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K.R.S. v. Dekalb County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

April 14, 2017

K.R.S.
v.
DeKalb County Department of Human Resources

         Appeal from DeKalb Juvenile Court (JU-13-102.03, JU-13-103.03, and JU-13-104.03).

          MOORE, Judge.

         K.R.S. ("the mother") appeals from a judgment of the DeKalb Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") terminating her parental rights to H.S., J.S., and D.S. ("the children"). We affirm the juvenile court's judgment.

         Procedural History

         On June 21, 2016, the DeKalb County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed separate petitions seeking to terminate the parental rights of the mother and S.S. ("the father") to H.S. (case number JU-13-102.03), to J.S. (case number JU-13-103.03), and to D.S. (case number JU-13-104.03). Following a trial on September 15, 2016, the juvenile court entered a single judgment in all three cases on October 7, 2016, terminating the parental rights of the mother and the father to the children. On October 20, 2016, the father filed a postjudgment motion in the three cases. The mother filed her notice of appeal relating to the three cases to this court on October 20, 2016; that appeal was held in abeyance until November 1, 2016, the date on which the juvenile court entered an order denying the father's postjudgment motion. See Rule 4(a)(5), Ala. R. App. P. The father has not appealed.

         Issue

         To terminate parental rights, a juvenile court must find grounds for termination and must consider and reject all other viable alternatives. Ex parte Beasley, 564 So.2d 950, 955 (Ala. 1990). In this case, the mother, who testified at trial that she was not capable of caring for the children at the time, does not contest that the juvenile court properly found grounds for termination. See Ala. Code 1975, § 12-15-319 (providing that a juvenile court may terminate the parental rights of a parent who is unable to discharge his or her parental responsibilities to and for his or her children). The mother argues, however, that the evidence does not support the juvenile court's determination that there was no other viable alternative to termination of her parental rights. Specifically, the mother contends that the juvenile court could have placed the children in the custody of their maternal aunts and their husbands without terminating her parental rights.

         Standard of Review

         The determination of whether a viable alternative to termination of parental rights exists in a given case is a question of fact for the juvenile court. T.V. v. B.S., 7 So.3d 346, 352 (Ala. Civ. App. 1998). At trial, the party petitioning for termination of parental rights bears the burden of proving the lack of a viable alternative by clear and convincing evidence. See Ex parte Ogle, 516 So.2d 243, 247 (Ala. 1987). Clear and convincing evidence is "'"[e]vidence that, when weighed against evidence in opposition, will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm conviction as to each essential element of the claim and a high probability as to the correctness of the conclusion."'" C.O. v. Jefferson Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 206 So.3d 621, 627 (Ala. Civ. App. 2016) (quoting L.M. v. D.D.F., 840 So.2d 171, 179 (Ala. Civ. App. 2002), quoting in turn Ala. Code 1975, § 6-11-20(b)(4)).

"'[T]he evidence necessary for appellate affirmance of a judgment based on a factual finding in the context of a case in which the ultimate standard for a factual decision by the trial court is clear and convincing evidence is evidence that a fact-finder reasonably could find to clearly and convincingly ... establish the fact sought to be proved.'
"KGS Steel[, Inc. v. McInish, ] 47 So.3d [749] at 761 [(Ala. Civ. App. 2006)].
"To analogize the test set out ... by Judge Prettyman [in Curley v. United States, 160 F.2d 229, 232-33 (D.C. Cir. 1947), ] for trial courts ruling on motions for a summary judgment in civil cases to which a clear-and-convincing-evidence standard of proof applies, 'the judge must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden'; thus, the appellate court must also look through a prism to determine whether there was substantial evidence before the trial court to support a factual finding, based upon the trial court's weighing of the evidence, that would 'produce in the mind [of the trial court] a firm conviction as to each element of the claim and a high probability as to the correctness of the conclusion.'"

Ex parte McInish, 47 So.3d 767, 778 (Ala. 2008). This court does not reweigh the evidence but, rather, determines whether the findings of fact made by the juvenile court are supported by evidence that the juvenile court could have found to be clear and convincing. See Ex parte T.V., 971 So.2d 1, 9 (Ala. 2007). When those findings ...


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