STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF M.F. STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF K.N.
appeal from the Seventeenth Judicial District Court In and
for the Parish of Lafourche State of Louisiana Docket Number
13045 c/w 13141 Honorable Steven Miller, Judge Presiding
Camille A. Morvant II District Attorney Anthony P. Lewis
Assistant District Attorney Thibodaux, LA Counsel for
Appellee State of Louisiana
A. Mitchell Houma, LA Counsel for Appellee State of
Louisiana, Department of Children and Family Services
Arceneaux Houma, LA Counsel for Appellees M.F. and K.N.
D. King Houma, LA Counsel for Appellant M.N.
Cheramie Stentz Thibodaux, LA Counsel for Appellant J.F.
BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.
whose parental rights were terminated, filed this appeal to
challenge the trial court's determination that the State
of Louisiana, through the Department of Children and Family
Services (DCFS), was not required to attempt to reunify the
parents with their children prior to terminating their
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
13, 2015, J.F. gave birth to M.F. At the time of
M.F.'s birth, J.F. tested positive for cocaine, THC,
opiates, and benzodiazepines. M.F. was found to be a drug
affected newborn when a subsequent test revealed
benzodiazepines in his urine. As a result of M.F.'s drug
exposure, DCFS sought and was issued an instanter order to
have M.F. placed in DCFS's custody pending further
investigation and proceedings. The Seventeenth Judicial
District Attorney's Office (DA) later filed a petition
seeking to have M.F. adjudicated a child in need of care
(CINC petition). Following an answer hearing, during which
the court found that the allegations of the petition had been
proven by a preponderance of the evidence, the trial court
adjudicated M.F. a child in need of care.
September 3, 2015, the DA amended the CINC petition to
identify M.N. as the father of M.F. As M.N. did not
participate in the prior answer hearing, a second answer
hearing was held at which both J.F. and M.N. appeared.
Following the second answer hearing, the trial court again
rendered judgment adjudicating M.F. a child in need of care.
months after M.F. came into state custody, DCFS sought and
was issued an instanter order to have M.F.'s older
sibling, K.N., placed in its custody. M.N. was the legal
custodian of K.N. at the time DCFS obtained custody of K.N.
pursuant to the instanter order. The instanter order placing
K.N. in DCFS's custody was issued based on J.F. testing
positive in drug screens, J.F. attending parenting classes
while under the influence of drugs, and M.N. admitting that
he left K.N. in the care of J.F. when he was absent from home
for work. The DA later filed a CINC petition to have
K.N. adjudicated a child in need of care based on the same
grounds, noting in particular that the parenting classes at
which J.F. appeared under the influence of drugs were the
ones she was required to attend as part of her case
for M.F. The petition also referenced the fact that J.F.
failed a hair follicle drug screen conducted by DCFS on
October 9, 2015, when she tested positive for amphetamines,
cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiates, and that she failed a
urine drug screen ordered by the trial court on October 17,
2015, when she again tested positive for amphetamines,
cocaine, methamphetamines, and opiates. At the answer hearing
to the CINC petition for K.N., M.N. and J.F. stipulated to
K.N. being adjudicated a child in need of care without
admitting to the allegations of the petition.
six months after K.N. came into state custody, DCFS filed a
petition seeking to terminate the parental rights of J.F. and
M.N. to M.F. and K.N., alleging that J.F. and M.N.'s
"parental rights to four siblings of [K.N. and M.F.]
were terminated due to neglect or abuse and prior attempts to
rehabilitate the parents have been unsuccessful. Despite
intervention by the agency, the parents did not
rehabilitate." See La. Ch.C. art.
1015(4)(k). Although only a single petition was filed
seeking to terminate both parents' parental rights to the
children, on August 10, 2016, DCFS made an oral motion in
open court (as prompted by the trial court and to which
counsel for K.N. and M.F. agreed and counsel for J.F. and
M.N. did not object) to consolidate the actions to terminate
the parental rights of J.F. and M.N. to K.N. and M.F. Thus,
the actions were consolidated.
hearing on termination of the parental rights of J.F. and
M.N. was held on November 14, 2016. Following the hearing,
the trial court ordered the parties to file post-trial briefs
and took the matter under advisement. The trial court later
rendered judgment terminating the parental rights of J.F. and
M.N. to K.N. and M.F., based on both parents failing to
comply with their case plans - - J.F. due to testing positive
on drug tests and M.N. due to his work schedule. The court
made particular note of its disagreement with M.N.'s
belief that it was appropriate and acceptable to leave the
children in the care of J.F. during his extended absences
from home for work.
the court found that the parental rights of J.F. and M.N. had
been terminated to one or more of the children's siblings
due to neglect or abuse, that prior attempts to rehabilitate
them had been unsuccessful, and that current attempts to
reunite the children with their parents were not required
pursuant to La. Ch.C. art. 672.1. Thus, considering that the
children had been consistently maintained for a significant
period of time in the same foster home, which family was
willing to adopt both children, the court found it in the
best interest of the children to terminate the parental
rights of J.F. and M.N. An amended judgment terminating the
parental rights of J.F. and M.N. was signed by the trial
court on February 14, 2017,  which both J.F. and M.N. have
every involuntary termination of parental rights case, there
are two private interests involved: those of the parents and
those of the child. State ex rel. H.A.B., 10-1111,
p. 28 (La. 10/19/10), 49 So.3d 345, 366. While a parent's
interests undeniably warrant deference, that deference and
protection should always bow to the child's
countervailing interests, which are deemed to be superior and
paramount. See H.A.B., 10-1111 at p. 29, 49 So.3d at
366. Louisiana Children's Code article 1015 provides the
statutory grounds by which a court may involuntarily
terminate the rights and privileges of parents. In order to
terminate a person's parental rights, the court must find
the State has established at least one of the statutory
grounds contained in Article 1015 by clear and convincing
evidence. See La. Ch.C. art. 1035(A).
Notwithstanding, even upon finding the State has met its
evidentiary burden, a court still should not terminate
parental rights unless it determines to do so is in the
child's best interest. La. Ch.C. art. 1037(B). Whether
termination of parental rights is warranted is a question of
fact, and a trial court's factual determinations will not
be set aside in the absence of manifest error.
H.A.B., 10-1111 at p. 31, 49 So.3d at 368.
case, the trial court terminated the parental rights of J.F.
and M.N. to M.F. and K.N. pursuant to La. Ch.C. art.
1015(4)(k), which provides the following basis for the
termination of parental rights:
(4) Misconduct of the parent toward this child or any other
child of the parent or any other child which constitutes
extreme abuse, cruel and inhuman treatment, or grossly
negligent behavior below a reasonable standard of human
decency, including but not limited to the conviction,
commission, aiding or abetting, attempting, conspiring, or
soliciting to commit any of the following:
(k) The parent's parental rights to one or more of the
child's siblings have been terminated due to neglect or
abuse, prior attempts to rehabilitate the parent have been
unsuccessful, and the court has determined pursuant to
Article 672.1, that current attempts to reunite the family
are not required.
appeal, both J.F. and M.N. acknowledge that three conditions
are required to be met in order for a person's parental
rights to be terminated under Article 1015(4)(k); however, in
their briefs to this court, J.F. asserts that the evidence in
the record is insufficient to establish the third condition
of Article 1015(4)(k), whereas M.N. asserts that, at least as
to him, DCFS failed to prove any ...