Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2016
from the Juvenile Court for Knox County No. 93877 Timothy E.
a termination of parental rights case. Appellant/Mother
appeals the trial court's termination of her parental
rights to two minor children on the ground of mental
incompetence and on its finding that termination of
Appellant's parental rights is in the children's best
interests. Discerning no error, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Affirmed and Remanded
Houston, II, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and
M. Cameron Himes, Assistant Attorney General, for the
appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Andy D. Bennett and Thomas R. Frierson, II, JJ., joined.
case involves two minor children, La'Trianna W. (born May
2012) and La'Skylar W. (born June 2015). Both children
were born out of wedlock to La'Treese W.
("Mother" or "Appellant"). The Tennessee
Department of Children's Services ("DCS" or
"Appellee") became involved with this family in
August 2013, when it received a referral that La'Trianna
had been seen at a local hospital. The child was reported to be
malnourished and dirty. Shortly thereafter, DCS placed
services in the home. However, in December of 2013, DCS
received a second report of harm, alleging that Mother had
intellectual delays and was unable to properly care for the
child. When DCS visited the home in December of 2013,
La'Trianna wore only a diaper, and Mother failed to
properly dress the child after being prompted by the DCS case
manager. The case manager noted that the family was
"basically living in one room with an electric skillet,
a griddle and a fryer within reach of the child." DCS
made arrangements for additional in-home services to assist
March 20, 2014, DCS filed a petition in the Juvenile Court
for Knox County ("trial court") to remove
La'Trianna from Mother's home. The trial court
removed La'Trianna to protective custody on the same day.
On June 16, 2014, the trial court entered an agreed order
adjudicating La'Trianna as a dependent and neglected
child based on environmental neglect, lack of supervision,
domestic violence, and mental health issues of the parent.
La'Trianna was removed from her custody, Mother lived
with several men. Mother told the DCS case manager, Leaha
Burke, that she frequently met men at the bus station or the
public library, moved them into her apartment, and engaged in
sexual relationships with them. At DCS's behest, Mother
also completed a psychological evaluation. The intake form
notes that Mother appeared inappropriately dressed and
smelling of body odor. During the evaluation, Mother blamed
her boyfriends or the lies of the person(s) who reported her
to DCS for the child's removal. Mother's IQ was
determined to be 66, which indicates that she is functioning
within a mentally challenged range of intelligence. The
evaluation noted that Mother is likely to struggle with the
basic tasks of daily living and will need continued support
especially when dealing with the complicated challenges of
raising a child.
Fall of 2014, Mother became pregnant with La'Skylar, who
was born in June of 2015. Mother told Ms. Burke that she met
La'Skylar's father on the street near the public
library and that the couple had intercourse in a public park
that day. After La'Trianna was removed from her custody,
Mother attended vocational counseling; however, she stopped
attending during her pregnancy with La'Skylar. Mother
also completed a parenting assessment with a licensed
professional counselor. The assessment concluded that Mother
"did not have the ability to be attuned to, anticipate,
acknowledge and appropriately meet the complex and demanding
needs of parenting a child." The counselor noted that
Mother makes decision in the interests of her own emotional
and physical needs, which often puts the children at risk.
Mother's pregnancy with La'Skylar, Mother frequently
moved residences. Mother would stay at her own apartment
until the utilities were turned off for nonpayment, then move
to her grandmother's house. At her grandmother's
house, Mother fought with her sister and left her
grandmother's house to live with La'Trianna's
father, who has a history of domestic violence against
Mother. Eventually, Mother returned to live in her apartment.
At her apartment, Mother continued to move men into her
residence and engage in sexual relationships with them. These
paramours included a man whom Mother met at a bus station, a
man whom Mother met on a social media website, and a man who
followed Mother home and began bringing stolen property into
her apartment. Mother also allowed a woman, who was
attempting to leave a violent relationship involving illegal
drugs, to live in her apartment. After Mother gave birth to
La'Skylar in June of 2015, she left the hospital to live
with her grandmother.
provided Mother with therapeutic visitation with
La'Trianna; however, the record indicates that Mother
struggled to develop a relationship with the child. Renee
Stegall, a therapist who supervised the interaction between
Mother and the children, stated that Mother required frequent
prompting concerning proper parenting skills, but still
experienced problems "remaining engaged with
[La'Trianna], not understanding the age appropriate
limitation that La'Trianna had during visits, [and]
expect[ing] her to do more than she was able to do." Ms.
