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Alan O. v. Tennessee Department of Children's Services

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

December 19, 2019

ALAN O. [1]
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN'S SERVICES

          Assigned on Briefs December 2, 2019

          Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County No. 190612-3 Gregory S. McMillan, Judge

         The Appellant filed suit complaining that the Department of Children's Services denied him an administrative hearing concerning the determination that he was a child abuser. The trial court ultimately dismissed the Appellant's petition for review, noting that there had already been a prior judicial determination, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Appellant had committed severe child abuse. We affirm.

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

          Herbert H. Slattery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Amber L. Seymour Assistant Attorney General, for the appellees, State of Tennessee and Tennessee Department of Children's Services. [2]

          Alan O., Knoxville, Tennessee, Pro se.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and Frank G. Clement, Jr., P.J., M.S., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The present controversy stems in large part from prior dependency, neglect, and abuse proceedings involving Alan. O. ("the Appellant"). In those prior proceedings, the Knox County Juvenile Court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Appellant had abused his daughter. In re Emmalee O., 464 S.W.3d 311, 313 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2015). The Knox County Circuit Court, following a de novo appeal from Juvenile Court, also determined, by clear and convincing evidence, that the Appellant had committed severe child abuse. Id. Upon appeal to this Court and following a thorough review of the record below, we also held that there was clear and convincing evidence sufficient to establish severe child abuse by the Appellant. Id. The Appellant's subsequent attempts to seek appellate review by the Tennessee Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court were unsuccessful.

         Although administrative proceedings concerning the issue of the Appellant's status as an abuser had also previously been pending, the administrative proceedings were stayed while the aforementioned litigation worked its way through the courts. See Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0250-07-09-.10(1) (providing that the "Department shall stay all administrative proceedings" if "an individual whom the Department has classified in a substantiated report as a perpetrator of abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or neglect is the subject of other administrative or civil proceedings that are derived from the same allegations that caused the Department to investigate"). However, after the litigation in this Court concluded and the Appellant failed to secure review in the Tennessee Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court, further administrative activity occurred in the Department of Children's Services.

         By letter, the Appellant was informed that the Department had completed a formal file review of the child abuse investigation involving his daughter in which he was substantiated as the perpetrator. Upon noting that the allegation of sexual abuse had been upheld by the Department, the letter stated in pertinent part as follows: "Having been named in an administrative, civil or judicial proceeding that stemmed from the same allegations as the child abuse or neglect classification, the court's finding automatically terminates your review process." Although the Appellant nonetheless sought further review and specifically requested an administrative hearing, his request was denied. The Department informed the Appellant that he did not qualify for an administrative hearing given the prior judicial adjudication that he had committed severe abuse against the child at issue.

         In the wake of the Department's denial of a hearing, the Appellant filed a petition for review in the Knox County Chancery Court ("the trial court"). According to the Appellant, due process required that a hearing be provided to him. In a subsequently-filed answer and motion for dismissal, the Department moved to dismiss the Appellant's petition. In relevant part, the Department argued that the prior judicial finding of abuse, which was affirmed by this Court, was "dispositive as res judicata on the issue of whether [father's] indication as a perpetrator of sexual abuse may be further reviewed." As support, the Department relied on the following rule:

A final criminal conviction and/or civil adjudication will be conclusive evidence the individual is the perpetrator classified in the substantiated report and the individual will have no right to a hearing . . . in regard to that particular report and the Department may release ...

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