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S.J. v. Jackson County Department of Human Resources

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

September 13, 2019

S.J.
v.
Jackson County Department of Human Resources

          Appeals from Jackson Juvenile Court (JU-09-274.05 and JU-14-91.03)

          MOORE, JUDGE.

         In appeal number 2180312, S.J. ("the mother") appeals from a judgment entered by the Jackson Juvenile Court ("the juvenile court"), in case number JU-09-274.05, terminating her parental rights to M.F., whose date of birth is November 25, 2001. In appeal number 2180313, the mother appeals from a separate, but almost identical, judgment entered by the juvenile court, in case number JU-14-91.03, terminating her parental rights to L.F., whose date of birth is July 13, 2011. We affirm the juvenile court's judgments.

         Procedural History

         On November 3, 2017, the Jackson County Department of Human Resources ("DHR") filed separate petitions to terminate the parental rights of the mother to M.F. and L.F. ("the children").[1] After a trial on November 27, 2018, the juvenile court entered separate judgments on December 27, 2018, terminating the mother's parental rights to the children. On January 9, 2019, the mother filed a single notice of appeal, referencing both case number JU-09-274.05 and case number JU-14-91.03.

         Standard of Review

         A judgment terminating parental rights must be supported by clear and convincing evidence, which 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)].

"... [F]or 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[, ]' [Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986)]; 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 rest on ore tenus evidence, this court presumes their correctness. Id. We review the legal conclusions to be drawn from the evidence without a presumption of correctness. J.W. v. C.B., 68 So.3d 878, 879 (Ala. Civ. App. 2011).

         Facts

         Jennifer Mason, a social worker for DHR, testified that the most recent protective-services case relating to this family had been opened in 2012 and that the children were ultimately removed from the mother's home and placed in foster care in 2014. According to Mason, the children were removed because of concerns that the children lacked supervision and that the children's needs were not being met and because officials from the school M.F. was attending were frequently contacting DHR with complaints that M.F. was defecating on himself and the school officials either could not reach the mother or could not get her to retrieve M.F. from the school.[2]Elizabeth Neely, a child-welfare supervisor with DHR, testified that DHR had also been concerned that another child of the mother's, G.F., instead of the mother, was the primary caretaker of the children and that the mother had left medications within the reach of L.F. G.F., who was 19 years old at the time of the termination-of-parental-rights trial, was also removed from the mother's home in 2014. At the time of the trial, G.F. was living in an independent-living apartment through a program called "Gateway." The mother's parental rights to G.F. are not at issue in these cases.

         Lois Patrella, a clinical psychologist, conducted a psychological evaluation on the mother in 2014. She diagnosed the mother with generalized anxiety disorder, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and dependent personality disorder. She testified that the mother's overall intelligence quotient was at a "Low/Average" level with a working memory at a "Borderline" level, which, she stated, was a "pretty low ...


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