Permissive Intervention Challenged in Lebanon, Tennessee Parental Termination and Adoption: In re Lorelai E.

January 30, 2023 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: Mother and Father are the parents of Child. When Child was nine weeks old, the Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) brought a dependency and neglect action. The juvenile court found Child dependent and neglected and a victim of severe child abuse by Mother and Father. Child was placed in the custody of Petitioners.

Three months later, Petitioners sued to terminate Mother and Father’s parental rights and adopt Child.

Seven months later, DCS moved to intervene in the parental termination and adoption case.

The trial court granted DCS’s motion over the objections of Mother and Father because the issues presented in DCS’s petition for dependency and neglect present common questions of law and fact as those in the parental termination and adoption petition.

Mother and Father took this interlocutory appeal.

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

Rule 24.02 of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure say:

Upon timely motion any person may be permitted to intervene in an action: (1) when a statute confers a conditional right to intervene; or (2) when a movant’s claim or defense and the main action have a question of law or fact in common. In exercising discretion the court shall consider whether or not the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the adjudication of the rights of the original parties.

A termination of parental rights proceeding is not simply a continuation of a dependent-neglect proceeding. It is a new and separate proceeding involving different goals and remedies, different evidentiary standards, and different avenues for appeal. The primary purpose of a dependent-neglect proceeding is to provide for the care and protection of children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. The sole purpose of the termination proceeding is to sever irrevocably the legal relationship between biological parents and their children.

The Court found no error in allowing DCS to intervene:

Mother presses that DCS should not be permitted to intervene pursuant to Rule 24.02(2) because “the questions of fact and issues of law in the dependency and neglect proceeding are vastly different compared to the instant termination proceeding.” However, in the instant petition to terminate parental rights, Petitioners alleged the ground of severe child abuse based on the same facts as those that DCS alleged in its dependency and neglect petition. As DCS correctly notes, the severe abuse ground for termination references the definition of severe child abuse that is applied in dependency and neglect cases. The record before us shows that DCS’s claims in the dependency and neglect proceedings pending in the juvenile court and Petitioners’ termination action have both a question of law and questions of fact in common: the legal question of whether the parents committed severe child abuse based on the same facts that DCS claims to have discovered in an investigation not involving Petitioners and as alleged in DCS is dependency and neglect petition.

The Court found no abuse of discretion in allowing DCS to intervene per Rule 24.02(2).

K.O.’s Comment: DCS also has a statutory right to intervene under Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-1-113(h)(1)(D), which says DCS “shall seek to be joined as a party” in a termination and adoption petition if a juvenile court made a finding of severe child abuse. This argument was pretermitted here because the trial court’s ruling was limited to the application of Rule 24.02(2).

In re Lorelai R. (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Middle Section, December 28, 2022).

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Permissive Intervention Challenged in Lebanon, Tennessee Parental Termination and Adoption: In re Lorelai E. was last modified: January 27th, 2023 by K.O. Herston

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