FROM THE SIXTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST.
MARTIN, NO. 15-JV-017866 HONORABLE CURTIS SIGUR, DISTRICT
Marie Johnson, Public Defender's Office, Counsel for
Appellant: D.A. (mother)
E. Cote, Attorney at Law, Counsel for Appellee: State of
Louisiana, Department of Children & Family Services
Jocelyn Sias, The Sias Firm, LLC, Counsel for Appellee: J.B.
Henderson, Raveen Hill, Mental Health Advocacy Service, Child
Advocacy Program, Counsel for Appellee: J.A. (child)
composed of Marc T. Amy, Shannon J. Gremillion, and Phyllis
M. Keaty, Judges.
PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE
D.A. appeals the judgment of the
trial court terminating her parental rights to her minor
child, J.A. For the following reasons, the trial court's
judgment is affirmed.
& PROCEDURAL HISTORY
mother, D.A., and the father, J.B., together produced one
female child, J.A., who was born on October 6, 2012. On
December 28, 2014, the State of Louisiana, Department of
Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report that
J.A. was an alleged victim of dependency, lacked parental
supervision, and lived in an inadequate shelter. Following an
initial investigation into the allegations, the DCFS
recommended that it retain temporary custody of J.A., who had
been living with her mother in the home of her maternal
grandmother, M.A. An oral instanter order was issued placing
J.A. in the temporary custody of the DCFS on January 4, 2015.
On January 7, 2015, a written instanter order with a
supporting affidavit was filed and signed by the trial court
and contained the information regarding DCFS's
investigation into the reported claims. On that same date, a
continued custody hearing was held which resulted in the
trial court signing a formal judgment maintaining custody of
J.A. with the DCFS. On January 8, 2015, the State filed a
Petition of Child in Need of Care alleging that J.A. was a
victim of neglect as defined under La.Ch.Code art. 603(18),
secondary to the mother's substance abuse and mental
health illness along with the absence of the father. The
allegations contained in the petition were denied by D.A. at
the answer hearing on February 12, 2015. The trial court
thereafter granted the State's request in its petition.
an adjudication hearing and pursuant to the trial court's
written judgment dated March 10, 2015, J.A. was adjudicated a
child in need of care. The trial court found that it was in
J.A.'s best interest to remain in the custody of the
DCFS. The written judgment advised D.A. of the case review
and permanency review procedure along with her obligation to
cooperate with the department and to comply with all of the
case plan's requirements. According to the judgment,
failure to comply with the case plan could result in
termination of parental rights.
multiple permanency review hearings occurred wherein the
trial court was presented with a DCFS case plan, DCFS
progress reports, and supporting evidence. Initially, the
DCFS formulated a court-approved case plan outlining a
strategy for reunification between D.A. and J.A. The strategy
for reunification subsequently changed to adoption based upon
D.A.'s continued substance abuse and mental health
3, 2016, the DCFS filed a formal Petition for Termination of
Parental Rights and Certificate of Adoption, seeking to
terminate D.A. and J.B.'s parental rights and clear the
way for the foster parent to adopt J.A. Trial on the petition
occurred on August 19, 2016. After considering the testimony
and evidence offered at trial, the trial court orally
terminated the father's parental rights and continued the
matter with respect to the termination of D.A.'s parental
rights. The matter proceeded to trial on October 31, 2016.
After hearing the testimony and evidence presented, the trial
court terminated D.A.'s parental rights for reasons
stated in open court. It subsequently issued a written
Judgment of Termination of Parental Rights and Certification
for Adoption on November 16, 2016, terminating the parental
rights of both parents. D.A. appealed.
appeal was lodged with this court on May 30, 2017. On May 31,
2017, we issued a rule for D.A. to show cause why the appeal
should not be dismissed as untimely filed. Based on the
allegations contained in the Appellant's response brief,
this court ordered a limited remand to allow the trial court
to conduct a contradictory hearing on the untimeliness issue.
State in Interest of J.A., 17-500 (La.App. 3 Cir.
6/28/17), 224 So.3d 411. According to trial court's
minutes dated August 18, 2017, which is in the supplemental
record on review, the trial court found that D.A.'s
appeal was timely filed.
appeal, D.A. contends that the trial court erred in granting
judgment in favor of the DCFS, terminating her parental
a termination proceeding, the appellate court will not set
aside the trial court's findings of fact unless it was
manifestly erroneous." State in Interest of
J.M.L., 47, 201, p. 5 (La.App. 2 Cir. 4/11/12), 92 So.3d
447, 450. Questions of fact in a proceeding for termination
of parental rights include the "issue of parental
compliance with a case plan, the parent's expected
success of rehabilitation, and the expectation of significant
improvement in the parent's condition and conduct."
assignment of error, D.A. contends that the trial court erred
in granting judgment in favor of the DCFS, terminating her
parent has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in
establishing and maintaining a meaningful relationship with
his or her children. State in Interest of A.C.,
93-1125 (La. 1/27/94), 643 So.2d 719. This parental interest
includes the "care, custody, and management of their
child." State ex rel. J.M., 02-2089, p. 7 (La.
1/28/03), 837 So.2d 1247, 1252. Consistent with the parental
interest, the state has a legitimate interest in limiting or
terminating parental rights under certain conditions.
Id. Because termination of parental rights is a
severe action, the state bears the burden of establishing
each element of a ground for termination by clear and
convincing evidence. La.Ch.Code art. 1035; State ex rel.
B.H. v. A.H., 42, 864 (La.App. 2 Cir. 10/24/07), 968
So.2d 881. The statutory grounds for involuntary termination
of parental rights are found in La.Ch.Code art. 1015,
although "only one ground need be established."
State ex rel. B.H., 968 So.2d at 885. Once a ground
for termination has been established, the parental rights may
be terminated by the trial court if it is in the child's
best interest. Id.; La.Ch.Code art. 1037.
case, the trial court's written judgment states that the
DCFS "met its burden of proof by clear and convincing
evidence under Louisiana Children's Code Articles 1015(4)
(now 1015(5) and 1015(5) (now 1015(6)[.]" It explained:
[T]hat at least one year has elapsed since the child was
removed from the parents' custody pursuant to a court
order; case plans for services as to the minor child were
formulated for the mother and father and approved by the
court; that said parents have failed to substantially comply
with their respective case plans, including but not limited
to a lack of mental health treatment and substance abuse
treatment; that for a period of at least four months as of
the time of the trial, despite a diligent search, the
whereabouts of the child's father continued to be
unknown, that the father has failed to maintain significant
contact with the child by visiting her or communicating with
her for any period of six consecutive months; that said
parents have failed to provide significant contributions to
their child's care and support for a consecutive six
month period; that the conditions that led to the removal or
similar potentially harmful conditions continue to persist;
that there is no reasonable expectation of significant
improvement in said parents' condition or conduct in the
near future; that termination of parental rights is in the
best interest of the minor child, [J.A.], for the reason set
trial court's judgment terminating D.A.'s parental
rights was based upon the following grounds ...