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In re Mason M.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

July 17, 2015


Assigned on Briefs June 2, 2015

Appeal from the Chancery Court for Lawrence County No. 1416806 Stella L. Hargrove, Chancellor

M. Wallace Coleman, Jr., Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the appellant, Brooklyn R. T. [1]

Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Ryan L. McGehee, Assistant Attorney General, and Leslie Curry, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.



Brooklyn R. T. ("Mother") and Brandon S. M. ("Father") had one child together, Mason M., born July 2011. The couple met in 2009 when Mother was eighteen years old, and, six months later, the parties moved in together. According to Mother, Father began verbally and physically abusing her within the next year. When Mother became pregnant, the abuse by Father ceased, but the violence began again after their child was born.

On October 15, 2012, Mason entered the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("the Department"), following an injury sustained during an incident of domestic violence. The injury occurred when Father assaulted Mother while she was holding the child. Father was arrested for domestic violence and aggravated child abuse, and Mother and the child were sent to Crockett Hospital.

At the hospital, Child Protection Services Investigator Christopher Rose interviewed Mother who told Mr. Rose about Father's physical abuse and that Father was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Mother also revealed that she took Lortab and Xanax, but that she had prescriptions for these drugs. She also stated that she took Percocet for her back pain, but that she obtained the medication from a friend. Furthermore, prior to Mason being taken into the Department's custody, Mother had been placed on judicial diversion for stealing $840 from her former employer, Wal-Mart. According to the terms of her diversion, she was to pay restitution and court costs and submit to supervision throughout her probation.

In November 2012, the Lawrence County Juvenile Court adjudicated the child to be dependent and neglected upon finding an extensive history of domestic violence in the home. The court further ordered that the child have no contact with Father, and the child was ordered to remain in the Department's custody.

Mother subsequently entered into four unsuccessful permanency plans throughout the pendency of the case. The first was entered into on November 6, 2012, and Mother agreed to pay child support as ordered by the court, to attend regular classes for victims of domestic violence, to take only prescribed medications and pass random drug screens, to refrain from physical violence in the home or around Mason, to maintain a drug-free environment, to bring snacks and necessities to her weekly supervised visits with Mason, to participate in a mental health assessment, and to participate in a drug and alcohol assessment. She was also required to resolve all pending legal matters and refrain from incurring any new criminal charges. Mother signed a revised plan in April 2013 that allowed her to participate in therapeutic supervised visitations with the child. The plan was revised again on July 15, 2013, requiring Mother to meet all the requirements of the prior plans and set up a mental health intake appointment. The plan was revised for the last time on January 3, 2014, and restated the requirements of the previous plans.

The Department filed its petition to terminate the parental rights of Mother and Father on May 16, 2014. Father surrendered his parental rights on July 8, 2014. The case against Mother went to trial on October 7, 2014, during which several witnesses testified, including Mr. Rose, Mother, the maternal grandfather of the child, and the child's foster father.

The evidence introduced at trial established that, since Mason was taken into the Department's custody, Mother failed to refrain from engaging in criminal behavior. She failed to pay restitution to Wal-Mart and violated the terms of her diversion when she failed to inform her probation officer that she had been booked based on a criminal summons charging her with two counts of theft of up to $500. She was subsequently charged with an additional count of theft of up to $500, two charges of failure to appear in court, and four counts of violation of probation, including failure to refrain from the use of illegal drugs. Two of the three charges of theft were for stealing prescription medications from family members. Furthermore, Mother made only one child support payment despite a court's order to pay $310 per month entered in March 2013. That payment was made in February 2014 to post bond for her arrest upon failure to pay child support. Mother also failed to complete a mental health intake as required by the permanency plans and failed to submit to a drug screening test.

As a result of her criminal charges, Mother was in and out of jail from the time Mason was taken into the Department's custody. Mother was incarcerated from December 18, 2012 through February 25, 2013; from September 9, 2013 through September 11, 2013; from February 11, 2014 ...

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