J.P. AND N.P. APPELLANTS
L.S. AND M.S. APPELLEES J.P. AND N.P. APPELLANTS
L.S. AND M.S. APPELLEES
OF JUDGMENT: 02/13/2017
COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. HAYDN JUDD ROBERTS JUDGE
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS: CONNIE MARIE SMITH, JOHN SAMUEL
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: WHITNEY MCKAY ADAMS
This appeal concerns a termination-of-parental-rights (TPR)
decision involving two minor children. The Rankin County
Chancery Court found sufficient grounds existed to terminate
the parental rights for both of the children's natural
parents, J.P. (the father) and N.P. (the
mother). The chancery court then approved and
ordered the children's adoption by L.S. (the potential
adoptive mother) and M.S. (the potential adoptive father).
J.P. and N.P. appeal the chancellor's TPR decision.
Finding no reversible error, we affirm.
OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
J.P. and N.P. were married and had two children, a girl born
in March 2010 and a boy born in February 2012. This appeal
concerns the termination of their parental rights as to these
Background Information Regarding J.P. and
J.P., the children's natural father, has a child from a
previous marriage who lives with her mother. The child visits
with J.P. regularly. J.P. has a ninth-grade education. J.P.
was also convicted for an armed robbery that took place in
2004, but since that time he has had no criminal record. J.P.
was close to his mother, and after her death in May 2013,
J.P. was prescribed and took Klonopin, a drug used to treat
anxiety. Although his father testified at trial that he was
worried about J.P. using this drug because it appeared to
make him more depressed, there was no evidence presented at
trial that J.P. abused this prescription or became addicted
N.P., the natural mother, had a son from a previous marriage
who was born in 2004. N.P. and her first husband used
methamphetamine (sometimes referred to as meth, crystal meth,
or crystal methamphetamine) before their son was born. N.P.
testified that she stopped using meth when she was pregnant
with her first son, but then when he was about two years old
she began using meth again. During this time she also had
criminal charges brought against her for false
pretenses. N.P. testified that she went to inpatient
drug treatment to avoid going to jail, but she did not
complete treatment. N.P. then transferred to outpatient
rehabilitation, but she also did not complete that program.
N.P.'s mother, P.S., had a hair-follicle test conducted
on N.P.'s first son's hair. It was positive for meth.
N.P.'s parents were granted temporary guardianship of her
first son in 2006. N.P.'s mother adopted N.P.'s first
son in 2010. N.P. testified that after a third
drug-rehabilitation treatment in 2007 she no longer used meth
until she started again in late December 2013, as further
The Time Period from the Birth of the Children
Through October 2014
The trial transcript reflects that from the time the first
child was born in March 2010, up until the children were
placed in L.S. and M.S.'s custody in October 2014,
J.P.'s work history was unstable. N.P., for example,
testified that J.P.'s employment was unsteady since the
older sibling was born, and J.P.'s father, J.P. Sr.,
acknowledged that he had hired J.P. several times but that he
would not show up for work. When N.P. was working, N.P.
primarily supported the family as a nail technician, and the
couple also obtained financial support from N.P.'s
mother, P.S. P.S. testified that she paid utility bills, cell
phone bills, Mothers' Morning Out expenses, and other
bills on a routine basis. Although J.P. testified that P.S.
only paid the electricity bill, several other witnesses
corroborated P.S.'s testimony, including N.P.'s
acknowledgment that her mother "did help a lot
P.S. also testified that throughout the children's lives
she cared for them during the day while N.P. worked. P.S.
would pick up the children from J.P. and N.P., then take them
home and feed them, bathe them, dress them, and take them to
Mothers Morning Out, or care for them herself. She likewise
would take them to doctor visits when N.P. was at work. N.P.
or sometimes J.P. would meet P.S. to get the children or to
pick them up from her home. P.S.'s testimony was
corroborated by several witnesses at trial, including
N.P.'s acknowledgment at trial that when she was working,
P.S. was the children's primary caregiver.
