GENEVA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN RESOURCES.
from Geneva Juvenile Court JU-17-157.02.
Dillard Gorman, Geneva, for appellant.
Marshall, atty. gen., and Felicia M. Brooks, chief legal
counsel, and Karen P. Phillips, asst. atty. gen., Department
of Human Resources, for appellee.
November 2018, the Geneva County Department of Human
Resources ("DHR") filed a petition in the Geneva
Juvenile Court seeking to terminate the parental rights of
J.Y. ("the father") and A.A. ("the
mother") to R.S. ("the child"). In its
petition, DHR alleged that the father and the mother had
failed to provide for the material needs of the child, had
failed to maintain regular visits with the child, had failed
to maintain consistent communication with the child, and had
failed to adjust their circumstances to meet the needs of the
child. The father was served with the petition and filed an
answer; the mother was served by publication and was
appointed an attorney. The juvenile court held a trial on
DHR's petition on January 31, 2018, at which neither the
father nor the mother appeared; both parents were represented
by counsel. On February 22, 2018, the juvenile court entered
a judgment terminating both the father's and the
mother's parental rights to the child. Both the father
and the mother timely appealed; the father's appeal was
assigned appeal number 2180459, and the mother's appeal
was assigned appeal number 2180460. Although we originally
consolidated the appeals ex mero motu, we have elected to
unconsolidate the appeals for separate disposition.
termination of parental rights is governed by Ala. Code 1975,
§ 12-15-319. That statute reads, in part:
"(a) If the juvenile court finds from clear and
convincing evidence, competent, material, and relevant in
nature, that the parent of a child [is] unable or unwilling
to discharge [his or her] responsibilities to and for the
child, or that the conduct or condition of the parent
renders [him or her] unable to properly care for the child
and that the conduct or condition is unlikely to change in
the foreseeable future, it may terminate the parental rights
of the parent . In determining whether or not the parent
[is] unable or unwilling to discharge [his or her]
responsibilities to and for the child and to terminate the
parental rights, the juvenile court shall consider the
following factors including, but not limited to, the
"(1) That the parent ha[s] abandoned the child,
provided that in these cases, proof shall not be required
of reasonable efforts to prevent removal or reunite the
child with the parent.
"(4) Conviction of and imprisonment for a felony.
"(7) That reasonable efforts by the Department of
Human Resources or licensed public or private child care
agencies leading toward the rehabilitation of the parent
have failed. ".... "(9) Failure by the parent
to provide for the material needs of the child or to pay a
reasonable portion of support of the child, where the
parent is able to do so. "(10) Failure by the parent
to maintain regular visits with the child in accordance
with a plan devised by the Department of Human Resources,
or any public or licensed private child
care agency, and agreed to by the parent.
"(11) Failure by the parent to maintain consistent
contact or communication with the child.
"(12) Lack of effort by the parent to adjust his or
her circumstances to meet the needs of the child in
accordance with agreements reached, including agreements
reached with local departments of human resources or
licensed child-placing agencies, in an administrative
review or a judicial review.
"(b) A rebuttable presumption that the parent [is]
unable or unwilling to act as parent exists in any case
where the parent ha[s] abandoned a child and this
abandonment continues for a period of four months next
preceding the filing of the petition. Nothing in this
subsection is intended to prevent the filing of a petition
in an abandonment case prior to the end of the four-month
test a juvenile court must apply in an
termination-of-parental-rights action is well settled.
"A juvenile court is required to apply a two-pronged
test in determining whether to terminate parental rights:
(1) clear and convincing evidence must support a finding
that the child is dependent; and
(2) the court must properly consider and reject all viable
alternatives to a termination of parental rights. Ex
parte Beasley, 564 So.2d 950, 954 (Ala. 1990)."
B.M. v. State, 895 So.2d 319, 331 (Ala.Civ.App.
2004). A juvenile court's judgment terminating parental
rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence.
P.S. v. Jefferson Cty. Dep't of Human Res., 143
So.3d 792, 795 (Ala.Civ.App. 2013). "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.'" L.M. v.
D.D.F., 840 So.2d 171, 179 (Ala.Civ.App. 2002) (quoting
Ala. Code 1975, § 6-11-20(b)(4)). Although a juvenile
court's factual findings in a judgment terminating
parental rights based on evidence presented ore tenus are
presumed correct, K.P. v. Etowah Cty. Dep't of Human
Res., 43 So.3d 602, 605 (Ala.Civ.App. 2010),
"[t]his 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." K.S.B. v.
M.C.B., 219 So.3d 650, 653 (Ala.Civ.App. 2016). That is,
this court "`must ... look through ["the prism of
the substantive evidentiary burden," Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254, 106 S.Ct. 2505,
91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986),] 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."'" K.S.B., 219 So.3d at
653 (quoting Ex parte McInish, 47 So.3d 767, 778
(Ala. 2008), quoting in turn Ala. Code 1975, §
evidence presented at trial was composed solely of the
testimony of Shannon Dotson, the DHR caseworker assigned to
the child's case. She testified that the child had been
removed from the custody of the father and the mother in
August 2017 upon the arrest of both parents for possession of
a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Dotson said that the ...