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In re Lorenda B.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

April 19, 2017

IN RE: LORENDA B.

          Assigned on Briefs Date: March 1, 2017

          Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Davidson County No. 211759 Sheila Calloway, Judge

         This appeal concerns the termination of a mother's parental rights to her minor child. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for Davidson County ("the Juvenile Court") seeking to terminate the parental rights of Judith B. ("Mother") to her minor child Lorenda B. ("the Child"). Mother has alleged throughout this case that there is a satanic conspiracy against her and that the Child is at risk of having her organs harvested for trafficking purposes. After a trial, the Juvenile Court terminated Mother's parental rights. Mother appeals to this Court. We affirm the grounds of substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan and mental incompetence, but we reverse the grounds of willful failure to support and persistence of conditions.[1] We also affirm the Juvenile Court's finding that termination of Mother's parental rights is in the Child's best interest. We affirm, in part, and reverse, in part, the judgment of the Juvenile Court.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile Court Affirmed, in Part, and, Reversed, in Part; Case Remanded

          Nick Perenich, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Judith B.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and, Alexander S. Rieger, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

          John E. Evans, Guardian Ad Litem.

          D. Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Andy D. Bennett and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ., joined.

          OPINION

          D. MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE

         Background

         The Child was born to Mother in March 2005. DCS became involved in the Child's life in November 2013 because of Mother's alleged erratic behavior and the Child's not receiving sufficient education. The Child was placed with a family for a period of time but that arrangement ended. The Child entered DCS foster care. In June 2014, the Juvenile Court magistrate found the Child dependent and neglected. After a rehearing before the Juvenile Court, the Child in November 2015 again was found dependent and neglected. That order was appealed to Circuit Court, and that appeal was not decided as of the entry of the final order in this parental termination action.

         Mother has been evaluated by psychologists on multiple occasions. In 2002, a psychologist who evaluated Mother opined that Mother suffered from "subtle thought disorder" which involves paranoid tendencies. In 2015, two doctors diagnosed Mother with "unspecified schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorder." Two permanency plans were designed for Mother. These plans required Mother, among other things, to obtain a legal source of income and stable housing, undergo a psychological evaluation and follow all recommendations, and, undergo a mental health assessment and follow all recommendations. Initially, visitation was ordered, but this was suspended after the Child allegedly expressed a desire that the visitation cease.

         In October 2015, DCS filed a petition in the Juvenile Court seeking to terminate Mother's parental rights to the Child. Trial was held over the course of five days in March and July of 2016. The testimony at trial ranged far afield as to Mother's history and general beliefs. We summarize only the pertinent testimony from key witnesses.

         Mother testified. Mother stated that she worked temporary jobs. Mother, once homeless, had lived at an apartment for about six months leading up to trial. Mother receives food stamps. Mother, citing her religious beliefs, refused to take any medication to address her mental health issues. A recurring theme from Mother over the course of trial was her adamant belief that sinister forces threatened her and the Child. Mother testified at trial as follows:

Q. (By Mr. Perenich) were you ever evaluated for possible medication regarding mental health issues?
A. At the beginning of this case, there was some sort of an evaluation I would not consider. But, yes, I did cooperate and show up for the appointment.
Q. Now --
A. I'm not depressed. I don't cry.
Q. No. I'm just asking if you cooperated with the evaluation.
A. I'm not sitting around moping and crying. I don't need antidepressants.
I don't want them.
Q. Do you believe that you've completed the permanency plan DCS has set forth for you to do to get [the Child] back?
A. I believe that DCS has taken my daughter prisoner, and I should not have to complete the plan. I believe that I have been denied due process of law in a timely fashion. They failed to do an adequate investigation.
They should have talked with my father and the father of my first two sons who bribed the judge to use a false psych. eval. against me. I think that was a good psych. eval. They discarded it after Jeff bribed the judge, and they replaced it with a faulty one.
I'm not denying that I have need for counseling. But I have sought counsel, and I have found it, and I have been ministered to it, by it. It has been helpful to me. I have received miraculous, medically-documented healing.
Subpoena my doctor, Clarissa Arthur. Ask her about it. Did I receive a miracle, was I really sick, and did I get really well? Yes, I did. So I must be doing something right.
You should be asking me, how did you come from being a satanic ritual abuse survivor who was bleeding to death for years on her cycle and not able to work, to a mom that is able to endure this kind of stress, bear up under it, and still have a good attitude and live with hope and work and be well-respected and well-received and appreciated by many people who know me.
They should be taking notes. Why is it that signs and wonders are following me, and what are those signs saying? Because God has given us grace, and we all need it desperately. And we need to work together, not against each other.
Q. Do you have any concerns about [the Child's] care at the present time in DCS custody?
A. Yes. I have great concern. I feel that God has given us a three-year window to get it together here, to get it right. And if it were to go beyond that, I would fear for her life. I would fear for her becoming a victim of organ trafficking. I have been concerned that there may have been sexual abuse in the [Ms'] home.
There are tangible reasons I can point to that were circumstantial evidences that were extremely upsetting, but I'm not quite as concerned about that. Pardon me?
Q. You said you've got tangible reasons why she might be a victim of sexual abuse?
A. Yeah --
Q. What are those?
A. -- the yeast infection and the doctor's visit. The way DCS responded to the doctor's referral was very inappropriate and distorted. It's very suspicious. Why would they do that? Why would they try to accuse me of coercing the doctor to make a referral? That's absurd. Get the doctor in here to testify.
***
Q. And you are aware that one of the requirements is to see a psychiatrist; correct?
A. Not acutely aware. I mean, I actually probably have skimmed over that assessment, knowing that it is faulty from the foundation up.
Q. So basically no matter what it says, you've felt no obligation to call; am I accurate?
A. I'm not impressed with a foundationally faulty assessment. It's more provoking than it is helpful, and I have tried ...

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