Severe Abuse Finding in Dependency and Neglect Case Is Grounds to Terminate Parental Rights in Lafayette, Tennessee: In re Cora W.

February 16, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Child was born in June. In August, Child tested positive for amphetamine, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

Mother and Father were charged with a litany of drug-related crimes.

In September, the juvenile court found Child dependent and neglected and a victim of severe abuse perpetrated by Mother and Father. Neither parent appealed this order.

In February, the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) petitioned to terminate their parental rights on the grounds of abandonment by wanton disregard and severe child abuse.

DCS relied on the September judgment of severe abuse to prove the ground of severe abuse.

Mother’s and Father’s parental rights were terminated.

Both parents appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Res judicata bars a second suit between the same parties on the same cause of action about all issues that were or could have been litigated in the former suit. The fundamental principle underlying the doctrine is that a party who once has litigated a claim before an appropriate tribunal usually ought not to have another chance to do so.

An earlier finding by a juvenile court in dependency and neglect proceedings can be res judicata in later parental rights termination proceedings. In such cases, the doctrine of res judicata prevents the issue from being re-litigated in the subsequent parental rights termination proceeding.

The Court found no error in applying the finding from the dependency and neglect case to the termination case that followed:

In September 2020, the juvenile court entered its Adjudication and Final Disposition Hearing Order in which it adjudicated Child dependent and neglected. Father, Child, and DCS all were parties to this action. The juvenile court found further that Child was a victim of severe abuse perpetrated by Father…. The severe abuse finding was based upon Child’s exposure to drugs. Father did not appeal this order. Res judicata applies. We find, as did the juvenile court, that the ground of severe child abuse was proven against Father by the standard of clear and convincing evidence.

Father also challenged the ground of abandonment by wanton disregard by arguing that Child’s “one-time” exposure to drugs was insufficient. The Court made quick work of this argument:

It was not necessary that Father massively expose Child to dangerous drugs in the manner he did multiple times in order for the ground of wanton disregard to become applicable; Child’s one wholly unjustified brush with severe injury or death at the hands of Father was enough….

What is more, it is not accurate to refer to Child’s massive exposure to dangerous drugs as “one-time conduct” on Father’s part. To be sure, Father’s being caught was a singular event. Being caught was not the basis for Father’s wanton disregard; rather it was his keeping dangerous drugs in his home to the point [that] Child was massively exposed to these drugs that constitutes wanton disregard. This ongoing state of affairs was interrupted only by the intervention of law enforcement.

The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment in its entirety.

In re Cora W. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, February 2, 2022).

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Severe Abuse Finding in Dependency and Neglect Case Is Grounds to Terminate Parental Rights in Lafayette, Tennessee: In re Cora W. was last modified: February 10th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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