In May 2013, the younger child was burned in a fire while at
home with J.P. J.P. testified that he used acetone to build
up a fire in the fireplace. It caused an explosion that
burned the child's face and surrounding furniture and
curtains. J.P. testified that he did not immediately seek
medical assistance for the child, but instead he called N.P.,
and she came home to look at the child's injuries. N.P.
testified that she sent a picture of the injury to her
mother, P.S. The following day, P.S. took the child to the
doctor, where he was treated for the injuries. Neither J.P.
nor N.P. accompanied P.S. when she took their son to the
doctor. The record reflects that the child continues to have
a scar on his face from this incident, which can be seen when
he gets flushed.
In October 2013, N.P. was arrested on a second-offense
shoplifting charge. She testified that she spent one week in
jail and the children stayed with J.P.
In December 2013, J.P. and N.P. separated for two or three
months. N.P. testified that this was when she began to use
meth again, when she began "hanging out" with B.H.
and his girlfriend. N.P. testified that during this time she
and J.P. fought a lot because he thought she was cheating on
him. She testified that "[J.P.] knew something was wrong
. . . but he never said anything to me about smoking meth. He
thought more or less that I was cheating."
J.P. and N.P. reconciled in early 2014. During this time they
moved, with the children, a number of times, staying with
friends or in motels. It was also during this period that
N.P. took unauthorized cash advances from her
grandmother's credit card for over $13, 000 and made
purchases of over $2, 000. N.P. acknowledged at trial that
she had a gambling addiction, and she testified that this
money went toward her gambling and for the motel rooms that
she, J.P., and the children were staying in.
In June 2014, J.P. and N.P. separated again, and N.P. moved
in with B.H. N.P. testified that during the separations, the
children stayed with her. N.P. testified that J.P. would call
to talk to the older child and that sometimes he would have
them on a Friday night. There was also testimony at trial
that when N.P.'s mother, P.S., went on a two or
three-week vacation, J.P. had the children. J.P.'s father
testified that when J.P. had the children, he would bring
them to his home during his visitation.
N.P. testified that her meth use got progressively worse
during this time, becoming a daily habit after she moved in
with B.H. in July 2014, at which time she not only smoked
meth but also began using meth intravenously. She testified
that B.H. also used meth daily. Regarding the children's
potential exposure to the meth, N.P. testified that she did
not use meth around the children and she "thought"
she did not leave meth or meth paraphernalia around the house
where the children could potentially be
exposed. N.P. testified that she was unaware
whether B.H. was manufacturing crystal meth in his home and
that she did not know whether B.H. exposed the children to
meth. N.P. also testified that during this time the older
child was bitten by B.H.'s dog, a Rottweiler. After that
happened, the dog was kept tied up outside or it was
"put up" if the children went outside. Both
children were afraid of the dog.
J.P. testified at trial that he did not "know" that
N.P. was on meth or that the children were being exposed to
meth. In contrast, the guardian ad litem (GAL) report
provides that J.P.'s stepmother told the GAL that J.P.
told her that B.H. was on drugs during the time N.P. was
living with B.H. J.P.'s father (J.P. Sr.) testified that
J.P. told him that he thought N.P. was on drugs. N.P.'s
mother, P.S., testified that during the time N.P. was living
with B.H., J.P. said to her that B.H. "was not as good
as we thought he was and he had seen it with his own
eyes." J.P. testified that he told P.S. that he
"was worried about my kids, you know, being over there
[at B.H.'s home], . . . because I didn't know him at
all." J.P. testified that in hindsight, he "should
have known" about N.P.'s drug use.
L.S., the potential adoptive mother and N.P.'s first
cousin, testified that in August 2014 she became suspicious
that N.P. was using drugs again when she found out N.P. was
not going to work but was still having P.S. pick up the
children as if N.P. were still employed. In September 2014,
L.S., who is a hairdresser, cut a piece of N.P.'s hair
when she was fixing it. L.S. sent N.P.'s hair off to be
tested. A short time later, the family, including N.P., went
to Florida for a family wedding. According to the testimony
of N.P.'s family members, based on N.P.'s "odd,
odd behavior" that weekend and track marks on her arms,
the family became convinced N.P. was using drugs. L.S.
received the test results from N.P.'s hair, and they
tested positive for amphetamine and meth.
