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Talladega County Department of Human Resources v. J.J.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

May 22, 2015

Talladega County Department of Human Resources
v.
J.J. and N.J

         Released for Publication April 28, 2016.

Page 706

          Appeal from Talladega Juvenile Court. (JU-10-100302.03). Marcus R. Rumsey, Trial Judge.

         For Talladega County Department of Human Resources, Appellant: Sharon E. Ficquette, Chief Legal Counsel, Karen P. Phillips, Asst. Atty. Gen., Department of Human Resources.

         For J.J., Appellee: Trina Hammonds, Talladega.

         For N.J., Appellee: Nicholas J. Beckham, Childersburg.

         Chad Milam, Guardian Ad Litem, Gulf Coast Attorneys LLC, Grand Bay.

         DONALDSON, Judge. Thompson, P.J., and Pittman, Thomas, and Moore, JJ., concur.

          OPINION

Page 707

          DONALDSON, Judge.

         The Talladega County Department of Human Resources (" DHR" ) appeals from a judgment of the Talladega Juvenile Court (" the juvenile court" ) denying its petition to terminate the parental rights of J.J. (" the father" ) and N.J. (" the mother" ) to their child, S.J. (" the child" ). We affirm the juvenile court's judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On November 1, 2013, DHR filed a petition in the juvenile court to terminate the parental rights of the father and the mother to the child. On the same day, the juvenile court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child. The mother and the father were represented by separate counsel. The juvenile court held a trial on April 2, 2014. The record contains the following facts relevant to the issues presented for review.

         The child, born in May 2001, has been diagnosed with autism and requires constant supervision. At some point not specifically indicated in the record but likely around 2009, the mother was convicted in Tennessee on charges related to sexual abuse of the child. The record does not establish whether the offense was a felony. At the time of trial, the mother remained incarcerated in Tennessee. Jennifer Ponder, a DHR caseworker, testified that the mother was expected to be released from prison in November 2016, although other witnesses testified that the mother would be released in 2020 or at some later point in time.

         The father is unemployed and disabled. He suffers from multiple debilitating illnesses and infirmities, including type II diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and back pain due to 18 ruptured disks. He has suffered eight heart attacks and three strokes. He has had three back surgeries and two hydrocele-cyst operations. He testified that he was undergoing tests to see if he would require cardiac surgery. He testified that he was under the care of 6 different physicians and that he takes 30 prescription medications per day. He is confined to a wheelchair.

         In December 2010, DHR received a report from the child's school that the child had bruises on her back. Lewis Prince, a DHR caseworker, testified that DHR concluded that the bruises were not caused by an accident but that " they had to have been inflicted [by someone] other than herself." Prince testified, however, that DHR could not determine if the bruises were caused by the father. The father denied that he had abused the child. Prince testified that he went to the father's home and found it to be unclean. Prince found that the father was unable to meet the special needs of the child and that the child was having trouble in school. DHR petitioned for and received custody of the child in December 2010 and placed the child in foster care in a therapeutic foster home. The father continued to have unsupervised overnight visitation with the child after December 2010, although the father had a caregiver, his paramour, in the home at the time to assist with caring for the child.

         Prince testified that DHR provided services to the father. He stated that the

Page 708

father had completed parenting classes and that DHR had provided him with counseling, including providing him with two in-home case aides who instructed him about caring for the child, how to discipline the child appropriately, and how to provide a clean home. Prince testified that the father yelled and screamed and cursed at the child " quite often" when DHR first became involved with the family, including in front of Prince. He testified that dealing with the child requires patience, consistency, care, and firm direction without agitation. He testified that DHR worked with the father on issues relating to anger management and proper discipline of the child. He testified that the father's physical disabilities prevented him from providing adequate care and supervision for the child.

         Prince testified that the father maintained regular visits with the child up until the time he stopped working on the case in March 2013. Prince testified that the child enjoyed the visits with the father and that the child appeared to have an emotional attachment to the father. Under cross-examination from the guardian ad litem, Prince stated:

" Q. Did it appear to you that [the child] had an emotional attachment to her father?
" A. Yes, sir.
" Q. What made you feel that way?
" A. Her reaction to her dad. If you said I'm going to get to see dad, she was very excited. Always wanted to see him up until the last time I participated in the visit, she wanted to see her dad. It got to the point where she wanted to see her dad, loved her dad, as far as I know still does, was attached to him, but it got to the point where the attachment was not so much. She was ready to go home, she was ready to go home, and to her home had become somewhere else. She loved seeing her dad, wanted to visit with him, but after just a time, she was ready to go."

         Prince testified that the child's condition had improved since being placed in foster care. He testified that he never believed that it was in the child's ...


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