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State ex rel. M.J.F.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

December 6, 2018



          Nicole M. Guidry Attorney at Law COUNSEL FOR APPELLANT: J. R. F. (Mother)

          L. Antoinette Beard COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: Department of Children and Family Services

          Tracey Davenport-McGraw Assistant District Attorney COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: State of Louisiana

          Franchesca L. Hamilton-Acker Acadiana Legal Service Corp. COUNSEL FOR APPELLEE: M. J. F. (Minor Child)

          Barry J. Sallinger Allyson M. Prejean Barry J. Sallinger, APLC COUNSEL FOR INTERVENORS/APPELLEES: J. M. M. M. (Foster/ Potential Adpotive Parents)

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, Shannon J. Gremillion, and John E. Conery, Judges.


         J.R.F., the mother of the minor child M.J.F., appeals the June 7, 2018 judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights to M.J.F. and certifying him for adoption.[1] The father of M.J.F. is unknown. The trial court's judgment also terminated the parental rights of the alleged unknown father. That ruling has not been appealed and is therefore a final judgment. For the following reasons, we affirm the trial court's judgment in its entirety.


         M.J.F. was born on October 17, 2015. Prior to receiving a report of neglect on December 2, 2015, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) had received allegations in October 2015 that M.J.F. was a substance exposed newborn who had tested positive for marijuana and amphetamines at birth. J.R.F. and M.H., the presumed father who had signed M.J.F.'s birth certificate, moved to the Travelodge Motel in Lafayette Parish while there was a pending family service case in St. Landry Parish.

         DCFS applied for an Instanter Order of Removal of M.J.F. from J.R.F., the child's mother. The affidavit in support of the December 3, 2015 Instanter Order provided that DCFS involvement was required due to the mother's drug use, inadequate sleeping arrangements for the child (allowing M.J.F. to sleep in the bed with J.R.F. and her companion, M.H.), domestic violence incidents (the Lafayette Police having been called twice due to a domestic disturbance), the mother's expressed need for mental health assistance, and the mother's expressed inability to care for her child. J.R.F. had made threats of wanting to dispose of M.J.F by placing him in a dumpster. J.R.F. admitted to using Xanax, ecstasy and marijuana and had been prescribed Depakote as an anti-depressant for post-partum depression.

         The Instanter Order was granted on December 3, 2015 and signed on December 4, 2015, committing M.J.F. to the custody of DCFS. A hearing on the continued custody of M.J.F. was fixed for December 8, 2015. Thereafter, the trial court ordered M.J.F. into the care of his foster parents, J.M. and M.M., at the age of eight weeks, where he has remained since that time. J.M. and M.M. are the potential adoptive parents of M.J.F. and are intervenors in this proceeding.

         In a random drug test dated December 10, 2015, J.R.F. tested positive for amphetamines, methamphetamines, morphine and marijuana. Based on the stipulation of J.R.F., M.J.F. was adjudicated a "Child in Need of Care" on February 24, 2016. DNA tests were administered to two potential fathers of M.J.F., and both were excluded as the biological father of M.J.F., who remains unknown.

         On January 5, 2016 an initial case plan was established by DCFS for J.R.F., followed by five other case plans. The components of the case plans remained the same throughout the proceedings, except that requirements to prevent domestic violence were added to the January 4, 2017 case plan.

         The case components included, "stable housing[;]. . .five dollars ($5) a month for parental contributions, complying with drug screens, mental health counseling, employment, positive supports, visits, parent education, and substance abuse counseling - treatment." Domestic violence classes were also added to the case plan.

         DCFS maintained custody of M.J.F. and Permanency and Case Review hearings were held and orders signed on the following dates: May 17, 2016, November 22, 2016, May 23, 2017, November 7, 2017, January 23, 2018, and April 9, 2018.

         Case plans were filed into the record at the Permanency and Case Review hearings on January 5, 2016, June 7, 2016, May 8, 2017, October 19, 2017, and March 19, 2018. Additionally, court reports were also entered into the record on May 4, 2016, November 7, 2016, May 8, 2017, October 23, 2017, January 10, 2018, and March 26, 2018.

         Although the original goal of the case plan had been reunification, on May 8, 2017 the trial court changed the goal for M.J.F. to adoption. On December 6, 2017 DCFS filed a petition for termination of parental rights and certification for adoption. After several continuances, the trial was eventually held on May 7, 2018. After hearing the evidence and receiving the exhibits, the trial court took the matter under advisement and signed its written reasons, erroneously entitled "Judgment" on May 16, 2018, and filed on May 18, 2018.

         A formal judgment was signed on June 7, 2018 terminating the parental rights of the mother J.R.F. and the unknown father, thereby freeing M.J.F. for adoption. M.J.F. was two months old when he entered foster care with J.M. and M.M. At the time of trial in May 2018, he was two years seven months old, having been in foster care for almost two and one half years.

         J.R.F. does not contest that all of the hearings were timely held, the facts from the case review hearings are correct, and there are no procedural deficiencies in this case. J.R.F. has now timely appealed the trial court's June 7, 2018 judgment of termination of parental rights and certification for adoption.


         J.R.F. asserts the following assignments of error on appeal:

1. In light of the entire record, the juvenile court committed manifest error in terminating J.R.F.'s parental rights without clear and convincing evidence to support the following findings:
i. No substantial compliance by J.R.F. with the case plan;
ii. No reasonable expectation of significant improvement in J.R.F.'s condition in the future;
iii. Best interest of the child required termination of J.R.F.'s parental rights


         Standard of Review

         The judgment of a trial court 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 So.3d 795.

A trial court's factual determinations as to whether there has been substantial compliance with a case plan, whether a significant indication of reformation has been shown, and whether the parent is likely to reform will not be set aside unless the record reflects that the trial court is clearly wrong.

State in the Interest of G.O., 10-571, pp. 5-6 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/8/11), 68 So.3d 636, writ denied, 11-1512 (La. 7/21/11), 67 So.3d 479.

         Louisiana Children's Code Articles

         Louisiana Children's Code Article 1015(5)(b)-(c), and 1015(6), provide the grounds for termination of parental ...

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