N.P.'s Intervention and J.P.'s
Hospitalization Due to Bonfire Burns
L.S.'s mother then took the children for hair-follicle
testing, and the family had an intervention with N.P. on
October 16, 2014, which resulted in N.P. signing guardianship
papers in which she agreed to allow L.S. and M.S. to have
guardianship over the children. The request for guardianship
was never submitted to the chancery or youth court.
N.P. testified that after the intervention, she called J.P.
that same night and told him "they have the kids"
or "the kids are taken," but he hung up on her.
J.P. was at a friend's house where they were having a
bonfire when he received her call. The record reflects that
J.P. did not attempt to find out more information about where
the children were or to try and reach them after N.P. called
Later that evening, J.P. was severely burned. J.P. asserted
at trial that someone tossed kerosene on the bonfire and it
exploded. J.P. was hospitalized for ten days, and after his
release on October 25, 2014, he stayed with his father and
stepmother so they could help him care for his wounds. J.P.
had a number of surgeries over the next couple of months and
was on pain medication while he healed.
Regarding the circumstances of the bonfire, J.P.'s father
testified that he went to the hospital the next day to see
J.P. and there were several people there, one having a number
of tattoos, including one on his face. J.P.'s father,
himself, had been a crystal meth addict,  and he testified
that this person's appearance concerned him. The next
day, J.P.'s father went to the home where the bonfire
occurred to see for himself whether his son was involved in
any "crystal meth cooking or anything like that."
He described his experience with fire investigations that he
gained while in prison, testifying that he had gone through
the Mississippi Fire Academy and received a number of
certifications, including "crystal meth labs."
Based on his visit to the property the next day, J.P. Sr.
testified that he was personally satisfied that it was just a
bonfire. The GAL testified that she interviewed the woman who
was also burned in the bonfire and that this woman also
claimed that there were no drugs involved that night and that
"[t]here was no meth lab going on that night."
Test Results from the Children's Hair-Follicle
Shortly after their intervention with N.P. and while J.P. was
in the hospital, the family received the test results from
the children's hair-follicle testing. The testing showed
dangerous levels of meth in their systems. A representative
from Culpepper Testing Labs testified about the test results.
She said that with respect to the younger child, in
particular, "in all [her] years of testing, [she] could
not . . . recall an adult or an overdose that [she's]
seen with that much crystal meth in their system." She
further testified that she has tested children who died as
the result of drug exposure, and even in those children, she
has never seen a level that high.
When they received the hair-follicle test results for the
children, L.S. and M.S. immediately began neglect proceedings
in Rankin County Youth Court, as described in more detail
At trial, L.S. testified that after she gained custody of the
children through the youth-court proceedings, she took both
of them to UMMC Children's Hospital for psychological
evaluations. The record reflects that the younger sibling, a
boy, is in speech therapy and that he was slow to potty
train, he had mild development delay, a language disorder,
and low-average cognitive skills. Several witnesses testified
at trial that the child had seemed to be "slow" and
that he appeared dazed looking. They further testified that
since he has been with L.S. and M.S., his eyes have cleared
and he no longer has a dazed look. A child and family
therapist testified at trial regarding her treatment of the
older child, a girl. The older child has been diagnosed with
an expressive language disorder. The therapist explained that
this means that verbal and written language can be difficult
for her. The child is also in speech therapy. The therapist
also testified that the child has described instances in
which she appeared to have more sexual knowledge than is
normal and where she has acted out sexually. The therapist
also believed that the child may also suffer from
post-traumatic stress disorder.
N.P. testified about her close relationship with the children
prior to L.S. and M.S. obtaining custody, and N.P. also
testified that J.P. had a loving and close relationship with
Testimony from the children's teachers, as well as
testimony from family members and the GAL, shows that the
children are currently thriving and, according to the GAL,
are doing "exceptionally well" with L.S. and M.S.
