (Tenn. 2002). The court's factual findings are reviewed de novo with a presumption of correctness, unless the evidence preponderates to the contrary. Tenn. R. App. P. 13(d). Upon reviewing a decision to terminate parental rights, this Court's duty is to "determine whether the facts, as found by the trial court or as supported by the preponderance of the evidence, ...