Assigned on Briefs May 1, 2019
from the Juvenile Court for Hamilton County Nos. 281780;
281781; 281782 Robert D. Philyaw, Judge
action involves the termination of a father's parental
rights to his minor children. Following a bench trial, the
trial court found that clear and convincing evidence existed
to support the statutory ground of severe child abuse and
that termination was in the best interest of the children. We
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Court Affirmed; Case Remanded
B. Pyle, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Jermichael J., Sr.
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General & Reporter, and
Jordan K. Crews, Assistant Attorney General, for the
appellee, State of Tennessee, Department of Children's
W. McClarty, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Richard H. Dinkins and Arnold B. Goldin, JJ., joined.
W. McCLARTY, JUDGE
Areial, and Jermichael, Jr. (collectively "the
Children") were born to Desanta D. ("Mother")
and Jermichael J., Sr. in August 2010, July 2012, and May
2014, respectively. Mother and Father ("the
Parents") resided together with the Children in a
one-bedroom motel suite in Chattanooga. The front room was
converted into a bedroom for the Parents, while the Children
shared the one bedroom.
February 20, 2015, the Tennessee Department of Children's
Services ("DCS") received a referral with
allegations of lack of supervision and drug exposure. This
was not the first referral in which DCS investigated the
Parents and their care of the Children. Jennifer Lambert, a
DCS investigator, visited the home on March 2, 2015, and
found Mother alone with the Children and the home in disarray
with chemicals, clothing, trash, food, empty cans, and other
items strewn about. Mother admitted use of marijuana and
submitted to a drug screen that confirmed her admission. Ms.
Lambert advised Mother to inform Father of the visit and to
clean the home before she returned in one week.
Lambert returned on March 9. Mother had made significant
progress at that time; however, Ms. Lambert provided Mother
with additional information for resources to assist her
further in her care of the Children.
DCS received another referral on April 27 with new
allegations of environmental neglect and drug exposure. Ms.
Lambert, along with another investigator, returned on April
28. Ms. Lambert found Mother alone with the Children again.
The home was in disarray, and the Children were confined to
their bedroom. The bedroom was "filthy" and
"cluttered," and Jermichael, Jr. had a soiled
diaper, with "feces running down the sides of his
legs" and "up his back." Ms. Lambert
questioned Mother about the living conditions and reminded
her that she had agreed to accept services and complete
certain tasks. Mother admitted her lack of effort and also
that she would test positive for marijuana. Ms. Lambert
advised Mother that she would return.
Lambert attempted a visit in May 2015; however, no one
answered the door. She returned on June 15. Again, no one
answered the door; however, Ms. Lambert asked the motel
office to call Mother's room. Mother answered. At that
point, Ms. Lambert requested police assistance, and once
enforcement arrived, she observed Mother standing in the
hallway outside the residence. Mother gave permission to
enter the home, which emitted a strong odor of urine and
feces. Ms. Lambert found the Children in the bedroom, which
was covered in feces, garbage, and roaches. The Children were
also covered in feces. At some point, Father arrived and was
shown the Children's living conditions. He explained that
he worked seven days per week and was unaware of the state of
the Children's bedroom. Mother was arrested, and the
Children were taken to the hospital.
the hospital, the Children were cleaned and examined. Medical
personnel shaved Janiyah and Areial's hair because their
hair was matted with feces and could not be adequately
cleaned, despite persistent attempts to remove the fecal
matter. Jermichael, Jr. was diagnosed with Rickett's, and
Areial's bones showed signs of demineralization. All
three children also tested positive for marijuana. Janiyah
and Areial were later diagnosed with severe developmental
delays. The girls were placed in the same foster home at the
time of removal. Jermichael, Jr. later joined them on
February 2, 2018.
Parents were charged with three counts of aggravated child
neglect. They pled guilty, and received sentences of
probation. The Children were adjudicated as dependent and
neglected. The Hamilton County Juvenile Court also found the
Parents guilty of severe abuse by final order, entered on
March 24, 2017. The order was appealed to the Circuit Court;
however, an agreed order was entered dismissing the appeal on
December 1, 2017.
DCS developed a permanency plan in which the Parents were
tasked with various responsibilities, including refraining
from drug use, completing an alcohol and drug assessment and
a mental health assessment, submitting to random drug
screens, securing and maintaining stable housing and income,
and ensuring that the home was free from environmental
concerns and other issues.
March 12, 2018, DCS filed a petition to terminate
Father's parental rights based upon the statutory ground
of severe child abuse. The case proceeded to a hearing, at which
several witnesses testified. As pertinent to this appeal, Ms.
Lambert testified that there were five prior investigations
concerning the family before the current investigation that
began in February 2015. She admitted that she did not call
Father prior to the Children's removal on June 15 but
explained that Mother advised her that they did not have
cellular telephones. She recalled that Father arrived during
the removal process. At that time, he admitted that the
current living environment was uninhabitable and inhumane. He
further acknowledged that he also lived in the residence and
had been advised of her prior visits.
testified that she was currently not in a position to care
for the Children but claimed that Father was ready and
willing to assume responsibility for them. She believed he
could provide appropriate care for them. She asserted that he
provided for them prior to their removal and interacted with
them when he came home from work. She stated that he
currently lived with his grandmother in a nice neighborhood.
confirmed that he lived with his grandmother and has resided
there since 2015. He stated that he was working 8 to 12-hour
shifts at the time of the Children's removal. He alleged
that Mother was "always cleaning" when he arrived
home after his shifts. He claimed that he always smelled
bleach and that the residence was always clean when he
returned home. He stated that on June 15, he left for work
around 5:30 a.m. and returned around 3:30 p.m. He agreed that
the residence was "a little messed up" that week
and claimed that he advised Mother to "get everything
together" and that they had cleaned some that morning.
He claimed that the fecal matter strewn throughout the
residence looked like "candy" to him and that the
stains on the mattress were caused by juice. He also denied
knowledge of Mother's marijuana use in the home. He
admitted that he knew she smoked marijuana but claimed that
he advised her not to smoke marijuana in the home while
caring for the Children.
admitted that Mother could not provide appropriate care for
the Children. He claimed that he was unaware of her need for
mental health treatment prior to removal but that he was
ready and willing to care for the Children in her stead. He
believed he also had an adequate support system to assist him
in caring for them. He stated that he had housing and
employment that ...