In Re Markus E.

Case Number: M2019-01079-SC-R11-PT

In this appeal, we address the standards for severe child abuse as a ground for termination of parental rights. The statute defining severe child abuse includes “knowing” failure to protect a child from abuse or neglect likely to cause serious injury or death. Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-102(b)(22)(A)(i) (Supp. 2016). The statutes do not define “knowing.” We hold that, for severe child abuse, a person’s conduct is considered “knowing,” and a person is deemed to “knowingly” act or fail to act, when he actually knows of relevant facts, circumstances or information, or when he is either in deliberate ignorance of or in reckless disregard of such facts, circumstances, or information presented to him. Under this standard, the relevant facts, circumstances, or information would alert a reasonable parent to take affirmative action to protect the child. For deliberate ignorance, a parent can be found to have acted knowingly when he has specific reason to know the relevant facts, circumstances, or information but deliberately ignores them. For reckless disregard, if the parent has been presented with the relevant facts, circumstances, or information and recklessly disregards them, the parent’s failure to protect can be considered knowing. Here, the trial court terminated the parental rights of the parents of an infant who suffered over twenty rib fractures, in part for knowing failure to protect the child. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We reverse, holding under the particular circumstances of this case that the proof in the record does not clearly and convincingly show that the parents’ failure to protect the child was “knowing.”

Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Originating Judge: Judge Philip E. Smith
Date Filed:
Dissent or Concur: No
Download PDF Version: Majority Opinion 2019-1079-SC.pdf340.98 KB