Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court Parish of
Morehouse, Louisiana Trial Court No. JD1148 Honorable Sharon
Ingram Marchman, Judge.
VARHONDA EUGENIA BURRELL Counsel for Appellant, J.G.S.
ERIC McELROY Counsel for Appellee, State of Louisiana
LOWERY LAW FIRM By: Scotty Wayne Lowery Counsel for Appellee,
STONE, McCALLUM, and BLEICH (Pro Tempore), JJ. BLEICH, J.
(Pro Tempore), dissents with written reasons.
child's interest is paramount. A child has a right to
live in a safe, secure environment and to be reared by a
person capable of caring for them. We begin our analysis of
this case there.
("mother") appeals a judgment terminating her
parental rights and freeing her daughter for adoption.
Because we conclude that the State satisfied its burden of
proving that the mother had statutorily abandoned the child
and that termination was in the best interest of the child,
we affirm the judgment.
mother's daughter, T.A.G., was born in Baton Rouge on
July 18, 2014. At the time, the mother was 24 years old and
an inmate at the women's prison in St. Gabriel,
Louisiana. No father was listed on T.A.G.'s birth
the mother's maternal grandmother, went to Baton Rouge to
care for T.A.G. a few days after her birth. T.A.G. remained
with L.H. in Bastrop for approximately a year before she
began living with her mother.
Bastrop is a friend of the mother's family. On June 6,
2016, the mother asked J.C. to get T.A.G. The next day, the
mother returned for T.A.G., but she stayed with the mother
for only a couple of days before she was returned to J.C.
T.A.G. was kept by J.C. for a few days before the mother
again returned for her. T.A.G. remained with the mother for a
couple of days before she brought her to J.C. T.A.G has
remained in J.C.'s care and custody since that time.
29, 2016, J.C. filed a petition for custody of T.A.G. She was
awarded temporary sole custody of T.A.G., with the mother
having no visitation rights. The next month, the order of
temporary custody was continued in full force and effect
pending a hearing officer conference.
hearing officer conference was held on October 28, 2016, with
the mother, who was unrepresented by counsel, participating
by phone. The hearing officer recommended that J.C. receive
sole custody, with the mother having reasonable telephone and
supervised visitation rights in Morehouse Parish. No
objections to the recommendation were raised, and the
recommendation was adopted by the district court.
date of the hearing officer conference, J.C. told the mother
that she could call T.A.G. at 2:00 p.m. on every Sunday, and
that she would consider expanding telephone visitation if
that went well. J.C. also told the mother that supervised
visitation would need to be set up through the Wellspring
Supervised Visitation Program, a Monroe agency which
facilitates supervised visitation.
of occurrences are not entirely clear from this record. At
some point following the hearing officer conference, the
mother apparently went to a CADA rehab facility in Shreveport
for 28 days. After her stay at the rehab facility, the mother
went to Oxford House in Shreveport for three to four months.
The mother also apparently began living in Lake Charles at
7, 2017, the mother was incarcerated in Concordia Parish
after violating her parole conditions for not transferring
her parole status from parish to parish. She had to complete
a 90-day sentence.
November 21, 2017, J.C. drove to Ferriday to bring the mother
back to L.H.'s home in Bastrop following her release.
J.C. had left T.A.G. with L.H. while she traveled to
Ferriday. This was the first time in over a year that the
mother had physical contact with her daughter.
thought the mother spent the next two or three months at her
home. J.C. recalled that the mother remained with L.H. for a
couple of days before she began residing at Monroe's
Oxford House, which is a sober living facility. After leaving
Oxford House, the mother moved to an apartment in Monroe and
obtained employment. The mother remarried in April of 2018.
23, 2018, the District Attorney for the Fourth Judicial
District, pursuant to La. Ch. C. art. 1004(F), granted
authority to a special assistant district attorney to file a
petition to terminate the mother's parental rights as to
T.A.G. The petition to terminate the mother's parental
rights and free T.A.G. for adoption was filed in Morehouse
Parish on June 13, 2018. The petition alleged that
T.A.G.'s father had never been married to the mother and
was deceased. The grounds asserted for termination were that:
(1) prior attempts to rehabilitate the mother had been
unsuccessful, and she had already surrendered her parental
rights over one child and had her parental rights over
another child terminated; (2) the mother abandoned T.A.G. by
placing her in the physical custody of J.C. in June of 2016
and not seeing her again until November of 2017, not
exercising telephone visitation during the designated time,
and not exercising supervised visitation; and (3) the mother
abandoned T.A.G. by not contributing to her care and support
since June 6, 2016.
the mother obtained counsel, the termination hearing was
continued a couple of times before finally being held on
November 14, 2018, when the court heard testimony from the
mother, J.C., and L.H. The parties agreed before the hearing
that termination would be sought only on the abandonment
grounds found in La. Ch. C. art. 1015(5)(b) and (c).
