Assigned on Briefs June 1, 2017
from the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County No. 272454 Robert
D. Philyaw, Judge
appeal concerns the termination of a father's parental
rights. The Tennessee Department of Children's Services
("DCS") filed a petition in the Juvenile Court for
Hamilton County ("the Juvenile Court") seeking to
terminate the parental rights of George C.
("Father") to his minor child Kenya H. ("the
Child"). After a trial, the Juvenile Court entered an
order terminating Father's parental rights. Father
appealed. We reverse the grounds of substantial noncompliance
with the permanency plan and willful failure to visit, but
affirm the ground of wanton disregard. We further affirm that
termination of Father's parental rights is in the
Child's best interest. The judgment of the Juvenile Court
is affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Affirmed, in Part, and Reversed, in Part; Case Remanded
Brenyas, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant, George C.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and,
Kathryn A. Baker, Assistant Attorney General, for the
appellee, the Tennessee Department of Children's
Michael Swiney, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy D. Bennett and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ., joined.
MICHAEL SWINEY, CHIEF JUDGE
Child was born to Father and Ann. H. ("Mother") in
July 2014. The Child was born at home. Mother gave the Child
to relatives. In September 2014, DCS petitioned for and was
granted temporary legal custody of the Child. In November
2014, the Juvenile Court adjudicated the Child dependent and
neglected. In October 2014, Father signed on to a parenting
plan. Father was informed that he needed to establish
paternity in order to visit with the Child. Father then
disappeared. DCS reestablished contact with Father when he
was incarcerated on September 9, 2015. Judgment later was
entered against Father on evading arrest, driving on a
suspended/revoked license, and failure to appear. Father
remained incarcerated through March 10, 2016. While in jail,
Father worked on certain of his permanency plan
responsibilities. For example, Father took part in parenting
and anger management classes. On June 24, 2016, DCS filed a
petition seeking to terminate Father's parental rights to
the Child. Trial was held in October 2016, and Father's
counsel was present but not Father.
Blackwell ("Blackwell"), the DCS employee
supervising visits between Father and the Child, testified
that Father's first supervised visit occurred on March
29, 2016. Blackwell stated that Father was "kind of
standoffish" and that "we actually had to end the
visit a little early because the child was crying
uncontrollably to the point to where she was gagging."
After Father missed three visits in August 2016, the
visitation was removed from Blackwell's schedule.
Williams ("Williams"), a former family service
worker for DCS who worked on the Child's case, testified
Q. Could you please tell the Court how [the Child] came into
the custody of the Department, please?
A. Yes, ma'am. [The Child] was born in-home July 14th of
2014. [The Child] was then given to a relative of
[Father's], I want to say.
THE COURT: Did you say born at home?
THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.
A. The baby did not have any identification. She didn't
have a birth certificate, insurance card or anything like
that. And the guardian that she had at the time needed to
have her seen for medical treatment and was unable to, so she
took her to the Rhea County office of Department of
Children's Services and divested custody because she
couldn't get medical treatment for her, and then
that's when I got the case.
Q. Okay. So how did she go from being in Rhea County DCS to
Hamilton County DCS?
A. Because I had a prior -- a case already open on the
siblings. The mother had an open case with the Department, so
the child was transported down here.
Q. Okay. And when did you first make contact with the parents
in this case?
A. My first contact with [Mother] was in September of 2014.
She was here on the case of her children, so that was my
first contact with her. And my first contact with [Father], I
want to say, was maybe November of 2014.
Q. Now, at the time that [the Child] first came into custody,
was [Father] her legal father?
Q. They had already established that?
A. Oh, no. I'm sorry. DNA had not been established yet.
Q. Okay. Was he holding himself out to be her father?
Q. And how did you become aware of that?
A. He stated that he was the father, and [Mother] also stated
that he could be the father of the baby.
Q. Did [Mother] or [Father] ever tell you that they were
living together at the time that their child was born?
Q. Did [Mother] or [Father] ever tell you how the child came
to be born at home rather than in a regular hospital setting?
A. Speaking with [Mother], she told me she had the baby at
home due to her prior involvement with the Department, she
was fearful that the Department would take her child away
from her, so she didn't want to have the baby in the
hospital. And she also told me that [Father] had been abusive
to her, would not allow her to go to a hospital to have the
Q. Okay. Let's talk about that. What disclosures did
[Mother] make to you regarding the alleged conduct of
A. [Mother] told me that [Father] had beat her on several
occasions. She showed marks on her body, on her arms, on her
legs, on her right eye. She stated that [Father] had hit her
with the plug of a dryer, the socket part had hit her in her
face and caused her to have partial blindness in her right
eye. Yeah, that's what she told me.
Q. At any time, did [Mother] discuss with you that she was
being held captive?
A. She did. When I finally saw her again in September, we did
talk about the length of time that she was absent from the
other children's case. She stated that [Father] was
pretty much holding her against her will, would not let her
come to visitations or speak to anybody outside of that home
regarding him or the other two children.
Q. Okay. And during your involvement in this case, did the
parents maintain contact with you?
A. Not regularly.
Q. What efforts did you make to maintain contact with the
A. As far as [Mother] is concerned, I know she had a Facebook
I would speak to [Mother] as often as I could via Facebook.
[Father], the only number I had for him was his mother's
number. That's the only address I initially had, so I
would try to do contact that way. I'd try to call.
I would send contact letters. Go by the house, [Father]
wasn't there, or
[Father's] mother would say that he was out of town. She
was unaware of where his whereabouts were.
her testimony, Williams stated:
Q. Okay. As far as [Father] is concerned, what were his
specific tasks and responsibilities under the first plan?
A. [Father] was to establish paternity of [the Child] through
DNA testing, obtain and maintain housing for a period of six
months, participate in domestic violence counseling,
participate in alcohol and drug assessment and follow all
recommendations, sign required releases, have a mental health
evaluation, to address concerns of anger management and
depression and follow those recommendations, maintain legal
verifiable income and provide verification, adhere to no
contact order with [Mother], and pay child support as
Q. So what, if any, tasks or responsibilities did [Father]
complete while you were involved with this case?
A. [Father] did have stable housing. He was residing with his
mother in the home with her. He did eventually establish
paternity of [the Child]. He participated in a parenting
class while he was in Silverdale. He participated and
completed anger management ...