IN RE DAKOTA M. ET AL.
Session April 17, 2018
from the Juvenile Court for Loudon County No. 17-JV-140 Henry
E. Sledge, Magistrate
rights to his son were terminated based upon his stipulation
that the Department of Children's Services could prove
that grounds to terminate existed and upon the Court's
conclusion that termination was in the child's best
interest. Father appeals. Upon our review, we conclude that
Father's stipulation that the evidence satisfied the
statutory grounds for termination was a nullity. We also
conclude that the trial court's order does not contain
adequate factual findings with respect to the grounds for
termination to provide for a meaningful review. Accordingly,
we vacate the judgment of the court and remand the case.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Vacated and Remanded
McCabe, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Dusty P.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
Erin A. Shackelford, Assistant Attorney General; for the
appellee, Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Christine L. Dummer, Knoxville, Tennessee, Guardian ad litem.
Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court,
in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Thomas R. Frierson, II,
RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE.
appeal, Dusty P., the father of Dakota M., appeals the
termination of his parental rights. We adapt the Statement of
Facts from the brief of the Department of Children's
Services for the factual and procedural history of the case:
On March 22, 2016, the Department of Children's Services
filed a petition in the juvenile court, requesting the court
find Dakota to be dependent and neglected based upon
allegations of drug use by Chastity M[.], Dakota's mother
("Mother"). The petition named Mother and Dusty [P.],
father of Dakota, ("Father") as
respondents. Father's location was unknown at the
time the petition was filed.
Dakota was placed in the protective custody of the court and
an order controlling the parents' conduct was entered on
March 22, 2016. Mother was ordered to comply with a
non-custodial permanency plan, which included completing a
hair follicle or nail bed test, mental health and alcohol and
drug assessments, following all recommendations of the
assessments, completing random urine screens, and maintaining
sobriety. Father was to present himself to DCS and the court
for a determination of his fitness to parent.
A preliminary hearing was set for March 28, 2016, but was
rescheduled for April 11, 2016. Only Mother appeared for the
hearing as the fathers' whereabouts were still unknown.
The court found probable cause that Dakota was dependent and
neglected as alleged in the petition and that prior orders
remained in effect. An adjudicatory hearing was set for April
25, 2016. The adjudicatory hearing was continued to May 2,
2016, so Mother could appear. The whereabouts of Father were
… Mother and Father both appeared at the May 2, 2016
hearing. Mother waived the adjudicatory hearing and
stipulated that the facts in the petition were true. The
court found that Dakota was dependent and neglected, but that
there were no allegations of neglect against Father at that
DCS then filed a petition in response to the court's
bench order again requesting the court to find Dakota
dependent and neglected. Mother and Father appeared at the
hearing held on July 11, 2016. Mother waived her adjudicatory
hearing and stipulated that Dakota was dependent and
neglected. Father waived his preliminary hearing.
Father participated in the development of a permanency plan
on June 7, 2016. The plan was ratified at a hearing held on
July 11, 2016. Father was present at the hearing, was
provided with the Criteria & Procedures for Termination
of Parental Rights, and was in agreement with the permanency
plan. The permanency plan set forth a list of requirements
that Father needed to satisfy before Dakota could be placed
in his custody. The permanency plan was "shorter than
[the Department] typically makes, and required that Father:
(1) obtain safe and stable housing, reliable transportation,
and legal means of income and provide the Department with
proof, (2) participate in regularly scheduled visitation, (3)
submit to drug screens and pill counts to monitor his
medication, (4) and maintain contact with the Department and
notify them of any changes. . . . The juvenile court ratified
the plan and found that Father's responsibilities under
the plan were reasonably related to remedying the reasons for
Father had notice, but failed to appear for a hearing on
November 28, 2016, though he was represented by counsel. At
the hearing, the court found Dakota was dependent and
neglected as Father did not have appropriate housing, income,
or transportation, and he had driven Dakota without a
license. A permanency hearing was held on January 9, 2017.
The court found Father was not in compliance with the
permanency plan as he had completed only very minimal tasks.
Father also failed to appear for a permanency hearing held on
May 8, 2017. The court found he was not in compliance with
the permanency plan as he had not completed any steps and had
not seen Dakota or participated in six months.
(Citations to the record omitted.)
filed the petition to terminate parental rights on March 28,
2017. Pertinent to Father, the petition alleged as grounds:
abandonment by failure to visit (Tenn. Code Ann. §§
36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(i)); abandonment by failure
to support (Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 36-1-113(g)(1) and
36-1-102(1)(A)(i)); abandonment by an incarcerated
parent's failure to visit, failure to support, and by
engaging in conduct that exhibited wanton disregard for the
children's welfare (Tenn. Code Ann. §§
36-1-113(g)(1) and 36-1-102(1)(A)(iv)); substantial
noncompliance with the permanency plan (Tenn. ...