The older child is continuing to see the child and family
therapist on a regular basis. The therapist expressed
concerns about the effect of reuniting the older child with
her natural parents given the progress she has made with L.S.
and M.S. The therapist also testified that it did not appear
from her work with the older child that she thought of J.P.
as a parent, and the therapist never observed any indication
that there was a bond there. Testimony at trial reflected
that family members believe that the younger child did not
J.P. and N.P.'s Current Status
Testimony from trial, which ended November 29, 2016,
including testimony from the GAL, shows that as of that
hearing date, J.P. and N.P. were doing well. They reconciled
in April 2015, purchased a home with the help of J.P.'s
father, and, according to J.P. Sr., they have become
financially independent. N.P. had her drug assessment in
December 2014 and began receiving intensive outpatient
therapy and aftercare for alcohol and meth abuse in January
2015. However, the record reflects that although she
attempted to eliminate her drug use at that time, she
relapsed for a couple of weeks in January. The Region 8
specialist who worked with N.P. in her rehabilitation program
testified that "relapse is very common," which is a
fact N.P. acknowledged in her own testimony.
As of November 28, 2016, the last date of trial, the record
reflects that N.P. has been taking and passing urine drug
screens. Both J.P. and N.P. are employed. As of July 2016,
when J.P. testified at trial, he had been employed for a year
as a driller for SoilTech. N.P. has also regained employment
with her prior employer since the spring of 2015. Both J.P.
and N.P. regularly attend church. The record also reflects
that J.P.'s father and his wife (J.P.'s stepmother)
are available to J.P. and N.P. for advice and support.
The GAL's Findings
The GAL testified as the final witness at trial. She was in
court during the testimony of the other witnesses. She
summarized her report dated February 22, 2016, and this
report was admitted into evidence. The GAL testified that her
report essentially covers the same issues addressed at trial,
which have been addressed above. As she did in her report,
the GAL recommended that N.P.'s parental rights be
terminated. She summarized her opinion, as follows:
There's no doubt in my mind as a result of my
investigations that [the] children were exposed to
methamphetamine while living with their mother . . . . I
don't think N.P. purposefully did anything, but . . . I
don't . . . think there's any doubt that that's
where the exposure came from. She was using [meth]. She was
smoking it. She was ingesting it intravenously. In my
investigation, my research, I found that there's . . . a
residue that crystal meth leaves behind and that it will be
on countertops and tables and the floor. And . . . children
put things in their mouths. I don't have any doubt that .
. . this is where the children were exposed to it. I've
also learned that chronic effects of methamphetamine exposure
in children include development delays, failure to thrive,
behavioral problems. These children have been tested at UMMC
Children's Hospital. They've had psychological
evaluations. And both of the children do have some
psychological issues or some learning issues . . . . I think
all of these things are a result of the time period in which
[the children were] . . . being exposed to the
methamphetamine when [N.P.] was living with [B.H.]. . . .
[T]he Court's aware of N.P.'s history[, ] . . . [her]
behavior and her criminal activity [that] occurred previously
with her [first] son . . . . [I]t's just come full circle
again in 2014 with [the children at issue here]. And she had
been clean apparently from all reports for eight years
between losing [her first son] and -- and this relationship
with B.H. The idea of putting [the children] back in that
situation with the possibility this could happen again is
frightening. . . . I'm not willing to risk these
children. And I believe it's in their best interests that
N.P.'s rights be terminated.
As for J.P., the GAL recommended in her February 2016 report
"supervised visitation [for J.P.], subject to expansion
in the future." At the end of trial, however, the GAL
changed her decision and recommended that J.P.'s parental
rights be terminated, as follows:
[J.P.] was neglectful. He neglected these children's
needs both before --before the drug use in that he was not
financially providing for his children. . . . I think that
his neglectful conduct has created an extreme and deep-seated
antipathy by the child toward the parent and . . . a
substantial erosion of the relationship to the parent and the
child, which is subsection f of [Mississippi Code Annotated
section] 93-15-121. I think that . . . future contacts
between the parent and child are not desirable toward
obtaining a satisfactory permanency outcome. I can't see
that these children should ever be removed from their current
home with [L.S. and M.S.] and placed back into custody [with
J.P. or N.P.]. . . . So I do think that it is in their best
interests that the parental rights of both J.P. and N.P.
