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In re Jaiden A.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 5, 2017


          Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Scott County No. 2016-CV-8996 John D. McAfee, Judge

         This is a dependency and neglect case. After adjudication of dependency and neglect, the juvenile court granted custody to the child's paternal grandparents. Mother/Appellant appealed that decision to the circuit court. Because the circuit court did not conduct a de novo hearing, we vacate its order and remand for further proceedings.

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

          Mark R. Orr, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Maxine W. [1]

          Max Huff, Oneida, Tennessee, for the appellee, Dustin A.; Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter, and Kathryn A. Baker, Assistant Attorney General, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

          Kenny Armstrong, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and W. Neal McBrayer, JJ., joined.



         The minor child, Jaiden A., was born in December 2013. The child's mother is Maxine W. ("Mother, " or "Appellant"); the child's father is Appellee Dustin A. ("Father"). On May 19, 2014, Appellee Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") received a referral alleging that the child was the victim of physical abuse. On the same day, a DCS caseworker responded to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the local children's hospital. Jaiden was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury with no metabolic cause. The caseworker met with Jaiden's doctor on June 17, 2014. The doctor opined that Jaiden's brain injury was caused by non-accidental trauma. None of the child's adult caregivers were able to provide a reasonable explanation for the child's injuries.

         On June 19, 2014, DCS petitioned the Juvenile Court of Scott County for temporary legal custody of the child. On or about June 20, 2014, the juvenile court entered an ex parte order granting DCS's petition. Following a preliminary hearing, on June 23, 2014, the juvenile court found probable cause of dependency and neglect based on the "traumatic brain injury of the child ruled non-accidental by a physician." The court granted custody to DCS, granted supervised visitation to Mother and Father, and entered a no-contact order against Rylen S., [2] Mother's boyfriend. The juvenile court also appointed a guardian ad litem for the child.

         Following a status hearing on September 8, 2014, the juvenile court ordered Mother, Father, and Rylen S. to submit to psychological testing and paternity testing. Following a status hearing on November 10, 2014, the juvenile court noted that the psychological evaluations had been completed, but the court had not received the reports. The order notes that, since the last status hearing, Jaiden suffered another brain bleed, which required extensive therapy. The court ordered Jaiden to remain in DCS's custody with placement in a "medically fragile foster home."

         The juvenile court held a third status hearing on December 1, 2014. By order of December 8, 2014, the juvenile court established Father as Jaiden's biological father (based on DNA test results). The juvenile court noted that the child "is suffering from anxiety; the child is receiving speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy." By its December 8, 2014 order, the juvenile court expanded Mother's supervised visits from thirty minutes per week to one hour per week; Father was granted up to four hours of visitation each week.

         On May 11, 2015, the juvenile court heard Mother's petition for additional visitation. By order of May 26, 2015, the juvenile court denied Mother's petition due to "the severity of the allegations and injuries to the minor child . . . as well as the unknown origin/individual responsible for same." The order further states that "Mother and her boyfriend, Ryl[e]n S[.], have yet to take polygraph exams despite previous suggestions of the Court that it would assist in determining the propriety of re-unification." Thereafter, on December 14, 2015, the juvenile court ratified a permanency plan, with the goal of reunification. On the same day, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory hearing. By order of December 15, 2015, the juvenile court found that Jaiden was dependent and neglected and ordered custody to remain with DCS. The court's order further states that "[j]udge would like to see a move to custody with paternal grandparents. Court wants to see Ryl[e]n S[.] take a TBI polygraph and if it shows no deception court will heavily consider the Mother [for custody]. . . ."

         Following a review hearing, on March 14, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order, stating that "the child has been placed with the paternal grandparents . . . . Ryl[e]n S[.] has not completed a polygraph exam." The court noted that the TBI would not perform the polygraph and that it would have to be obtained privately. Following a status hearing on April 11, 2016, the juvenile court entered an order, noting that "[t]he polygraph has not been completed; DCS requests that the custody of the child be released to the grandparents; the Court finds that the child was severely abused but cannot identify the perpetrator and to date there has been no factual finding that the mother was the perpetrator." The juvenile court awarded legal custody of Jaiden to his paternal grandparents. On April 15, 2016, Mother filed a notice of appeal to the Circuit Court for Scott County (the "trial court"). The ...

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