OF JUDGMENT: 02/24/2015
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. CYNTHIA L. BREWER.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: JOHN G. HOLADAY ANDY STEWART.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: WILLIAM R. WRIGHT AMANDA JANE
Jane Doe appeals the termination of her parental
rights by the Madison County Chancery Court. Finding error,
we reverse and render.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
John and Jane Doe were divorced in 2009 on the ground of
irreconcilable differences. They agreed to joint physical and
legal custody of their sole minor child, who was born in
2007. On June 8, 2011, John petitioned the chancery court for
a modification of custody, due to concerns regarding
Jane's drug abuse. On January 18, 2012, after one of
Jane's relapses, John moved for emergency relief without
notice to Jane. The chancellor granted the motion and
temporarily awarded sole legal and physical custody of the
child to John.
On August 21, 2012, the chancellor heard John's petition
for modification. Sixteen days before the hearing, Jane's
attorney's motion to withdraw was granted, and Jane
appeared pro se at the hearing. The chancellor ruled from the
bench, awarding John full custody. In her bench ruling, the
chancellor gave Jane thirty days-until September 20-to
provide proof of employment and two clean drug tests in order
to receive supervised visitation with the child. John's
counsel prepared the order, and filed it on September 21,
2012. Jane did not submit drug tests or proof of employment
to the court by September 20, 2012.
John filed his original motion to terminate Jane's
parental rights on January 29, 2013, and later amended the
motion to include a petition for adoption of the child by
Laura, his wife. Jane's counsel entered an appearance
fourteen days before the hearing was held on July 15, 2014.
When it became apparent that the parties would be unable to
present all of the testimony in one day, the chancellor
continued the hearing until August 11, 2014. At the hearing,
there was extensive testimony about Jane's prior drug
history and arrests. There was also testimony about how John
and Jane abused drugs together during their marriage and how,
with the child in the car, John was arrested for driving
under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia.
In addition to the testimony concerning Jane's drug use,
there was also undisputed testimony that Jane was currently
clean and enrolled in Alternatives for Life and Recovery, a
drug-rehabilitation program. Jane had enrolled in the program
in December 2013 and had advanced in it before the hearing
date. The record shows that she passed a number of drug tests
before the first day of the hearing in July 2014. She was
also clean from any illegal drugs for the second day of the
trial in August 2014.
The testimony at trial also undisputedly showed that Jane was
employed with her family business and lived in an apartment
on her parents' property. And the record does not include
any direct evidence that Jane ever abused drugs around the
child when he was in her custody. She testified that whenever
she used drugs, the child was with her mother or with John.
Aside from an incident where the child accidentally cut
himself with a razor in the bathroom, which was not alleged
by any party to be Jane's fault, there was no evidence
that the child ever suffered any physical harm when he was in
The chancellor entered an order terminating Jane's
parental rights on February 25, 2015. Jane's attorney did
not receive notice of the judgment from the clerk's
office until March 27, 2015. He then filed a motion to reopen
the time for appeal, and the chancery court granted the
motion without opposition from John's attorney. Jane
noticed her appeal on April 16, 2015. The next day, the
chancellor entered a judgment of adoption.
"The chancellor's findings of fact concerning the
termination of parental rights are viewed under the manifest
error/substantial credible evidence standard of review."
W.A.S. v. A.L.G., 949 So.2d 31, 34 (¶7) (Miss.
2007). "Therefore, we examine whether credible proof
exists to support the chancellor's finding of fact by
clear and convincing evidence." Id. (citation
omitted). "State statutes providing for the termination
of parental rights are subject to strict scrutiny and
[c]ourts may not add to the enumerated grounds."
Chism v. Bright, 152 So.3d 318, 322 (¶13)
(Miss. 2014). Where "a chancellor misapprehends ...