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In re B.L.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

April 6, 2018

In re B.L., et al.

          Assigned on Briefs August 1, 2017

          Appeal from the Juvenile Court for Marion County No. 23-73B Ronnie J. T. Blevins, II, Judge

         In this termination of parental rights case, the Department of Children's Services filed a petition to terminate the rights of J.R.L. (mother) with respect to her two children, B.M.L. and Z.A.L (the children). DCS alleged four grounds for termination: (1) abandonment by failure to support; (2) failure to provide a suitable home; (3) substantial noncompliance with a permanency plan; and (4) persistence of conditions. DCS did not seek in the trial court to support the ground of failure to support. The court found clear and convincing evidence of (1) mother's failure to provide a suitable home; (2) mother's failure to substantially comply with the permanency plan; and (3) persistence of conditions. The court also found clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the best interest of the children. Mother appeals. We affirm.

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

          Cara Rains Sapp, Jasper, Tennessee, for the appellant, J.R.L.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter, and W. Derek Green, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

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

          OPINION

          CHARLES D. SUSANO, JR., JUDGE

         I.

         DCS became involved in this case because mother and the children were among seven people living in a small travel trailer. The living conditions were unsanitary. At trial, mother admitted that the camper was "in horrendous condition . . . just a crazy way to live." DCS filed a petition for temporary custody of the children. Mother failed to appear at the scheduled hearing. It was reset by the court. Two days before the new hearing date, DCS received a referral that mother and the children were homeless. DCS arranged for them to stay at a hotel temporarily. On August 17, 2015, the children were adjudicated dependent and neglected and placed in DCS custody.

         On September 1, 2015, DCS developed a permanency plan with mother's participation. The overall focus of the plan was on mother's lack of appropriate housing and stable employment. The initial permanency plan required: (1) mother to submit to drug screens; (2) that any adult living with mother be subject to drug screens; (3) that mother submit to a background check; (4) that any adult in mother's home submit to a background check; (5) that mother complete a parenting class; (6) that mother maintain a home for at least three months without moving; and (7) that mother ensure that the residence be free of all safety hazards, cleaned regularly, and baby-proofed. The permanency plan was later revised to add the following requirements: (1) that mother have legal, verifiable income; and (2) that mother demonstrate good hygiene for the children.

         After the permanency plan was developed, suitable housing remained an issue for mother. At one point, mother lived in a house that did not belong to her, preventing DCS from performing random home visits. Mother also never asked DCS to perform a safety inspection of the home to determine if it met its minimum safety requirements. Subsequently, mother moved into her father's home. That home was unsuitable because it had structural problems, such as the floors falling through. Mother later moved to Georgia. The home in Georgia was not suitable because it lacked outlet covers and cabinet locks. Mother then returned to her father's home that had previously been determined unsuitable. Later, mother again returned to Georgia. That house was unsuitable because there were concerns about her roommates who refused to submit to background checks, and the home was cluttered and messy.

         On November 4, 2016, DCS filed a petition to terminate mother's parental rights. As grounds for termination, DCS alleged the following: (1) abandonment by failure to support pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(i); (2) failure to provide a suitable home pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(ii); (3) substantial noncompliance with the permanency plan pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(2) and 37-2-403(a)(2)(C); and (4) persistence of conditions pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(3).

         The trial court found that "no proof was put on regarding child support" and dismissed that ground. With respect to the failure to provide a suitable home, the court found the following:

[Mother] did not provide a suitable home during the first four months of removal after assistance by DCS. In fact, she never provided a suitable home in the year and a half duration of this case, leading to this termination proceeding. DCS utilized reasonable efforts from the very beginning to assist the mother through housing and employment information. They provided transportation, even 4 gas cards. They encouraged her not to move to Georgia, due to difficulty to assist, and encouraged her to move back to Tennessee after she was denied by Georgia through the ICPC. The mother refused to heed the advice not to move, nor move back.
The mother has shown a total lack of concern for making reasonable efforts for reunification. She refused assistance when she was homeless in Pikeville. She refused to fill out an application for the housing authority provided by representative Jerry Walker. She quit her employment at a nursing home, knowing the importance to establish stability and have income for housing. She refused financial assistance from DCS, which would have assisted her in establishing a residence. Her testimony was that, the only residence she thought was appropriate was on Cherry Street in Dunlap. For some unfathomable reason she never notified DCS that she obtained such housing, or could not remain there. She still, as of the hearing upon February 7, 2017, she had just moved back to Tennessee, and has not obtained suitable housing.
The children have been in state custody for a year and a half, and are in need of stability and permanency. The mother has shown that she is no closer to stability of employment or residence, than she was the day the children came into state custody.

         The trial court also found that mother failed to substantially comply with the permanency plan. With respect to that ground, the trial court stated the following:

[Mother] knew that all she needed to do was have appropriate housing. She never did so. She moved numerous times.Still, at the end of the hearing, she was instable, with no housing, again living with someone for a temporary duration. This has been her pattern throughout the case. She never maintained employment for any duration.

         The court also found that the conditions leading to the removal of the children still persisted. The court noted that "[t]here is no likelihood of any early remedy of conditions. There is an adoptive home ready and available for permanency for the children."

         With respect to the children's best interest, the trial court found as follows:

[T]he best interest for the children to have permanency and stability is to be adopted into an available loving and available home. The matter is by law, viewed from the children's perspective, now that the statutory grounds have been clear and convincingly met. Visitations by the mother were disruptive. . . . Any bond that exists between the children and the mother is natural but surmounted by a loving home where they have bonded for quite some time. They call the foster mom, mom. In essence, this is the children's chance to have a normal future.

         Mother appeals.

         II.

         Mother raises the ...


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