Session Date: April 12, 2016
from the Circuit Court for Lawrence County No. 291215 J.
Russell Parkes, Judge
case concerns the applicability of the Interstate Compact on
the Placement of Children ("ICPC"). After the
mother abandoned her child, the juvenile court found the
child to be dependent and neglected and placed the child in
state custody. The State sought provisional placement of the
child with her father, who was unaware of the child's
existence until the dependency and neglect proceedings.
Because the father lived in another state, the State made a
request under the ICPC to the father's state of residence
for a home evaluation. The response to the request
recommended against the placement. In light of the response,
the juvenile court held a hearing on disposition in which it
ordered the child to remain in State custody. After the
father appealed, the circuit court awarded custody to the
father and relieved the State of any further responsibility
for the child. On appeal to this court, among other things,
the mother argues that the ICPC precluded awarding custody to
the father. Because we conclude the ICPC did not apply, we
affirm the decision of the circuit court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Brewer Campbell, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Hillhouse, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, for the appellee,
Odeneal, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, Guardian Ad Litem.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Rachel E.
Buckley, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee,
Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Richard H. Dinkins and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
February 10, 2014, the Juvenile Court of Lawrence County,
Tennessee, placed Courtney R. in the custody of the Tennessee
Department of Children's Services ("DCS"). The
court removed the child based on probable cause of neglect
and dependency.Specifically, the court found that
remaining in the home of Shana G. ("Mother") and/or
her boyfriend was "contrary to the welfare of the
child" and "not in the child's best
interest." That same day, the court appointed Stacie
Odeneal (the "GAL") to serve as guardian ad litem
for the child.
following day, February 11, the GAL filed a petition to
determine dependency and neglect and to challenge paternity.
Although Mother's boyfriend was named as father on
Courtney's birth certificate, both he and Mother
apparently acknowledged that he was not Courtney's
father. Consequently, among other things, the GAL requested
that genetic testing be conducted to exclude the boyfriend as
the child's father. Later the GAL filed a motion
requesting that the boyfriend be disestablished as the
and her boyfriend waived both the preliminary and
adjudicatory hearings, and the child remained in DCS custody
and was placed with foster parents. During this period,
Johnican B., a resident of Alabama, came forward claiming to
be the child's father. The juvenile court ultimately
disestablished Mother's boyfriend as father and
established Johnican B. ("Father") as the
biological father of Courtney.
also waived the preliminary and adjudicatory hearings. And he
stipulated that his child was dependent and neglected while
in the care of Mother. Mother and Father then participated in
the development of a permanency plan. The plan had the
alternative permanency goals of returning the child to parent
furtherance of the permanency plan's goals, DCS sought to
provisionally place the child with Father. However, before
placing Courtney with her father, DCS sought expedited
approval or denial of the placement with the State of
Alabama. The ICPC requires that a "sending agency,
" among other things, notify the appropriate
public authorities of the state where the child is proposed
to be placed. Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-4-201 (2014) (Article
III(b)). The placement cannot be made "until the
appropriate public authorities in the receiving state . . .
notify the sending agency, in writing, to the effect that the
proposed placement does not appear to be contrary to the
interests of the child." Id. (Article III(d)).
authorities did not approve the placement. The letter
responding to the ICPC request listed several reasons for
disapproval. Alabama authorities cited a report of sexual
abuse against Father when he was a minor "coded as
'indicated'" and two later reports coded
"not indicated." They noted "major concerns"
with Father's parenting abilities. And they referenced
worries over the ability of Father to support a child
financially and his lack of a support system.
Alabama's denial of the placement, on February 9, 2015,
the juvenile court held a dispositional hearing on the dependency
and neglect petition the same day. The juvenile court ordered
that Courtney remain in the custody of DCS. Father appealed
to the Circuit Court for Lawrence County.
April 10, 2015, the circuit court held a de novo hearing. The
sole issue presented by Father was the proper disposition of
the child. Father requested that he be granted custody. DCS
opposed the request, relying on the ICPC's prohibition
against placement of a child without the receiving
state's approval. DCS also, over Father's objections,
introduced into evidence the letter from the Alabama
authorities disapproving the placement request.
circuit court granted custody of the child to Father. The
court's order addressed the concerns raised by the
Alabama authorities in their letter disapproving the
placement. With respect to the allegations of sexual abuse,
the court heard from the purported victim in the instance
coded "indicated." The victim "testified
emphatically that the alleged abuse did not occur, that she
ha[d] a good relationship with [Father] and the [Alabama]
Department of Human Services did not contact her in August or
September 2014 to inquire as to this past abuse." The
court found the purported victim "highly credible."
The court declined to consider the other reports of abuse
against Father. Noting that they "did not result in an
'indication, '" the court found the allegations
to be "unreliable hearsay."
respect to the other concerns raised by the Alabama
authorities, the court considered the record as a whole and
the evidence presented by Father and found "it [wa]s in
the best interests of the child for her to be in the care and
custody of her [Father]." The court found Father's
home to be appropriate. The court also found both Father and
his fiancée "to be very sincere and credible, and
apparently capable of raising children, as evidenced by the
uncontested proof that they have other children in the home
who [we]re being appropriately cared for." The court
further noted, contrary to the letter from the Alabama
authorities, that Father had "an extended family support
system who [we]re willing to assist him in the care of the
the court considered the applicability of the ICPC. It
determined that the ICPC was not applicable because the award
of custody to Father was not a placement in foster care.
Specifically, the court reasoned as follows:
it appears that the ICPC concerns only arise when sending a
child to another state for continued foster care. However,
under this court's authority in a de novo disposition
pursuant to TCA 37-1-130, the court has the full panoply of
placement options. The court does not have to continue
placement of the child in foster care but, in accordance with
the statute, has a wide range of options, which are
subservient to the best interests of the child. TCA
37-1-130(a) specifically authorizes the court to place the
child with a parent, and -- pursuant to section (a)(2)(D) of
that same statute - to place the child "in another
state, with or without supervision". The court does not
make this finding without concerns, but specifically finds
that [Father] has fundamental ...