STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF A.N. STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF J.N. STATE OF LOUISIANA IN THE INTEREST OF S.A.
FROM ST. BERNARD 34TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT NO. 23-360 C\W
23-399, 23-470, DIVISION "A" Honorable Robert A.
LOBRANO, J., CONCURS IN THE RESULT. Hester R. Hilliard
HILLIARD LAW FIRM, Richard Wilson Jr.,
COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT, Elizabeth Lincoln, Department of
Children & Family Services, COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE
composed of Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Sandra Cabrina
Jenkins, Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., Pro Tempore*)
CABRINA JENKINS JUDGE
to Louisiana Supreme Court order dated April 27, 2018, Judge
Bagneris participated as judge ad hoc of the Court of Appeal,
Fourth Circuit in this matter.
matter involves the involuntary termination of parental
rights. The State of Louisiana through the Department of
Children and Family Services ("DCFS") filed a
petition for the termination of parental rights of the
mother, A.A., as to her minor child, J.N.  After a hearing,
the trial court determined that DCFS proved by clear and
convincing evidence one of the statutory grounds for
termination and that termination of the mother's parental
rights was in the best interests of J.N. J.N. now appeals the
trial court's judgment terminating the mother's
parental rights. For the reasons that follow, we find no
manifest error in the trial court's judgment, and we
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
January 27, 2016, DCFS initiated an investigation into a
report of alleged physical abuse of J.N., a fourteen-year old
minor child, by the child's father. In the course of the
investigation, DCFS learned that the father had sole physical
custody of J.N. and that the mother, A.A., had not exercised
physical care or custody of J.N. for approximately three
years due to mental health issues that compromised her
ability to supervise her child. Regarding the alleged
physical abuse, DCFS found no information to substantiate the
allegation; both J.N. and the father denied any physical
abuse. Prior to closing the investigation, however, DCFS
learned that the father passed away, on February 13, 2016,
leaving J.N. without a legal caretaker. DCFS then learned
that J.N. was residing with the maternal grandmother and was
exhibiting defiant, uncontrollable behavior. Based on all the
information gathered in the course of the investigation, DCFS
filed a request with the trial court for an instanter order,
which was granted on March 16, 2016, placing J.N. in the
temporary custody of DCFS.
March 30, 2016, DCFS filed a petition to have J.N. declared a
child in need of care. On May 11, 2016, the trial court held
an adjudication hearing on the petition; J.N. and his mother
were present and represented by counsel at the hearing. At
the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court rendered
judgment adjudicating J.N. a child in need of care and
ordering that J.N. remain in the custody of DCFS, pending
further orders of the court, under the specified terms and
conditions set forth in an approved case plan. In addition,
the trial court approved a case plan for A.A. to regain
custody of J.N. and advised A.A. of the case plan, case
review, and permanency review procedures and compliance
December 7, 2016, the trial court held a case review hearing,
at which A.A. and J.N. were both present and represented by
counsel. After consideration of the case report submitted by
DCFS, regarding the progress made by A.A. and the reasonable
efforts made by DCFS to achieve reunification, the trial
court rendered judgment approving the permanent case plan of
adoption recommended by DCFS as being the most likely means
to achieve permanency and stability for J.N. and in the
child's best interests.
March 28, 2017, DCFS filed a petition to terminate the
parental rights of A.A. and to declare J.N. eligible for
adoption. As the grounds for termination under La. Ch.C. art.
1015(5), DCFS alleged that A.A. abandoned J.N. by leaving the
child under circumstances demonstrating an intention to
permanently avoid parental responsibility by failing to
provide significant contributions to the child's care and
support for more than six consecutive months. In addition,
pursuant to La. Ch. C. art. 1015(6), DCFS alleged that A.A.
failed to substantially comply with the required program of
treatment and rehabilitation services under the case plan;
failed to maintain a stable and safe home; failed to
successfully attend, participate, and complete a mental
health evaluation and follow through with any recommended
treatment plan; and failed to make any of the parental
contributions. Finally, DCFS alleged that, despite attempts
at intervention, there was no reasonable expectation of
significant improvement in A.A.'s conduct in the near
future, considering J.N.'s age and need for a stable and
26, 2017, the trial court held a hearing on the termination
of parental rights, at which J.N. and A.A. were present and
represented by counsel. After considering the evidence and
testimony presented, the trial court rendered judgment
terminating the parental rights of A.A. and declaring J.N.
free and eligible for adoption.
now appeals the trial court's August 11, 2017 judgment
terminating A.A.'s parental rights.
well-settled that a trial court's findings on
factually-intense termination of parental rights issues are
reviewed on appeal under a manifest error standard of review.
State in the Interest of T.M.P., 13-1006, p. 21
(La.App. 4 Cir. 10/23/13), 126 So.3d 741, 753-54. Further, in
any case regarding the involuntary termination of parental
rights, the courts must balance the often competing interests
of the natural parent and the child. State in the
Interest of C.A.C., 11-1315, p. 7 (La.App. 4 Cir.
2/1/12), 85 So.3d 142, 146 (citing State ex rel. SNW v.
Mitchell, 01-2128, p. 8 (La. 11/28/01), 800 So.2d 809,
814-15). Parents have a natural, fundamental liberty interest
to the continuing care, custody, and management of their
children that warrants great deference and protection under
the law. State in the Interest of D.W., 15-0760, p.
9 (La.App. 4 Cir. 12/2/15), 182 So.3d 281, 287 (quoting
State ex rel. K.G., 02-2886, p. 4 (La. 3/18/03), 841
So.2d 759, 762). However, "[t]he child has an interest
in terminating parental rights that preclude or delay
adoption and inhibit ...