Stegall testified that she would not recommend that Mother
have unsupervised parenting time with La'Trianna. When
La'Skylar was born, Mother's interactions with
La'Trianna worsened. Mother focused on the younger child
and had to be prompted to interact with La'Trianna.
Mother could not remember or retain any of the information
she received through the visitation. Caseworker, Leigh Anne
Goldstine, who conducted the visits, opined that, without a
structured environment, Mother could not care for the
children on her own. Ms. Goldstine also was concerned by the
fact that Mother made dangerous decisions in moving strangers
into her residence and that Mother failed to understand that
these decisions placed Mother at risk of harm and endangered
March 3, 2015, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's
parental rights to La'Trianna. On June 17, 2015, DCS
filed a second petition to terminate Mother's parental
rights to La'Skylar. As grounds, for both petitions, DCS
averred that Mother was incompetent to care for the children
and that the conditions that led to the children's
removal from Mother's home still persisted despite
DCS's reasonable efforts to help her. The petitions to
terminate Mother's parental rights to La'Trianna and
La'Skylar were consolidated and heard by the trial court
on July 23, 2015.
August 17, 2015, before the trial court entered an order on
the hearing, Mother filed two separate notices of appeal
(discussed infra) to the Circuit Court of Knox
County. After the appeal was filed in the circuit court, the
trial court entered an order terminating Mother's
parental rights to the two children on September 22, 2015.
The trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that
incompetent to adequately provide for the further care and
supervision of the children because [Mother's] mental
condition is presently so impaired and is so likely to remain
impaired that it is unlikely that [Mother] will be able to
assume the care and responsibility of the children in the
entry of the September 22, 2015 order terminating her
parental rights, Mother took no further action to appeal the
trial court's decision. However, on or about March 31,
2016, the circuit court entered an order, stating, in
relevant part, that:
[Mother's] notice of appeal [i.e., the first August 17,
2015 notice of appeal to the circuit court] indicated that
both appeals, the first concerning the finding that the minor
children were dependent and neglected and the second
appealing the termination of the parent's parental
rights, were done on the same Notice. Accordingly,
[Mother's] appeal of the termination of [her] parental
rights was not sent to the Court of Appeals. This Court does
not have jurisdiction to hear the [termination of parental
rights] matter. Jurisdiction for th[e] appeal [of the order
terminating Mother's parental rights] lies in the Court
of Appeals. This error was not caught by the . . . Circuit
Court Clerk or this Judge until it was recently pointed out
by the [DCS's] attorney.
Based on the foregoing findings, [the circuit court] now
Orders as follows:
1. The . . . appeal of the termination of . . . parental
rights shall be transferred to the Court of Appeals, having
exclusive jurisdiction for the determination of that issue.
2. The . . . Circuit Court Clerk is directed to make a
certified copy of the Notice of Appeal that was filed in the
Juvenile Court and transmitted to this Court as part of the
Juvenile Court record, and forward it, along with a certified
copy of this Order, to the Court of Appeals.
3. That the Order be sent to the Clerk of the Knox County
Juvenile Court to alert them to the need to prepare and send
to the Court of Appeals the record for the appeal of the
termination of parental rights.
4. This case is set for trial in [the circuit court] on
August 3, 2016, as to the issue of Dependent and Neglect.
first August 17, 2015 notice of appeal was transmitted to
this Court and stamped "Received" on July 6, 2016.
Appellant raises the following issues for review, as stated
in her brief:
1. The trial [c]ourt erred by terminating… the
parental rights of the Mother for mental incompetence
pursuant to Tenn. Code. Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(8).
2. The trial [c]ourt erred by finding that a termination of
the Mother's parental rights was in the best interests of
DCS raises the following additional issue:
1. This Court lacks jurisdiction because Mother did not
timely file her notice of appeal.