Assigned on Briefs March 24, 2015
Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Putnam County No. 1283TPR John P. Hudson, Judge
Brandon S. Griffin, Sparta, Tennessee, for the appellant, Donnie Wayne B.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Mary Byrd Ferrara, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Sheila L. O'Regan, Granville, Tennessee, Guardian Ad Litem.
Andy D. Bennett, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Richard H. Dinkins, and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.
ANDY D. BENNETT, JUDGE
Factual and Procedural History
William B. ("William" or the "child") was born in December 2007. His mother, Julie F. ("Mother"), was married to Benjamin F. at the time of his birth; however, Donnie Wayne B. ("Father") is William's biological father. Mother and Benjamin F. surrendered their parental rights to William on August 15, 2013, and are not parties in this appeal.
The Department of Children's Services ("DCS") became involved with William in November 2012 when DCS filed a Petition to Declare Children Dependent and Neglected and for Emergency Temporary Legal Custody in Kin. The petition alleged that William and his older half-brother Matthew F. had been exposed to drug-related activity while in the custody of their mother and her paramour. The petition further stated that "William's father . . . lost custody of his other child, Emalee [D.], on August 1, 2012 due to illegal drug use and activity and, therefore, was not considered for placement of his child, William." On November 5, 2012, an order was entered placing William and Matthew F. in the custody of their maternal grandmother ("Grandmother").
In January 2013, Father pled guilty to two class C felonies (selling a Schedule II controlled substance in November 2010 and January 2011) and was imprisoned on a three-year sentence. On February 27, 2013, Father stipulated to a finding that William was dependent and neglected.
On January 29, 2014, DCS filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights alleging, as grounds for termination, abandonment by willful failure to visit or support and that Father had exhibited a wanton disregard for William's welfare prior to incarceration. On April 30, 2014, Father filed a Motion for Finding of Failure to Make Reasonable Efforts Pursuant to T.C.A. § 37-1-166.
The trial court held a hearing on both Father's and DCS's motions on July 31, 2014, at which Matthew F. (who was fourteen at the time of the hearing); Sarah Tungate, William's DCS case manager; Grandmother; and Father testified. By order entered September 10, 2014, the court found that DCS did not make reasonable efforts to assist Father in completing his permanency plan. However, the court terminated Father's parental rights based on a finding that he exhibited a wanton disregard for the welfare of the child prior to his incarceration. The court further found that termination of Father's parental rights was in William's best interest. Specifically, the court held:
[Father] has been convicted on 1-3-12 of 2 counts of sale of oxycodone on 11-23-10 and 1-6-11. He has also been convicted of aggravated criminal trespass on 1-2-08. [Father's] conduct in wanton disregard for the welfare of the child was to be involved in serious felony criminal activity, have repeated episodes of incarceration throughout this child's life, and extensive drug abuse.
[Father] had previously lost custody of another child on August 1, 2012. That child was adjudicated to be dependent and neglected on December 13, 2012 by the Juvenile Court of Putnam County. The Court made findings in that case that include, but are not limited to, the father admitted to using methamphetamine in January and June of 2012, that he had purchased valium off the street, and that the father had made fifteen ...