The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (“DCS”) removed three children from the custody of their parents and placed them with foster parents in March 2012 because one of the children, an infant, was severely malnourished. By July 2012, the children’s mother was cooperating with DCS and complying with a permanency plan that set the goal for the children as reunification with their mother or another relative. The mother continued to comply with the permanency plan for the next sixteen months that the children were in foster care. On the day the children were scheduled to begin a trial home visit with the mother, July 31, 2013, the foster parents filed a petition in circuit court seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights and to adopt the children. After the foster parents filed their petition in circuit court, the juvenile court, which had maintained jurisdiction over the dependency and neglect proceeding, ordered DCS to place the children with the mother for the trial home visit. The circuit court trial on the foster parents’ petition did not occur until September 2015. By that time, the children had resided with the mother on a trial basis for two years without incident. The mother, DCS, and the guardian ad litem appointed by the juvenile court in the dependency and neglect proceeding opposed the foster parents’ petition. The foster parents and a guardian ad litem appointed by the circuit court sought termination of the mother’s parental rights. After the multi-day trial, the trial court dismissed the petition, finding that the foster parents had proven a ground for termination by clear and convincing proof but had failed to establish by clear and convincing proof that termination is in the children’s best interests. The foster parents appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed. We granted the mother’s application for permission to appeal and now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court’s judgment dismissing the foster parents’ petition. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that the proof does not amount to clear and convincing evidence that termination of the mother’s parental rights is in the children’s best interests.
Case Number: E2016-00139-SC-R11-PT
Originating Judge: Judge L. Marie Williams
Case Name: In Re Gabriella D., Et Al.
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