Deficient Pleading Challenged in Jacksboro, Tennessee Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption: In re Kailyn B.

October 24, 2022 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the never-married parents of Child. When their relationship ended, Child lived primarily with Mother.

Mother abused heroin and other opioids.

Father’s petitioned for emergency custody, and the juvenile court found Child was dependent and neglected in Mother’s care.

One and a half years later, Father and Stepmother petitioned to terminate Mother’s parental rights and adopt Child.

At the close of Father and Stepmother’s proof, Mother moved for involuntary dismissal alleging that the petition was procedurally defective because it did not include several things the law requires.

Father and Stepmother were allowed to amend their petition—twice—to cure the defects.

The trial court then found grounds for termination and that termination was in Child’s best interest. Mother’s parental rights were terminated, and the adoption was approved.

Mother appealed.

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

Tennessee law requires:

  • all adoption petitions to contain a verified statement confirming that the petitioners checked the putative father registry;
  • all initial pleadings in child-custody proceedings to include details about where the child lived the previous five years; and
  • all petitions to terminate parental rights to have a notice about special deadlines applicable to appeals in termination cases.

The petition filed by Father and Stepmother lacked all these requirements.

Rule 15.01 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “leave [to amend a pleading] shall be freely given when justice so requires.” It reflects Tennessee’s history of favoring litigants to amend their pleadings to enable disputes to be resolved on their merits rather than on legal technicalities. The rule substantially reduces a trial court’s pretrial discretion.

The Court found no error because the amendments did not prejudice Mother:

In addressing motions to amend, trial courts have been directed to consider several factors, including undue delay in filing the amendment, lack of notice to the opposing party, bad faith by the moving party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by previous amendments, undue prejudice to the opposing party and the futility of the amendment. Of these, the potential prejudicial effect of the proposed amendment is the most important to the trial court’s analysis. Mother argues that both motions [to amend] should have been denied based on undue delay, repeated failure to cure deficiencies, and undue prejudice.

Delay alone is insufficient to justify denying a motion to amend. Yet, unexplained delay coupled with other factors, like prior knowledge of facts underlying a newly-added cause of action, could constitute such undue delay as to proscribe amendment. Thus, even in its contemplation of other factors, a trial court must consider an amendment’s prejudicial effect. A trial court’s analysis of the prejudicial effect of a proposed amendment is a fact-intensive exercise. The court must consider how its decision whether to grant the request to amend would affect the parties, requiring an inquiry into (1) the hardship on the moving party if the amendment is denied; (2) the reasons for the moving party’s failure to include the claim, defense, or other matter in its earlier pleading; and (3) the injustice to the opposing party should the motion to amend be granted.

Some of the relevant factors certainly weigh against allowing the amendment in this case. For one, [Father and Stepmother], to this day, have never offered any explanation for the delay in filing a correct petition. And they needed two amendments to achieve a substantially correct petition. On the other hand, however, there is no allegation that [Father and Stepmother] were acting in bad faith. Moreover, [Father and Stepmother] did file both their amendments shortly after Mother’s motion for involuntary dismissal brought this matter to their attention. And the hardship faced by [Father and Stepmother] if the amendment was not granted is harsh; their petition, which alleges that the parent of the child abandoned that child and has no relationship with her, would be denied on a technicality.

What is more, the trial court found that these technical deficiencies had no effect on Mother. In other words, Mother suffered no prejudice due to the technical deficiencies. Any error was harmless and does not require reversal.

Finding no abuse of discretion, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

K.O.’s Comment: Adoption and termination of parental rights cases contain many procedural traps for the unwary, all of which can be easily avoided by using Dawn Coppock’s book., which is why it is featured as one of the “Things I Like.” Anyone handling adoption or termination of parental rights cases in Tennessee would be well advised to buy a copy.

In re Kailyn B. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Eastern Section, October 17, 2022).

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Deficient Pleading Challenged in Jacksboro, Tennessee Termination of Parental Rights and Adoption: In re Kailyn B. was last modified: October 24th, 2022 by K.O. Herston

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