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J.C. v. Madison County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

August 9, 2019


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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         Appeal from Madison Juvenile Court (JU-15-1016.02).

         Marie Crissone, Huntsville, for appellant.

          Steve Marshall, atty. gen., and Felicia M. Brooks, chief legal counsel, and Karen P. Phillips, asst. atty. gen., Department of Human Resources, for appellee.

         EDWARDS, Judge.

         In May 2017, the Madison County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed a petition seeking the termination of

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the parental rights of J.C. ("the mother") to R.W.N. ("the child"). After a trial held on December 21, 2018, the Madison Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court") entered a judgment terminating the mother's parental rights. The mother timely filed a postjudgment motion, which the juvenile court denied, and the mother timely appealed to this court.

         Neither the testimony at the trial nor the documentary evidence affirmatively establishes the basis for the child's removal from the mother's custody, which occurred in late 2015 or at least by February 2016.[1] However, information contained in the mother's November 2016 substance-abuse assessment at WellStone[2] indicates that the mother was sent by DHR for a drug screening and that, at that screening, the mother had reported using opiates and methamphetamine in the previous 2 weeks; the same assessment reveals that the mother reported having used opiates regularly for the previous 11 years, with periods of abstinence as long as 3 months, and methamphetamine for the previous 10 years, with periods of abstinence lasting approximately 2 weeks. That assessment further indicates that the mother had received mental-health treatment for bipolar disorder between 2003 and 2013; no other information regarding the mother's mental-health diagnoses or treatment appears in the record.

         Grannessi Bates, the DHR caseworker assigned to the family's case in May 2016, testified that, when she was assigned to the case, the mother was already being provided services, including parenting classes, substance-abuse assessment and treatment, random drug screens, and supervised visitation. Bates said that the mother completed parenting classes, and the record contains a certificate memorializing that completion. According to Bates, the mother visited the child regularly and, although she had not been required to pay child support, the mother had furnished the child clothing, shoes, age-appropriate toys, and electronics. However, Bates testified that the mother had not completed substance-abuse treatment and that she had not appeared for the vast majority of her random drug screens, having last submitted to a drug screen on August 24, 2018.

         According to Bates, the mother had entered substance-abuse treatment at WellStone in November 2016, but, she said, the mother did not complete that treatment because, although she had reached step 11 of the 12-step program, the mother had stopped attending classes and was discharged from the program. The WellStone records introduced into evidence support that testimony.

         Similarly, Tyouna Baker, a substance-abuse therapist at Aletheia House, testified that the mother had begun substance-abuse treatment at Aletheia House in June 2018 but that she had attended only four sessions before she was discharged from the program in August 2018 after failing to attend or to contact the facility. Baker testified that the mother's 2018 substance-abuse assessment at Aletheia House, which included a notation that the mother had admitted to multiple relapses, had indicated that the mother should attend intensive

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outpatient treatment but that the mother had reported that her work schedule at that time would not permit her to attend that program, which was offered only during the daytime hours.

         Bates was questioned about her observations of the mother. Bates admitted that she had never seen the mother appear to be under the influence of any substance. She answered in the affirmative when asked if the mother had been clear-eyed and had made eye contact when she met with Bates, whether the mother appeared to be healthy during the entire time Bates had been the caseworker, and whether the mother appeared to have maintained a steady weight during DHR's involvement. Bates further indicated that the mother had not appeared drowsy or unstable during their interactions. Bates also testified that DHR was pursuing the termination of the mother's parental rights because DHR's policy required it.

         The mother testified that she is an addict. She explained that, at the time of the termination trial, she was being treated for her opiate addiction at a methadone-treatment facility, where she went at least four days a week to receive a dose of methadone. However, the mother admitted that she also uses Adderall, which, she said, she had taken only two weeks before the trial. The mother testified that she had used Adderall as frequently as once a day during the previous six months but then stated that "it's probably four of five times a week." The mother excused her failure to complete substance-abuse treatment at WellStone by explaining that her brother had died, which, she said, had caused her to fall into a depression and to relapse. The mother said that her longest period of sobriety had been "a couple of months." When asked by the juvenile court why she had not pursued inpatient treatment for her substance-abuse issues, the mother explained that she had to work to pay her rent and utilities and that she had no one to help her do those things, implying that she would lose her employment and possibly her apartment if she went into inpatient treatment.

         The mother testified that she had been employed at a gasoline station and convenience store when the child was first removed from her custody. She reported that, at that time, her hours of employment were from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. According to the mother, she had had difficulty making it to the drug-screening facility, which operates from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. However, the mother testified that she had changed employment six months before the termination trial and that, at the time of trial, she was working at a discount store during the third shift or from 10:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.[3] The mother candidly admitted that her failure to attend any drug screens for the previous six months was due more to the fact that she knew that she would test positive rather than conflicts with her work schedule. The mother testified that she had undergone a drug assessment in the days before the termination trial and that she had enrolled in a substance-abuse-treatment program at Aletheia House, which, she said, was scheduled to begin on January 3, 2019.

         The mother testified that she had lived in the same apartment for almost 5 years at the time of the trial, and she presented as evidence a lease-extension addendum indicating that the mother ...

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