Department of Children and Families and the Guardian ad Litem Program, Appellants,
K.W., Mother of A.C. and C.S., Minor Children, Appellee.
final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Leon County. Jonathan
J. Rumph and Laura Battaglia of Children's Legal
Services, Tallahassee, for Appellant Department of Children
Thomasina F. Moore, Sara Goldfarb, and Richard Paul Gillis of
the Guardian ad Litem Program, Tallahassee, for Appellant the
Guardian ad Litem Program.
Crystal M. Frusciante of Frusciante Law Firm, P.A., Sunrise;
Anne Marie Perine, Assistant Regional Conflict Counsel,
Tallahassee, for Appellee.
appeal, the Department of Children and Families (the
Department) and the Guardian Ad Litem Program (the GAL)
challenge the trial court's denial of the petition to
terminate the parental rights (TPR) of the mother, K.W. The
appellants argue the trial court's determination that TPR
was not in the manifest best interests of the children was
not supported by competent, substantial evidence. We agree
2017, the Department removed the mother's two young
children, A.C. and C.S., from her care due to a suspicious
burn on C.S.'s leg. The children were placed with the
great-grandmother, B.B. The mother consented to dependency of
the children who remained in the great-grandmother's care
throughout this case. In 2018, the Department filed a TPR
petition as to the mother and the two fathers.
TPR hearing, the evidence supported the trial court's
finding there was "no way to dispute" the
overwhelming evidence for terminating the mother's
parental rights under section 39.806(1)(e)1., Florida
Statutes (2018). However, the trial court determined TPR was
not in the manifest best interests of the children and denied
the petition. The appellants argue that the trial court
incorrectly applied the law regarding manifest best interests
and its denial must be reversed because it was not supported
by competent, substantial evidence. We agree.
are three requirements to TPR. First, the Department must
prove one of the statutory grounds under section 39.806,
Florida Statutes. Second, the Department must show that TPR
is in the children's manifest best interests. Third, TPR
must meet the least restrictive means test. See J.P. v.
Fla. Dep't of Children & Families, 183 So.3d
1198, 1203 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016) (quoting N.L. v. Dep't
of Children & Family Servs., 843 So.2d 996, 1000
(Fla. 1st DCA 2003)). The Department's burden of proof is
by clear and convincing evidence. W.W. v. Dep't of
Children & Families, 218 So.3d 490, 493 (Fla. 1st
DCA 2017) (citing A.H. v. Dep't of Children &
Families, 144 So.3d 662, 665 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014)). On
appeal, the appellate court looks to whether competent,
substantial evidence supports the trial court's final
judgment, but the appellate court's role is not to
reweigh the evidence heard by the trial court. J.P.,
183 So.3d at 1203. Reversal of an order denying a TPR
petition is appropriate where denial is not supported by
competent, substantial evidence and is not in the
children's best interests. Dep't of Children
& Families v. K.F., 916 So.2d 948, 949 (Fla. 4th DCA
2005) (citing Dep't of Children & Families v.
A.D., 904 So.2d 480, 482 (Fla. 1st DCA 2005)).
agree with the trial court that clear and convincing evidence
supported TPR of the mother's rights under section
39.806(1)(e)1. However, we disagree with the trial
court's determination that TPR was not in the
children's manifest best interests.
best interests are addressed in section 39.810, Florida
Statutes (2018), which provides:
In a hearing on a petition for termination of parental
rights, the court shall consider the manifest best interests
of the child. This consideration shall not include a
comparison between the attributes of the parents and those of
any persons providing a present or potential placement for
the child. For the purpose of determining the manifest best
interests of the child, the court shall consider and evaluate
all relevant factors[.]
statute provides a non-exhaustive list of eleven factors the
trial court should consider. The ...