Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Jase P.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

June 21, 2017

IN RE JASE P.

          Assigned on Briefs May 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Knox County No. 158400 Timothy E. Irwin, Judge

         This appeal arises from the termination of a father's parental rights. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed a petition against Anthony G. ("Father") in the Juvenile Court for Knox County ("the Juvenile Court") seeking to terminate Father's parental rights to his son, Jase P. ("the Child"). Father had been incarcerated and unable to parent the Child since the Child's birth. After a trial, the Juvenile Court terminated Father's parental rights on the grounds of wanton disregard and various grounds coming under the putative father statute at Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(9)(A). Father appeals. We affirm all grounds for termination found against Father. We further affirm that termination of Father's parental rights is in the Child's best interest. We, therefore, affirm the judgment of the Juvenile Court in its entirety.

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

          Gregory E. Bennett, Seymour, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anthony G.

          Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and, Brian A. Pierce, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

          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 out of wedlock in December 2015 and soon thereafter entered DCS custody. The Child's mother ("Mother") later surrendered her parental rights to the Child. The Child's birth certificate did not identify a father. However, two males were suspected of being the Child's father. In March or April of 2016, DNA testing revealed that Father was the Child's biological father. In April 2016, DCS filed its petition in the Juvenile Court seeking to terminate the incarcerated Father's parental rights to the Child. Trial was held in November 2016. Father and the Child's Foster Mother testified.

         Father testified first. Father and Mother had dated from 2008 through November 2014. During this time, Father used pain pills and methamphetamine with Mother. After Father and Mother broke up, Mother became involved with a new boyfriend. Nevertheless, Father and Mother continued to have sexual relations. Sometime around May 2015, Father learned that Mother was pregnant. Mother told Father that while she was not sure he was the father, it was a possibility. Father took Mother to a drug clinic so she could begin treatment for drug abuse. Father paid $400 for Mother's treatment. In June 2015, Father, who already had a lengthy history of criminal behavior, incurred more charges. Father was arrested on a variety of drug-related charges on which he later pled guilty. Father also pled guilty to a federal gun possession charge. Father was sentenced altogether to six years in prison arising from the June 2015 incident. Father stated that he is working while in custody which allows him to earn two days credit for each day served. Father did not file a petition to establish his paternity of the Child. Father has been incarcerated for the entire life of the Child. Indeed, Father has never met the Child. Father testified that his mother was a possible kinship placement for the Child. However, Father's mother never has been granted custody.

         Foster Mother testified. Foster Mother testified to the severe drug exposure-related health problems the Child suffered from. The Child suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome. The Child experienced tremors, fever, and eating problems, among other things. While the Child's condition has improved, the Child still requires significant medical attention. According to Foster Mother, the Child has bonded well with her new family. Foster Mother intends to adopt the Child if permitted.

         In December 2016, the Juvenile Court entered its final judgment terminating Father's parental rights to the Child. The Juvenile Court, applying the standard of clear and convincing evidence, found the following grounds against Father: 1) wanton disregard; 2) failure to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child; 3) failure to establish paternity; and 4) risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child. The Juvenile Court found also by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Father's parental rights is in the Child's best interest. We quote from the Juvenile Court's detailed final judgment as pertinent:

