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Eaton v. Washington County Department of Social Services

Court of Appeals of Virginia

May 10, 2016

ROCHELLE LEE EATON
v.
WASHINGTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WASHINGTON COUNTY C. Randall Lowe, Judge

(Jordan C. Pennington, on brief), for appellant. Appellant submitting on brief.

James R. Hodges; L. Dudley Senter, III, Guardian ad litem for the infant child (McElroy & Hodges; The Senter Law Firm, PC, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Petty, O'Brien and AtLee Argued at Lexington, Virginia.

OPINION

MARY GRACE O'BRIEN JUDGE.

Rochelle Lee Eaton ("appellant") appeals the termination of her residual parental rights to her daughter ("C.O."), born February 18, 2002. Appellant asserts four assignments of error:

I. That the trial court committed reversible error by terminating the residual parental rights of the Appellant when clear and convincing evidence was not presented to prove that she was responsible for the conditions which led to the child being placed in foster care.
II. That the trial court committed reversible error by terminating the residual parental rights of the Appellant when clear and convincing evidence was not presented to prove that . . . she had failed to maintain continuing contact with and to provide or substantially plan for the future of the child for a period of six (6) months after the child's placement in foster care, notwithstanding the reasonable and appropriate efforts of social, medical, mental health, or other rehabilitative agencies to communicate with the parent and to strengthen the parent's relationship.
III. That the trial court committed reversible error by terminating the residual parental rights of the Appellant when clear and convincing evidence was not presented to prove that she had, without good cause, been unwilling or unable within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed twelve (12) months from the date the child was placed in foster care, to substantially remedy the conditions which led to or required continuation of the child's placement in foster care, notwithstanding the reasonable and appropriate efforts of social, medical, mental health, or rehabilitative agencies to such end.
IV. That the trial court committed reversible error by terminating the residual parental rights of the Appellant when clear and convincing evidence was not presented to prove that it was in the best interest of the said minor child to terminate the Appellant's residual parental rights.[1]

I. Background

In 2005, appellant and her three-year-old daughter, C.O., were living in Bristol, Tennessee. In August of 2005, the juvenile court of Sullivan County in Bristol, Tennessee, ("the Tennessee court") removed C.O. from her mother's custody after finding that C.O. was "dependent and neglected" and her health and safety were subject to an immediate threat. The Tennessee court placed C.O. in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("TDCS"). Except for a brief period of time in 2009, C.O. never again resided with her mother.

TDCS provided services to appellant during the pendency of the Tennessee case. The Tennessee court held a series of hearings from 2005 until 2010, and found at each hearing that C.O. remained at risk of ongoing and future substantial harm if returned to her mother's custody. In October of 2010, the Tennessee court granted permanent custody of C.O. to Joe and Minnie Hobbs, the child's great-uncle and great-aunt, who lived in Washington County, Virginia. In the order granting permanent custody, the court made the following findings:

1. That there is clear and convincing evidence of ongoing and future substantial harm to [C.O.] while in the custody of [appellant].
2. That due to the clear and convincing evidence of ongoing future substantial harm to [C.O.], permanent custody is awarded to [Joe and Minnie Hobbs].
3. That it has not been safe to return [C.O.] to [appellant] since the initiation of the dependency and neglect action originally filed in October 2005, and that there is no evidence that [appellant]'s home will ever be safe for [C.O.] to return.
4. That [appellant] is unable to care for the day-to-day medical, educational, physical, and emotional needs of [C.O.].

C.O. remained with the Hobbs family until 2013, when they were no longer able to care for her.[2] On October 7, 2013, the Washington County, Virginia Department of Social Services ("WCDSS") filed for emergency removal of C.O. in the Washington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court ("J&DR court"). The J&DR court granted the motion, and WCDSS took custody of C.O. and placed her in foster care. After objecting to the finding that C.O. was abused or neglected, Mr. and ...


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