Course of Proceedings
As noted above, when they learned of the children's
hair-follicle test results in October 2014, L.S. and M.S.
began neglect proceedings in Rankin County Youth Court. In
their petition filed October 21, 2014, L.S. and M.S. alleged
that they suspected drug use on the part of J.P. and N.P. and
that J.P. and N.P. had neglected their two children. At that
time, the youth-court Department of Human Services (DHS)
workers were not able to locate J.P. The record reflects that
the youth-court GAL called his phone number but got no answer
and could not leave a message because there was no way to
leave a message by voicemail. The youth-court GAL also tried
to get in touch with J.P. by asking N.P. whether she knew of
any other way to contact him. N.P. said that she did not have
any information as to his current location. As detailed
above, it was at this time that J.P. had been burned in the
bonfire. He was recovering from his injuries and subsequent
surgeries. J.P. was not present at any of the youth-court
proceedings. He testified that no one had notified him of the
youth-court proceedings until after they were over.
N.P.'s mother, however, testified that she told J.P.
about the adjudicatory hearing in the youth court on the
Friday before the Monday morning hearing.
On the same day L.S. and M.S.'s petition was filed, the
youth court entered a temporary custody order, placing the
children with L.S. and M.S. The order also included a
no-contact provision applicable to both J.P. and N.P. The
next day, the youth court conducted a shelter hearing in
which it determined that the children should remain in L.S.
and M.S.'s custody and that N.P. should submit to a drug
and alcohol test. At the adjudicatory hearing held on
November 24, 2014, the youth court found that the children
were abused and/or neglected. The youth court ordered for the
children to stay with L.S. and M.S. and continued its prior
no-contact order for J.P. and N.P. Subsequently, the youth
court transferred the case to Rankin County Chancery Court.
In February 2015, L.S. and M.S. filed an adoption and TPR
petition in Rankin County Chancery Court for both children.
At no time, whether in the youth court or before the chancery
court, did J.P., on his own behalf or through counsel, appear
specially to make any type of jurisdictional challenge with
respect to the no-contact order previously entered by the
youth court. On November 12, 2015, however, both J.P. and
N.P., through counsel, petitioned for a writ of habeas
corpus, requesting, among other things, that the chancery
court return the children to them. Counsel made a general
appearance before the chancery court on behalf of both J.P.
and N.P. in these proceedings and did not appear specially
with respect to any jurisdictional challenge as to J.P.
The chancery court denied J.P. and N.P.'s petition for
habeas corpus, finding that the youth court had determined
that the children were neglected when it entered its order on
October 21, 2014, and that order provided that it
"remains in effect till such time as the chancery court
rules on the issue of custody." The chancery court kept
the no-contact order in force throughout the trial on L.S.
and M.S.'s adoption and the TPR petition, which was
conducted on five separate dates between February and
In February 2017, the chancery court issued its final
judgment, first finding that the "the controlling and
governing law" in this case was Mississippi Code
Annotated section 93-17-7 (Rev. 2013), which sets forth the
grounds for allowing an adoption over parental objection, and
The Termination of Rights of Unfit Parents Law, Mississippi
Code Annotated sections 93-15-101 through 93-15-111 (Rev.
2013),  as in effect when L.S. and M.S. filed
their adoption and TPR petition in February 2015. The
chancery court terminated both J.P. and N.P.'s parental
rights and granted adoption to L.S. and M.S. As to N.P., the
chancery court found as follows:
The Court, taking into consideration all the testimony of the
parties and witnesses, finds that the children were
repeatedly exposed to [crystal methamphetamine] over a
considerable period of time while under the direct care and
control of N.P. Further, the Court finds that N.P. has
demonstrated a cycle of drug addiction and criminal behavior,
repeating the circumstances that led her to originally lose
custody and parental rights of [her first son], along with
engaging in what this Court finds to be abuse-exposure by
these children to crystal methamphetamine over an extended
period of time that resulted in substantial harm, luckily not
death, which caused deterioration to the children to such an
extent that their health and emotional, psychological[, ] and
physical well-being were endangered. Further, there now
exists a substantial erosion of the parent-children
relationship which was caused, at least in part, by
N.P.'s serious neglect and abuse.
