FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO.
16-TP-00053 HONORABLE JOHN C. DAVIDSON, DISTRICT JUDGE
I. Burnes Burnes, Talley & Talley COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT:
Lain COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Louisiana Department of Children
and Family Services
Zebulon M. Winstead Crowell and Owens, LLC COUNSEL FOR
APPELLEES: R.J. (minor child) R.T. (minor child) R.A.T.
composed of Marc T. Amy, John E. Conery, and Van H. Kyzar,
R.D.T. appeals from a trial
court judgment terminating her parental rights based upon a
finding that she failed to substantially comply with her case
plan, that there was no reasonable possibility of her
complying with her case plan in the near future, and that it
was in the best interest of her children that her parental
rights be terminated. For the following reasons, we affirm.
OF THE RECORD
is the biological mother of three minor children: R.J.
(birthdate January 21, 2005); R.T. (birthdate August 13,
2010); and R.A.T. (birthdate June 30, 2012). The father of
R.J. was acknowledged to be W.C.J., Jr., who the state
alleged was currently incarcerated with a release date of
April 26, 2075. The fathers of R.T. and R.A.T. are alleged to
be S.E. and T.M., respectively. This appeal only concerns the
state's case against R.D.T.
to the record, the minor children were taken into custody by
the State of Louisiana through the Department of Children and
Family Services (DCFS) by an oral instanter order on February
2, 2014, based on a report that R.D.T. was being arrested on
extradition charges from Texas and the children were being
left without a caretaker. Previously, R.D.T. was involved
with the DCFS back to 2006, in regards to four older
children. This is the third time that R.J. has been taken
into the state's custody based on an instantar order. The
oral instantar order was confirmed by the trial court on
February 3, 2014, after which a continued custody hearing was
held on February 4, 2014, with the result that the children
were continued in the custody of the state.
February 19, 2014, the state filed a petition seeking to have
the children declared children in need of care based on the
following grounds: 1) the state validated claims of
dependency and minor head/facial injuries against R.D.T.; 2)
R.D.T. being arrested and the children had no available
caretaker; upon examination by a doctor, all three children
were diagnosed with facial abrasions and bruises; the two
oldest children disclosed that R.D.T. hit them and their
younger brother; 3) R.J.'s father was incarcerated;
R.T.'s alleged father was incarcerated; and the identity
of R.A.T.'s father was unknown; 4) diminished caretaker
capacities exhibited by R.D.T. The state further requested
that the parents be ordered to pay child support to the state
while the children were in its custody. Following a March 13,
2014 answer hearing, the trial court adjudicated the children
on April 10, 2014, as children in need of care. As part of
its judgment, the trial court ordered the children to remain
in the custody of the state and it approved DCFS' case
plan goal of reunification for the children.
the development of case plans for R.D.T. and the children,
case review hearings were held in this matter on August 4,
2014, January 5, 2015, July 6, 2015, January 4, 2016, June
13, 2016, and July 17, 2017. Permanency hearings were held on
January 5, 2015, January 4, 2016, January 9, 2017, and
January 8, 2018. Initially, the state recommended that the
children be reunified with R.D.T. However, that goal was
later changed to adoption on July 2, 2015, which the trial
court approved on July 6, 2015.
October 3, 2016, the state filed a petition to terminate
R.D.T.'s parental rights and to certify the children as
available for adoption. The petition alleged that R.D.T.
failed to adequately participate in her case plan or
demonstrate substantial improvement in redressing the
problems which led to her children being adjudicated as
children in need of care; that she failed to provide
court-ordered support for her children for a period in excess
of six months, which demonstrated an intent to permanently
avoid parental responsibility for the children pursuant to
La.Ch.Code art. 1015(4)(b); and that she failed to maintain
significant contact with the children for a period of six
months, which demonstrated an intent to permanently avoid
parental responsibility for the children pursuant to
La.Ch.Code art. 1015(4)(c). The mother, through her attorney,
answered the petition, denying the allegations set forth by
a two-day trial on the merits, the trial court took the
matter under advisement. Thereafter, it rendered written
reasons, terminating R.D.T.'s parental rights based on a
finding that she failed to substantially comply with her case
plan and that there is no reasonable probability of her
complying with the case plan in the near future. A written
judgment finding that R.D.T.'s parental rights should be
terminated; that it was in the best interest of the minor
children that R.D.T.'s parental rights be terminated; and
that the minor children be certified as available for
adoption was rendered by the trial court on February 7, 2018.
It is from this judgment that R.D.T. appeals.
appeal, R.D.T. raises two assignments of error committed by
the trial court:
1. The trial court erred in terminating the parental rights
of the mother, R.D.T., when the evidence produced by the
State (and by the defense) at trial was insufficient to prove
by clear and convincing evidence that she has not
substantially complied with her case plan and that there was
no reasonable expectation for further improvement in her
condition or conduct in the near future nor reasonable
expectation that she would complete the case plan as deemed
necessary for the safe return of the children.
2. The trial court erred in terminating the parental rights
of the mother, R.D.T., after it failed to find that
termination was in the best interest of the children.
State in the Interest of J.A., 17-500, pp. 3-4 (La,
App. 3 Cir. 1/4/18), 237 So.3d 69, 72, this court stated with
regard to the termination of parental rights:
A 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.
judgment terminating parental rights is reviewed on appeal
under the manifest error standard of review. State in the
Interest of K.V., 14-163 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/21/14), 161
grounds for terminating the parental rights of a parent are
set out in La.Ch.Code art. 1015, and include:
(5) Abandonment of the child by placing him in the physical
custody of a nonparent, or the department, or by otherwise
leaving him under circumstances demonstrating an intention to
permanently avoid ...