Termination would not be sought on the art. 1015(4)(k) ground
of prior surrender and termination of parental rights that
had been alleged in the petition. This is the case even though
the mother alluded to one of her children having been adopted
in her testimony.
court found against the mother and provided oral reasons for
judgment following the hearing. The court found
uncontroverted testimony that the State had met its burden of
proof under La. Ch. C. art. 1015(5)(b) that the mother failed
to provide significant care and support to T.A.G. for six
consecutive months. The court also found that while the
question of whether there was a lack of significant contacts
for six months was a little harder to resolve, the State had
met its burden under La. Ch. C. art. 1015(5)(c) of proving a
lack of significant contact for six consecutive months. The
court concluded that termination of parental rights was in
T.A.G.'s best interest as she was well-cared for and in a
stable environment with someone who ensured that she received
all necessary therapy. Finally, the court noted that the
alleged father was deceased, and that no father had come
forward according to the putative father registry.
written judgment in accordance with the oral reasons for
judgment was signed on December 6, 2018. The mother appealed,
arguing that the court erred in: (1) finding that the State
had met its burden of proving the grounds for termination;
(2) finding that the termination was in the best interest of
T.A.G.; and (3) denying her motion to dismiss after the State
put on its evidence.
termination of parental rights involves a two-pronged
inquiry. First, the State must establish the existence of at
least one ground for termination under La. Ch. Code art.
1015. If a ground for termination is found, then the trial
court must determine whether the termination is in the best
interest of the child. State in Interest of C.F.,
2017-1054 (La. 12/6/17), 235 So.3d 1066.
have a natural, fundamental liberty interest to the
continuing companionship, care, custody and management of
their children warranting great deference and vigilant
protection under the law, and due process requires that a
fundamentally fair procedure be followed when the state seeks
to terminate the parent-child legal relationship. However,
this parental interest is often at odds with the child's
interest in establishing secure, stable, long-term, and
continuous relationships in a home with proper parental care.
State ex rel. D.L.R., 2008-1541 (La. 12/12/08), 998
So.2d 681; State ex rel. K.G., 2002-2886 (La.
3/18/03), 841 So.2d 759.
State in Interest of C.F., supra, the
Louisiana Supreme Court explained the considerations
underlying a termination of parental rights:
Under La. Ch. Code art. 1001, the purpose of a termination of
parental rights proceeding is to protect children whose
parents are unwilling or unable to provide safety and care
adequate to meet their physical, emotional, and mental health
needs. In all proceedings, the primary concern is to secure
the best interest of the child if a ground justifying
termination of parental rights is proved. Termination of
parental rights is to be considered the first step toward
permanent placement of the child in a safe and suitable home,
and if possible, to achieve the child's adoption. The
interests of the parent must be balanced against the
child's interest, but the child's interest is
paramount. More than simply protecting parental rights, our
judicial system must protect the child's right to thrive
and survive. A child has an interest in the termination of
rights that prevent adoption and inhibit the child's
establishment of secure, stable, long term, continuous family
relationships. While the interest of a parent is protected in
a termination proceeding by enforcing procedural rules
enacted to insure that the parental rights are not
thoughtlessly severed, those interests must ultimately yield
to the paramount interest of the child. Children have a right
to live in a safe, secure environment and to be reared by
someone who is capable of caring for them.
Id., 2017-1054 at pp. 15-16, 235 So.3d at 1075
(internal citations omitted).
C. art. 1015 sets forth the statutory grounds by which
a court may involuntarily terminate the rights and privileges
of parents. The grounds 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 parental responsibility by any of the
* * *
(b) As of the time the petition is filed, the parent has
failed to provide significant contributions to the
child's care and support for any period of six
(c) As of the time the petition is filed, the parent has
failed to maintain significant contact with the child by
visiting him or communicating with him for any period of six
the termination of parental rights is a severe and terminal
action, the legislature has mandated that in order to
terminate these rights, the state must satisfy an onerous
burden of proof. State ex rel. B.H. v. A.H., 42, 864
(La.App. 2 Cir. 10/24/07), 968 So.2d 881. Thus, the
petitioner bears the burden of establishing each element of a
ground for termination of parental rights by clear and
convincing evidence. La. Ch. C. art. 1035(A). Proof by clear
and convincing evidence requires a showing that the existence
of the ...