STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF A.S., Z.H., Z.H. AND X.H.
FROM 25TH JDC, PARISH OF PLAQUEMINES NO. J-2015-010-C,
DIVISION "B" Honorable Michael D. Clement.
Elizabeth Lincoln STATE OF LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN
AND FAMILY SERVICES COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE/STATE OF LOUISIANA.
Caine Harrell H2 LAW, LLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.
composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Roland
Belsome, Judge Regina Bartholomew Woods).
Bartholomew Woods Judge.
case, a mother, Calendria Houston, appeals the involuntary
termination of her parental rights to her minor children,
A.S., Z.H., Z.H., and X.H.For the following reasons, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Appellant, Calendria Houston ("Appellant"), is the
mother of the following minor children: J.S. (born November
9, 2010), A.S. (born February 29, 2012), Z.H. and Z.H. (twins
born February 26, 2014), and X. H. and K.H. (twins born
December 7, 2014). On March 15, 2015, law enforcement
officers responded to a call at the Appellant's home
where three-month old K.H. was found dead in the crib that
she shared with her twin and the other five (5) children were
found severely undernourished and developmentally delayed;
the officers suspected that Appellant and her husband, Xavier
Houston ("Mr. Houston") either refused or
unreasonably failed to provide adequate care for the deceased
child and the surviving minor children. The Louisiana
Department of Child and Family Services ("DCFS")
received a report from law enforcement, which was later
confirmed by a DCFS investigator, that Appellant's home
was inadequate and in disarray, and that the children had
severe diaper rashes and bruising. On that same date,
pursuant to an Instanter Order, the remaining five (5) minor
children were taken into the custody of the DCFS. On April
14, 2015, DCFS filed a petition for children in need of care
for each of Appellant's minor children. On April 15,
2015, Mr. Houston and Appellant attended a DCFS family team
conference and signed their case plan with a goal of
reunification of the family, with a concurrent goal of
adoption.  Appellant worked her case plan until May
27, 2015, when Appellant was arrested and charged with
Second-Degree Murder of K.H., Cruelty to Juveniles, and
Second-Degree Cruelty to Juveniles. Appellant's bond was
set at $350, 000. On May 28, 2015, Appellant, without
admitting the truth of the allegations contained within the
petition for children in need of care, stipulated that her
minor children were in need of care. On that same date, J.S.
was placed into the custody of his biological father, Joshua
Wheatley, and is not a part of this proceeding. Subsequently,
Mr. Houston pled guilty and was sentenced to more than ten
(10) years of imprisonment; Mr. Houston is not a party to
to fulfill the financial obligations of her bond, Appellant
has remained in pre-adjudication custody since her arrest.
Approximately ten (10) months after Appellant's arrest
and pre-trial detention, on March 23, 2016, DCFS filed a
Petition for Termination of Parental Rights. In the petition,
DCFS alleged, inter alia, the following:
(1) [Appellant] did engage in misconduct towards each child
and the deceased sibling in a manner that constitutes extreme
abuse, cruel and inhuman treatment, and/or grossly negligent
behavior below a reasonable standard of human decency by
(a) starvation by neglecting to feed the children adequately
resulting in the children being severely underweight
(b)abuse or neglect which was chronic and life threatening
and did result in the death of one child
(2) [Appellant] has failed to maintain stable and safe
(3) [Appellant] has failed to make any … parental
(4) [Appellant] has failed to comply with the visitation
schedule with her children;
(5) [Appellant] has failed to participate in and successfully
complete a qualified parenting program;
(6) [Appellant] has failed to acknowledge and take
responsibility for the extreme harm that her children
suffered while in her care due to her neglect
November 14, 2016, the trial court rendered a judgment, which
terminated Appellant's parental rights to her minor
children. In a separate document, the trial court issued
"Reasons for Judgment, " which set forth the
grounds upon which Appellant's rights were terminated. It
is from this judgment that Appellant appeals.
well-settled that a trial court's findings on
factually-intense termination of parental rights
issues-including a parent's compliance with a case plan,
and whether termination is in the children's best
interests-are reviewed on appeal under a manifest error
standard of review. State in Interest of T.M.P.,
13-1006, p. 21 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/23/13), 126 So.3d 741, 754.
it is not raised as an assignment of error, DCFS argues that
the subject matter jurisdiction lapsed and cannot be
re-instated. The judgment terminating parental rights was
signed on November 14, 2016. On November 15, 2016, the St.
Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office "walked" the
judgment to counsel for the Appellant. On December 5, 2016,
counsel for Appellant filed a motion for appeal. DCFS moved
the trial court to deny the motion for appeal as untimely.
The trial court ruled that Appellant's motion for appeal
was premature. On December 12, 2016, the trial court mailed
the judgment of termination of parental rights to counsel for
the State and the parents. On December 15, 2016, counsel for
Appellant filed a Notice of Appeal.
asserts that the 25th Judicial District relies on
the local custom of personal service through the St. Bernard
Parish Sheriffs Office; thus DCFS asserts that the clock for
timely filing of a Notice of Appeal begins at that moment.
However, Article 332 of the Louisiana Children's Code
states, in pertinent part, that "appeals shall be taken
within fifteen days from the mailing of the notice
of the judgment." (Emphasis added). The "starting point
for interpreting a statute is the language of the statute
itself." Consumer Prod. Safety Comm'n v. GTE
Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108, 100 S.Ct. 2051, 2056,
64 L.Ed.2d 766 (1980). The legislature is presumed to mean
what it plainly says in the text of a statute. Cat's
Meow v. City of New Orleans, 98-0601, p. 15 (La.
10/20/98), 720 So.2d 1186, 1198. "Courts must presume
that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means
in a statute what it says there." State v.
Williams, 10-1514, p. 6 (La. 3/15/11), 60 So.3d 1189,
1192. "When a law is clear and unambiguous, and its
application does not lead to absurd consequences, it shall be
applied as written." Id. In the instant matter,
the mailing of the judgment, not the custom or practice of
the Sheriff's Office, marked the start of the time delay
for filing a Notice of Appeal. Therefore, DCFS's argument
that subject matter jurisdiction lapsed is without merit. We
find the Notice of Appeal timely and as such, will consider
the merits of Appellant's appeal.