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In re Linette B.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 21, 2016

IN RE LINETTE B.

          Assigned on Briefs December 2, 2016

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Knox County No. 32659 Timothy E. Irwin, Judge

         This is a termination of parental rights case. Mother/Appellant appeals the termination of her parental rights on the grounds of: (1) failure to substantially comply with the requirements of the permanency plan; and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child's removal from Appellant's custody. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Appellant's parental rights is in the child's best interest. Discerning no error, we affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed and Remanded

          Robin Gunn, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Antoinette R.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and W. Derek Green, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and W. Neal McBrayer, J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         I. Background

         The minor child at issue in this case, Linette B., [1] was born in August of 2014. The child's mother, Antoinette R. ("Mother, " or "Appellant") and father, Lincoln B. ("Father"), were never married. On or about September 19, 2014, Father filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Knox County ("trial court"), seeking custody of the child. Father averred that the child was not receiving proper care and supervision with Mother. He stated that Mother suffers from bipolar disorder and leaves the child unattended when she cries. He further averred that Mother gets angry and takes it out on the child. According to Father's petition, Mother was arrested for assault, vandalism, theft, and violation of parole. On September 19, 2014, the trial court entered an interim order, granting temporary custody to Father pending hearing. However, after the September 19, 2014 order was entered, both parents failed drug tests. By order of September 19, 2014, the trial court appointed a guardian ad litem for the child. By order of September 23, 2014, the trial court appointed an attorney for Mother.

         Based on the parents' drug use, and having determined that there was no appropriate relative placement for the child, on October 1, 2014, the trial court entered a bench order, transferring custody of the child to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS, " or "Appellee"). By agreed order of February 2, 2015, the trial court adjudicated the child to be dependent and neglected "due to the substance abuse issues of the parents [the parents failed drug screens]; domestic violence issues between the parents; and the environmental neglect in the . . . home." By the same order, the trial court dismissed, with prejudice, Father's petition for custody.

         DCS worked with the parents to develop permanency plans for the child. The initial plan was signed by Mother on October 23, 2014 and ratified by the trial court on December 3, 2014. The permanency plan was revised on August 25, 2015 and ratified by the trial court on August 26, 2015.

         After Linette was removed from Mother's custody, Mother sought treatment for her substance abuse issues. As discussed in detail below, the record indicates that Mother had a seven-month period of sobriety during the pendency of this case. At a December 3, 2014 review hearing, the trial court found that Mother was in substantial compliance with the requirements set out in the permanency plans. In January 2016, DCS requested and obtained a hair follicle drug test, which was negative for all substances. Mother's sobriety, however, was short lived. On March 2, 2016, she tested positive for morphine and cocaine. At that time, Mother was pregnant with Linette's sister, Skyla. On April 18, 2016, Mother was drug tested by her obstetrician, and she was positive for methamphetamine and cocaine. In May 2016, Mother gave birth to Skyla, who was born with Subutex in her system. Mother did not have a prescription for the drug. Skyla was immediately taken into DCS custody. She and Linette are currently placed in the same foster home.

         On May 12, 2016, DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental rights to Linette.[2] As grounds for its petition, DCS averred: (1) that Mother had failed to substantially comply with her responsibilities under the permanency plans; and (2) that the conditions that led to the child's removal from Mother's home still persisted. DCS also averred that termination of Mother's parental rights is in the child's best interest.

         The trial court heard DCS's petition to terminate Mother's parental rights on June 21, 2016. Although she was served with the petition to terminate her parental rights, Mother failed to answer or appear at the hearing. By order of July 1, 2016, the trial court found that there was clear and convincing evidence to terminate Mother's parental rights to Linette on the grounds of: (1) failure to substantially comply with the requirements set out in the permanency plans; and (2) persistence of the conditions that led to the child's removal from Mother's custody. The trial court also found, by clear and convincing evidence, that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interest. Mother appeals.

         II. Issues

         Mother raises three issues for review, which we restate as follows:

1. Whether there is clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court's termination of Mother's parental rights on the ground of failure to substantially comply with her requirements under the permanency plans.
2. Whether there is clear and convincing evidence to support the trial court's termination of Mother's parental rights on the ground of persistence of the conditions that led to the child's removal from Mother's home.
3. Whether there is clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother's parental rights is in the ...

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