FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
CALCASIEU, NO. 2016-4882 HONORABLE W. MITCHELL REDD, DISTRICT
Nicholas Pizzolatto, Jr. Department of Children & Family
Services COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana, Department
of Children & Family Services
Richard D. Moreno Richard D. Moreno, LLC COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Tracy Alexander
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Marc T.
Amy, and Elizabeth A. Pickett, Judges.
T. AMY, JUDGE
proceedings related to the State's filing of a
"Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and
Certification for Adoption" concerning two minor
children, the trial court rendered judgment terminating the
mother's parental rights. The mother ultimately filed a
petition for nullity and corresponding motion for summary
judgment. However, the trial court denied her motion for
summary judgment and dismissed her petition for nullity, and
the mother now appeals that judgment. For the following
reasons, we affirm.
and Procedural Background
1, 2015, the State, through the Louisiana Department of
Children and Family Services (DCFS), filed a "Petition
for Termination of Parental Rights and Certification for
Adoption" concerning two of the minor children of Tracy
Alexander. A bench trial on the merits of the petition was
held on December 1, 2015. The children's mother, Ms.
Alexander, was not present at the trial, and neither Ms.
Alexander's counsel, Richard P. Moreno, nor counsel for
DCFS had an explanation for her absence. Mr. Moreno explained
to the trial court that he had recently "been unable to
contact [Ms. Alexander], despite repeated efforts" but
that he had "her last current address" and had
"notified her twice by mail and once in
conversation" about the trial date. Citing Ms.
Alexander's absence, Mr. Moreno orally moved for a
continuance, which the trial court denied, and the matter
proceeded in her absence. The trial court ultimately granted
DCFS's petition, thus terminating Ms. Alexander's
parental rights over the minor children.
December 15, 2015, Ms. Alexander filed a motion for new trial
based on her absence at the trial. At a hearing on the
motion, Lazetter West, the DCFS caseworker handling Ms.
Alexander's case, testified that on November 5, 2015, she
received a letter from Mr. Moreno requesting that Ms. West
arrange transportation for Ms. Alexander to attend the
December 1, 2015 trial. Ms. West explained that, after
receiving the letter, she "tried to call Ms. Tracy on
the number, but for some reason, [she] couldn't get
through" because the "number kept being busy or
something." She stated that she further tried to reach
Ms. Alexander by calling the residence where Ms. Alexander
had reported to be living and the place where Ms. Alexander
had reported to be working but was informed that Ms.
Alexander no longer lived nor worked there, respectively, and
had not provided forwarding information. Ms. West confirmed
that she did not alert Mr. Moreno of her inability to get in
touch with Ms. Alexander to schedule transportation prior to
Alexander also testified at the hearing. When asked whether
she was aware of the trial date beforehand and whether she
was aware that she needed to attend the trial, Ms. Alexander
answered: "I wasn't aware I needed to be here, but I
was aware of it." Regarding her efforts to attend the
trial, she indicated that she called Ms. West "two or
three days before the court date" and left voicemail
messages asking Ms. West to return her calls. Ms. Alexander
stated that she did not receive return phone calls from Ms.
West and had no other means to attend the trial. Ms.
Alexander also stated that she called her attorney in the
days leading up to trial, and the following colloquy
Q. Did you ever call your lawyer before the trial?
Q. After you could not get hold of Ms. West?
A. I called him, and he's the one who told me to call Ms.
West to file for a ride.
Q. Okay. And then you called her and couldn't get her?
Q. That was the 25th. That was six days prior to trial?
Q. Yeah, six days prior to trial. Now, I do know that
Thanksgiving, I ...