1. This child was removed from his mother's custody due to her substance abuse. The child's urine drug screen at birth was positive for benzodiazepines and his meconium was positive for amphetamines, methamphetamines, benzodiazepines, Subutex, and marijuana. The child's mother admitted being addicted to opiates and using Suboxone and Subutex intravenously and without the benefit of a prescription to curb her cravings for opiates. The baby was moved to the NICU where he was treated with morphine until December 23, 2015, to mitigate withdrawal symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
2. Respondent was in jail when his son was born. His criminal history as an adult began in 2008 when he was convicted for "going armed" and served ten days in jail. In January 2009 he was convicted on the charge of aggravated criminal trespass after going into a home with the intent to take something, although he then changed his mind. A few months later he did 48 hours in jail for driving under the influence. In August 2009 he was charged theft of property and aggravated burglary in Anderson County, Tennessee. While he was out awaiting trial on those charges, he was charged with sale and delivery of schedule II drugs ("pills") in Monroe County, Tennessee. Those charges were all resolved in March 2011 with an effective sentence of six years imprisonment. Respondent had served 160 days in jail and was released on probation. He was arrested again about three months later after failing a drug screen and had to spend ninety days in jail. He was then released back to probation.
3. Respondent and the child's mother were in an "on-and-off" relationship for eight or nine years, ending in November 2014. They lived together in hotel rooms, apartments, and with Respondent's mother. They used drugs together. According to Respondent, the mother would run off and then come back; sometimes she stayed with a cousin, then she would be back with Respondent. They used pain pills and methamphetamine together; when they were together, they got high together. Respondent never sold methamphetamine but he did sell marijuana and roxycodone (pain pills). He quit pills in 2012 after going to rehab but resumed using marijuana and methamphetamine. In November 2014, when Respondent and the mother were last living together, they were using marijuana and methamphetamine together. He testified that his longest period of sobriety was about three months in 2013. He was not getting high all the time; he was on probation and knew he had to be able to pass drug screens or he would go back to jail.
4. After they "broke up" in November 2014, the child's mother moved out. She had a new boyfriend and was living with him but continued to come by occasionally and had sex with Respondent. In early May 2015 the mother contacted Respondent and told him she was pregnant and that he might be the father of her baby; she wasn't sure. Respondent saw her one time after that. She talked with him about her dependence on opiates and her fear that her drug use would be bad for the baby. She told him she needed help. Respondent drove her to Express Health Care in Harriman, Tennessee, and gave her at least $400 cash to pay for Subutex treatment.
5. About three weeks later, on June 5, 2015, Respondent was arrested in Anderson County, Tennessee, on charges of felony possession of a firearm, possession of marijuana for resale, possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of Schedule IV narcotics, and violation of a drug-free school zone; he was also held for violation of probation. He had been found with drugs and a gun and he had been using. He has been incarcerated continuously since then. On December 1, 2015, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Respondent with being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. On March 22, 2016, Respondent entered a guilty plea to that charge and, on September 6, 2016, he was sentenced in federal court to 60 months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release. On October 18, 2016, he entered guilty pleas in Anderson County, Tennessee, to the charges of possession of marijuana for resale, possession of marijuana, possession of methamphetamine, and violation of probation. He received an effective sentence revoking his probation and requiring that he serve his previous six year sentence. The state and federal sentences are running concurrently. Since his arrest in June 2015, Respondent has been held in the Anderson County jail, and in the custody of the U.S. Marshal in jails in Irwin County, Georgia and Blount County, Tennessee, moving from one to another depending upon appearance dates.
6. By the time he was arrested in June 2015, Respondent was aware of the mother's pregnancy and of the possibility that he might be the father. The child was born in December 2015 and entered foster care before being discharged from the hospital. On February 1, 2016, the child's case manager met with Respondent in the Blount County Jail. They reviewed the child's permanency plan and the Criteria & Procedures for Termination of Parental Rights. Respondent signed the Criteria and kept a copy. He admitted that he knew about the child because the mother had told him when she found out she was pregnant. At that point he had done nothing to establish paternity or to determine parentage. In March or April 2016 he learned from his mother that DNA testing had confirmed that he was the child's father. He still did nothing to establish paternity. He told this Court that he had "a lot going on in the last 17 months", had been moved from jail to jail, and was not sure of the location of his box of paperwork and personal possessions.
7. Upon those facts, the Court finds that Respondent was incarcerated when this petition was filed and that prior to this incarceration, Respondent engaged in conduct which exhibits a wanton disregard for the welfare of the child. He knew the mother was pregnant. He knew he could be the father of her child. This Court believes that Respondent's use of his own money (at least $400) to pay for the mother's Subutex treatment demonstrates that he had a strong suspicion that he was the father. He nevertheless got himself into more trouble. He continued to use drugs and committed additional crimes. Respondent's own actions taken while he knew the mother was pregnant and knew the child was possibly his ensured that he would be sent back to prison. His continued destructive behavior demonstrated indifference and a wanton disregard for his own welfare much less that of the child.
8. The Court further finds that Respondent failed to file a petition to legitimate the child within thirty (30) days after notice of alleged paternity; that he failed to manifest an ability and willingness to assume legal and physical custody of the child; and that awarding legal and physical custody of the child to Respondent would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical or psychological welfare of the child. He did nothing, not when he suspected the child was his, not when he knew for sure the child was his. Even incarcerated, he could have done something. He was able to write a letter. He knew that failure to take action could result in termination of any parental rights he might have. He just put all his eggs in one basket, relying on his mother to petition for custody. That petition was dismissed. Due to his own actions, Respondent is not in a position to assume physical custody of this child. He knows nothing of the child's heightened physical and psychological needs secondary to his in utero drug exposure. Awarding legal and physical custody of this child to Respondent would not only be cruel but would subject the child to great risk.
9. The Court received no proof as to the allegation that Respondent committed severe abuse against this child and that allegation with [sic] withdrawn.
III
1. Respondent has not made such an adjustment of circumstance, conduct, or conditions as to make it safe and in the child's best interest to be in his home. He is in prison, he has no home. He did receive "reasonable efforts by available social services agencies" to effect an "adjustment" in his conduct. Probation made efforts to rehabilitate him and he violated. Due to his own conduct he has not been able to maintain regular visitation or other contact with the child and no relationship at all has otherwise been established between Respondent and the child. Respondent has never seen his son. A change of caretakers and physical environment is likely to have a detrimental effect on the child's emotional, psychological and medical condition. Such a change from the only family he has ever known would destroy this child emotionally and psychologically and would have a terrible effect on his medical condition. This child was severely abused by his mother's drug abuse during her pregnancy and he has suffered for it. Respondent has shown neglect toward this child by his indifference toward the child's welfare while committing his criminal acts. He is without a healthy and safe physical environment for the ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.