Regarding J.P., the chancery court found:
The Court finds that J.P.'s lack of involvement and
concern as well as his apathy towards his children combined
with knowledge, or knowledge he should have been able to
easily ascertain, regarding his children's exposure to
crystal methamphetamine rises to the level of neglect. . . .
The Court finds that J.P.'s lack of attention and care is
not excusable or inadvertent but rather inexcusable and more
than mere carelessness. Further, there now exists a
substantial erosion of the parent-children relationship with
J.P. which was caused, at least in part, by his serious
J.P. and N.P. filed a motion to reconsider the chancery
court's order, and, at the hearing on their motion, the
chancery court reminded the parties that it was
"presented with what it found to be a very unique and
distinctively different set of facts than other [TPR] cases,
and that is that the children tested positive for the
presence of crystal methamphetamine." The chancery court
explained that "[it had] stated [in its judgment] that
[this] rose to the level of abuse because that exposure to
crystal meth by the children was while they were under the
direct care of their mother." Regarding the father, the
chancery court reiterated that in its judgment "it found
that the father engaged in serious neglect because he knew or
should have known that his children were exposed to crystal
methamphetamine." The chancery court further explained
that "the guardian ad litem [had] recommended
termination of parental rights and the [chancery court] gave
[that recommendation] the appropriate weight." The
chancery court denied J.P. and N.P.'s motion to
reconsider by an order entered April 3, 2017.
J.P. and N.P. appeal, asserting that the chancery court erred
in terminating their parental rights by misapprehending and
misapplying the controlling law; and, as to J.P., in basing
part of its TPR decision on the youth court's no-contact
order that was entered without notice to J.P. We disagree.
For the reasons addressed below, we affirm the chancery
court's judgment terminating J.P. and N.P.'s parental
rights and granting adoption to L.S. and M.S. in this case.
"Appellate review in a case to terminate parental rights
is the manifest error/substantial credible evidence test. . .
. As long as there is credible evidence to support the
chancellor's findings of fact, we must affirm the
decision." In re Dissolution of Marriage of Leverock
& Hamby, 23 So.3d 424, 427 (¶14) (Miss. 2009);
accord C.S.H. v. Lowndes Cty. Dep't of Human
Servs., 246 So.3d 908, 913 (¶21) (Miss. Ct. App.
2018). In this regard, "we examine whether credible
proof exists to support the chancellor's finding[s] of
fact by clear and convincing evidence." W.A.S. v.
A.L.G., 949 So.2d 31, 34 (¶7) (Miss. 2007)
(internal quotation mark omitted). Finally, "[i]t is not
this Court's role to substitute its judgment for the
chancellor's." K.D.F. v. J.L.H., 933 So.2d
971, 975 (¶14) (Miss. 2006).
We also recognize that "[i]n Mississippi, as in other
jurisdictions, there exists a strong presumption in favor of
preserving parental rights. Only where that presumption is
overcome by clear and convincing evidence is termination
appropriate." In re A.M.A., 986 So.2d 999, 1009
(¶22) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007) (citation omitted).
"However, these parental rights may be abridged when the
welfare of the children is threatened." Vance v.
Lincoln Cty. Dep't of Pub. Welfare, 582 So.2d 414,
417 (Miss.1991); see In re A.M.A., 986 So.2d at 1009
"[Q]uestions of law such as statutory construction are
subject to de novo review, and if a chancellor
misapprehends the controlling rules of law or acts pursuant
to a substantially erroneous view of the law, reversal is
proper." Chism v. Bright, 152 So.3d 318, 322
(¶12) (Miss. 2014). Citing this standard from
Chism, J.P. and N.P. assert that the chancery
court's decision is subject to de novo review in this
case because, according to them, the chancery court
misunderstood and misapplied the controlling
We find no merit in this ...