IN RE JAYDIN A. ET AL.
Assigned on Briefs November 1, 2019
from the Juvenile Court for Wilson County No. 95-JC-2017-JT-9
Charles B. Tatum, Judge
appeals the trial court's decision to terminate his
parental rights on grounds of abandonment by an incarcerated
parent and failure to manifest a willingness and ability to
assume custody. The evidence at trial showed that due to
Father's repeated criminal conduct, including two
instances where Father fled the State to escape justice, he
has had no contact with his daughter for approximately 95% of
the child's life. Because we conclude that the evidence
was clear and convincing as to both grounds for termination
and best interest, we affirm.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Juvenile
Jennings Boss, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant,
Herbert H. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; and
Amber L. Seymour, Assistant Attorney General, Nashville,
Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee Department of
Michael Kilgore, Mount Juliet, Tennessee, Guardian ad litem.
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Charles D. Susano, Jr. and Andy D. Bennett,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
December 5, 2017, Petitioner/Appellee the Tennessee
Department of Children's Services ("DCS") filed
a petition to terminate the parental rights of
Respondent/Appellant Michael M. ("Father") to his minor
child, born in March 2017. The petition alleged as grounds
abandonment by an incarcerated parent and failure to manifest
a willingness and ability to assume custody.
termination trial occurred on September 25, 2018. Much of the
testimony concerned Father's criminal history and
incarceration. Father was incarcerated at the time of trial
and had been incarcerated continuously from April 16, 2018,
until the date of trial. Father testified that he would be
automatically paroled in nine months so long as he completed
a drug program. Father admitted that he was incarcerated on
his eighteenth birthday and thereafter for the majority of
the child's life.
at the time that the child was born, Father was on probation
for possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug
paraphilia. Approximately one month after the child's
birth, Father chose to flee from Tennessee to Ohio, taking
the child and her mother along. Father was apprehended in
April 2017, and the child was taken into DCS custody at that
time. Eventually, Father was transferred back to Tennessee,
where he served approximately seven months in jail. Upon
release, Father was subject to ankle monitoring. Sixteen days
after his release, however, Father cut off his "ankle
bracelet" and fled to Texas. He was apprehended thirteen
days later and returned to Tennessee. Father further
testified that in the eighteen months following the removal
of the child, he was released and re-incarcerated on multiple
occasions, with a total of three to four months out of
incarceration, "maybe a month at a time." More
specifically, Father testified that in the four months prior
to the filing of the termination petition, he was
incarcerated except for "a week or two at a time."
admitted that a large portion of his criminal charges stemmed
from Father's drug addiction, specifically to
methamphetamine. Father testified that he is participating in
a drug treatment program in prison. Father further testified
that he is able to financially support the child due to a
disability check and recently inheriting his parents'
home. When the trial court questioned Father about whether
Father would "squander [the inheritance] on drugs,"
Father replied that "I mean, I just got to take it one
day at a time. I don't know if it's going to happen.
I just got to put my faith in God and hope it don't and
child was a little over one month old at the time of the
removal. The child was thereafter placed in the same foster
home with her half-sibling, where she remained at the time of
trial, a period of approximately eighteen months. The DCS
worker testified that the child is bonded with her foster
family. The foster family hopes to adopt both the child at
issue and her half-sibling. Following the removal of the
child, Father had no contact with the child. Although the DCS
worker testified that Father once texted her to ask for
photographs of the child, Father denied this, stating that
"I didn't have a conversation because I don't
give people my phone numbers that's involved in stuff
like that because that's a way for me to get caught. . .
. DCS can rat you out to authorities, so why would I give my
number to DCS?" Father did admit that one DCS worker did
contact him at one point prior to the termination hearing;
Father asked the DCS worker whether he should surrender his
parental rights, and the DCS worker replied that she could
not provide advice in that manner to Father.
trial court entered a final order granting DCS's petition
on October 31, 2018. Specifically, the trial court ruled that
DCS presented clear and convincing evidence of abandonment by
an incarcerated parent through wanton disregard and failure
to manifest the ability and willingness to assume custody, as
well as that termination was in the child's best
interest. Father appealed.
appeal, Father challenges only the best interest findings
made by the trial court. Because of the duty imposed on this
Court by the Tennessee Supreme Court in In re Carrington
H., 483 S.W.3d 507, 525-26 (Tenn. 2016), we will also
consider whether the grounds found by the trial court are
supported by sufficient evidence.
Standard of Review
Tennessee Supreme Court has previously explained that:
A parent's right to the care and custody of her child is
among the oldest of the judicially recognized fundamental
liberty interests protected by the Due Process Clauses of the
federal and state constitutions. Troxel v.
Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d
49 (2000); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651,
92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972); In re Angela
E., 303 S.W.3d 240, 250 (Tenn. 2010); In re Adoption
of Female Child, 896 S.W.2d 546, 547-48 (Tenn. 1995);
Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573, 578- 79 (Tenn. 1993).
But parental rights, although fundamental and
constitutionally protected, are not absolute. In re
Angela E., 303 S.W.3d at 250. "'[T]he [S]tate
as parens patriae has a special duty to protect minors. . .
.' Tennessee law, thus, upholds the [S]tate's
authority as parens patriae when interference with parenting
is necessary to prevent serious harm to a child."
Hawk, 855 S.W.2d at 580 (quoting In re
Hamilton, 657 S.W.2d 425, 429 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1983));
see also Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 747, 102
S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982); In re Angela E.,
303 S.W.3d at 250.
In re Carrington H., 483 S.W.3d 507, 522-23 (Tenn.
2016) (footnote omitted). In Tennessee, termination of
parental rights is governed by statute which identifies
"'situations in which that state's interest in
the welfare of a child justifies interference with a
parent's constitutional rights by setting forth grounds
on which termination proceedings can be brought.'"
In re Jacobe M.J., 434 S.W.3d 565, 568 (Tenn. Ct.
App. 2013) (quoting In re W.B., Nos.
M2004-00999-COA-R3-PT, M2004-01572-COA-R3-PT, 2005 WL
1021618, at *7 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 29, 2005) (citing Tenn.
Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g))). Thus, a party seeking to
terminate a parent's rights must prove: (1) existence of
one of the statutory grounds and (2) that termination is in
the child's best interest. Tenn. Code Ann. §
36-1-113(c); In re D.L.B., 118 S.W.3d 360, 367
(Tenn. 2003); In re Valentine, 79 S.W.3d 539, 546
the fundamental nature of a parent's rights, and the
serious consequences that stem from termination of those
rights, a higher standard of proof is required in determining
termination cases. Santosky, 455 U.S. at 769. As
such, a party must prove statutory grounds and the
child's best interests by clear and convincing evidence.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-113(c); In re Valentine,
79 S.W.3d at 546. Clear and convincing evidence
"establishes that the truth of the facts asserted is
highly probable . . . and eliminates any serious or
substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions
drawn from evidence[, ]" and "produces in a