September 27, 2017
Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(ADA-70-15, ADA-71-15, ADA-72-15) (Hon. Sean C. Staples,
Magistrate Judge) (Hon. Yvonne Williams, Associate Judge)
J. Susskind for appellant.
Browne for appellees A.S., M.S., and T.S.
Rhodalyn Primes Okoroma, Assistant Attorney General, with
whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of
Columbia, Todd S. Kim, then Solicitor General, and Loren L.
AliKhan, then Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief,
for appellee District of Columbia.
Kate Deshler Gould, guardian ad litem, filed a statement in
lieu of a brief in support of appellee D.R.M.
Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge, and Glickman and Thompson,
Blackburne-Rigsby, Chief Judge
T.M.S. appeals the Superior Court's order terminating her
parental rights over her three biological daughters, A.S.,
M.S., and T.S., and granting the adoption petition of the
children's foster parent, appellee D.R.M. T.M.S. broadly
argues that the magistrate judge, in his order, which the
associate judge affirmed, erred in (1) finding that she was
unfit to parent her children, and (2) finding that
D.R.M.'s petition for adoption was in the best interests
of her children. The trial court's decision that T.M.S.
was unfit to parent her children and that adoption is in the
best interests of the children is supported by clear and
convincing evidence in the record. We affirm.
Factual and Procedural Background
record demonstrates that on January 28, 2012, Metropolitan
Police Department ("MPD") officers found
ten-year-old A.S., nine-year-old M.S., and four-year-old
T.S., home alone. "[T]he home had minimal electricity,
no gas, was infested with mice, and had minimal food and no
hot water." The children reported to the officers that
T.M.S. had left the "home early that morning and had not
returned by evening." Upon removal, the girls were
placed at St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home until
February 29, 2012, when they were placed together in a foster
care home. On April 25, 2012, T.M.S. stipulated to the
adjudication of neglect of her three daughters, admitting
that "she suffered from a mental illness that impacted
her ability to parent" her children, "and that her
failure to receive treatment, the condition of her home and
her leaving the children unattended provided a basis for the
Court to find neglect pursuant to D.C. Code [§§]
16-2301 (9)(A)(ii) and (iii) [(2012 Repl.)]." As a
result, the three children were put into the care of the
Child and Family Services Agency ("CFSA"). On
September 9, 2013, T.M.S. and the children's biological
father, R.L.A.,  were granted supervised visitation rights.
On December 20, 2014, the girls were placed into D.R.M.'s
the children's removal from T.M.S.'s home, the trial
court ordered her to undergo a mental health evaluation and
participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ("CBT")
and weekly drug tests. Following a psychiatric evaluation of
T.M.S., McClendon Center psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Steury,
diagnosed T.M.S. with "Adjustment [D]isorder, mixed
depression [and], mixed depressed mood," and prescribed
her Zoloft. T.M.S.'s treating therapist Korey Puckett,
who has been treating T.M.S. using CBT, testified that
T.M.S.'s symptoms include "maladaptive
thoughts," "crying spells[, ] and repressed
feelings," which cause her to "have a heightened
suspicion" of others and assume others are trying to
hurt her. The record indicates that the paramount concern of
Dr. Steury and Mr. Puckett is that T.M.S.'s mental
illness causes "poor [behavior] choice[s]," which
prevent her from putting the best interests of her children
above what she wants for her children. On June 5, 2013, the
permanency goal was changed from reunification to adoption.
The Termination of Parental Rights ("TPR") and
and adoption hearing was held on October 15, 16, 23 and 28,
2015, before Magistrate Judge Staples. Although none of the
three children testified at trial, the trial court admitted
statements that they made to their counselor, James Sean
Delehant, regarding their wishes for adoption and future
relationship with T.M.S. All three children expressed their
desire to be adopted by D.R.M., exhibited a clear
understanding of the meaning of adoption, and understood
"that they may lose all contact with [T.M.S.]"
should they be adopted. The trial court took judicial notice
that A.S., who was fourteen years old at the time, consented
to the adoption, after A.S. signed and submitted to the court
a consent form indicating her desire to be adopted by D.R.M.
See D.C. Code § 16-304 (b)(1) (2012 Repl.).
hearing, the court heard a great deal of testimony about
T.M.S.'s struggles with mental illness and her lack of
progress in ameliorating the conditions that led to her
children's removal. The court also heard quite a bit of
testimony about the children's mental, emotional, and
developmental struggles and their progress throughout their
time following their removal from T.M.S.'s care. The
court relied primarily on the testimony of six key witnesses:
the foster mother, D.R.M.; the social worker, Christine
Dogger; the expert witness, Dr. Seth King; the counselor, Mr.
Delehant; the birth mother, T.M.S.; and the birth
mother's therapist, Mr. Puckett.
The Magistrate Judge's Ruling and the Associate
Judge's Affirmance on Review
detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the
aforementioned testimony, the trial court concluded that
T.M.S. was unfit to parent the girls. See D.C. Code
§§ 16-304 (e) and -2353 (b) (2012
Repl.). Therefore, the trial court concluded that
T.M.S. withheld her consent to adoption contrary to the
children's best interests. Finally, the trial court
concluded that adoption by D.R.M. was in the children's
best interests, and T.M.S.'s consent was therefore
trial court noted that T.M.S. "deeply loves her
children," but that she, nonetheless, was not fit to
parent the children "due to her long-term, ongoing
unresolved mental health issues, refusal to admit to the
neglectful conditions that her children were living in, and
lack of stable housing." The trial court further
reasoned that T.M.S. cancelled several scheduled visits with
the children over the years. During several of the visits
that T.M.S. attended, she exhibited a variety of irrational
emotional states, which upset and agitated the children.
Additionally, she continued to bring large amounts of food
and unhealthy snacks to visits with the children,
notwithstanding that two of the three children struggled with
obesity, which greatly impacted their health and wellbeing.
Finally, the trial court did not find ...