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In re Termination of Parental Rights to Minor Child Baby A

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

January 9, 2018

IN RE: TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS TO THE MINOR CHILD BABY A

         On Appeal from the Juvenile Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. A10743 Honorable Adam J. Haney, Judge Presiding

          Scott S. McCormick Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Appellant DM, II.

          Rebecca L. Norton Baton Rouge, LA Attorney for Baby A.

          Harry W. Ezim Dean M. Esposito Baton Rouge, LA Mark D. Plaisance Thibodaux, LA Attorneys for Appellee St. Elizabeth Foundation.

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTFIAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         In this appeal, DM, the biological father of Baby A, challenges the trial court's denial of his opposition to Baby A's adoption, finding that he failed to carry his burden of proof to establish his parental rights under La. Ch. Code art. 1138.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         DM candidly acknowledged that he has struggled with drug addiction since he was 18 years old. In 2014, DM attended Right Steps Treatment Center for his addiction to synthetic marijuana. After the death of his grandfather in 2015, DM relapsed and began using methamphetamines. On June 21, 2015, DM was arrested for possession of methamphetamines in Calcasieu Parish, and as a consequence, DM reentered drug treatment at Woodlake Addiction Recovery in Ethel, Louisiana. After completion of this drug treatment program, DM lived in a sober living community, where he used heroin for the first time. He then returned to treatment at Woodlake, completed the program, and upon release suffered a heroin relapse. In early 2016, he began treatment at Woodlake in Ethel again and afterward entered into intensive outpatient rehabilitation at Woodlake in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While at Woodlake, in April 2016, DM met LA, the biological mother of Baby A, and they began a romantic relationship.

         Within a few weeks of their relationship, LA informed DM that she was pregnant and that he might be the father. DM expressed to LA that if he was the father, he wanted to raise the baby and did not want to put the baby up for adoption. Early in LA's pregnancy, DM provided transportation to LA for her pre-natal appointments, and purchased anti-nausea medicine and pre-natal vitamins for her. On several occasions DM encouraged LA, who continued to struggle with addiction, to enter a drug rehabilitation program. During that time, DM and LA lived together for a few weeks, and DM took care of LA's three-year-old daughter. For a short time, DM was employed with an asphalt plant, but was eventually fired. LA acknowledged that DM took care of her pregnancy more then she took care of her pregnancy.

         Unfortunately, DM again relapsed and entered Woodlake in Ethel at the end of July. He was there only a short time, but re-entered Woodlake at the end of August and was there through most of September. During his time at Woodlake, DM was unable to communicate with LA and was unable to continue to provide support for LA. After leaving Woodlake, DM purchased drugs from a dealer, and used them with LA. DM admitted that he and LA used drugs together while she was pregnant, but he said it was less than 15 times.

         On November 25, 2016, DM was arrested for highway obstruction, and while in jail was served with a warrant for felony theft because he had stolen a ring from his mother in order to pawn it. As a result of the theft charges, he was ordered to a pretrial diversion program at Teen Challenge Rehabilitation. He was there for less than a month, and left because he did not feel it was working. After leaving Teen Challenge, DM admitted to using marijuana. In December 2016, DM began another rehabilitation program at Freedom Ministries, which is a year-long program.

         On January 17, 2017, LA filed a notice of intent to surrender the child for adoption to the St. Elizabeth Foundation. In her notice, LA listed two alleged fathers, DM and JL. On January 30, 2017, the minor child Baby A was born. On February 1, 2017, DM filed an objection to the adoption and on March 27, 2017, filed a petition for visitation pending the opposition hearing, and to appoint an attorney to represent the child.

         The matter came before the trial court on May 4, 2017. At the conclusion of the evidence submitted by DM, counsel for St. Elizabeth moved for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to La. Code Civ. P. art. 1672(B). The trial court concluded that DM failed to carry his burden of proof under La. Ch. ...


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