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A.B. v. R.V.

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

October 15, 2019

A.B. APPELLANT
v.
R.V. AND M.V., LEGAL GUARDIANS AND NEXT FRIENDS OF THE MINOR CHILDREN NAMED HEREIN APPELLEES

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/16/2016

          HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. SANFORD R. STECKLER TRIAL JUDGE

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: REED STANTON BENNETT

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: GRADY MORGAN HOLDER

          BEFORE CARLTON, P.J., GREENLEE AND McCARTY, JJ.

          GREENLEE, J.

         ¶1. This child-custody appeal arises from a decision terminating A.B.'s parental rights. This Court, having fully considered the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, affirms the Harrison County Chancery Court's judgment.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. There is little dispute as to the facts in this case, as sad as they are. A.B. and her partner, J.B., were married and had three children. This appeal concerns the termination of A.B.'s parental rights as to her two youngest children, Emma and Jacob, as their natural mother.[1] Our review begins with the evidence concerning A.B.'s life.

         ¶3. At twelve years of age, A.B. started using illicit drugs. Throughout her adolescence and early adulthood, her substance abuse amplified and eventually included heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, and alcohol. Due to her drug addictions and violent behavior, A.B.'s parents evicted her from their home when she was eighteen years old. Since then, A.B. married twice, experienced eight pregnancies, and was arrested four times.

         ¶4. A.B. had a daughter during her first marriage. But in 1999, she lost custody of the child to her parents. A year after losing custody, A.B. and her first husband, David, were involved in a serious car accident while A.B. was pregnant. It is unclear who was driving the vehicle, but both A.B. and David were severely intoxicated.[2] The accident killed David and the unborn child.

         ¶5. In 2005, A.B. met J.B. At that time, both A.B. and J.B. were addicted to drugs and alcohol. A short time later, the couple married and proceeded to have three children. The couple's first child reportedly died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Their second child, Emma, was born in 2008. Their third child, Jacob, was born in 2010. During each of her pregnancies, A.B. admitted to drinking excessively and breastfeeding while intoxicated.

         ¶6. A.B. and J.B. struggled to take care of their children. For example, A.B. frequently used drugs and alcohol around the children. On several occasions, Emma and Jacob found A.B. unresponsive, leaving the children unsupervised and dirty. At times, Emma would escape from the house and not be discovered until later. The guardian ad litem (GAL) testified that A.B.'s conduct would have resulted in "aggravated circumstances" had the matter been initiated in a youth court.

         ¶7. In 2012, A.B. was arrested for driving under the influence with Emma and Jacob in the car. A year later, the children's aunt Melissa filed a Petition to Establish General Guardianship over Emma and Jacob. Melissa also filed an ex parte petition seeking temporary relief, which was granted. At the guardianship hearing, A.B. conceded that she should no longer have custody of the children, but she lied about her drug and alcohol abuse. The court appointed Melissa as their guardian.

         ¶8. From October 2013 to January 2014, A.B. and J.B. attended the Homes of Grace treatment program for their addictions. While in treatment, A.B. managed to visit with Emma and Jacob on two separate occasions. But A.B.'s sobriety did not last long. In March, she and J.B. relapsed. That same month, Emma and Jacob met R.V. and M.V. Instantly, R.V. and M.V. desired to adopt Emma and Jacob, but they acquiesced to A.B.'s mother's demand to not adopt.[3]

         ¶9. On Easter 2014, A.B. and J.B. visited with Emma and Jacob at daycare. This was A.B.'s last visit with the children. In July 2014, A.B. and J.B. filed a Petition to Appoint a New Guardian and allow visitation. They claimed they were drug free, but they refused to submit to drug testing. The GAL reported that it would be damaging to Emma and Jacob to mention A.B. and J.B. in conversation.

         ¶10. Several months later, A.B. and J.B. consented to drug tests. The results showed that both A.B. and J.B. tested positive for methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepine, suboxone, and alcohol. After failing the drug test, A.B. was charged with shoplifting, and she admitted to failing to appear in court. A few weeks later, A.B. and J.B. were both arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance.[4]

         ¶11. In January 2015, A.B. enrolled in another rehabilitative treatment program. Not long after that, Melissa, A.B.'s mother, R.V., and M.V. filed a joint petition to appoint R.V. and M.V. as guardians of the children. At the August 2015 hearing, A.B. appeared pro se and claimed she was sober. She also moved ore tenus for visitation with the children. The court directed A.B. to file a written pleading, but A.B. never complied.

         ¶12. In June 2016, R.V. and M.V. filed an Amended Petition to Terminate A.B.'s Parental Rights. A.B. responded in opposition. After the GAL's recommendation to terminate parental rights, the chancery court found by clear and convincing evidence that A.B.'s and J.B.'s parental rights should be terminated and that future contacts between A.B. and J.B. and the children were undesirable. In December 2016, A.B. filed for a motion for reconsideration. The motion was denied in May 2017.

         ¶13. On appeal, A.B. now argues that the chancery court erred by terminating her parental rights and that the chancellor's "order lacks finding[s] of fact or conclusions of law that tend to establish ground[s] for termination."

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶14. This Court is aware of the gravity of the outcome of this case. A.B. has lost her fundamental right to be a parent. See In re A.M.A., 986 So.2d 999, 1009 (¶22) (Miss. Ct. App. 2007). But a parent's parental rights are not absolute. Id. at 1009-10 (¶¶22-23). In termination-of-parental-rights cases, appellate courts apply "the manifest error/substantial credible evidence test." S. N.C. v. J.R.D. Jr., 755 So.2d 1077, 1080 (¶7) (Miss. 2000). That test requires that as long as there is credible proof to support the chancellor's findings of fact by clear and convincing evidence, the appellate court must affirm the decision. K.D.F. v. J.L.H., 933 So.2d ...


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