“The Department’s position amounted to nothing more than parroted statutory phrases”

But even if the circuit court’s characterization were accurate, it could not serve as a legal basis for terminating N.F.’s parental rights. As mentioned, simply failing to complete a case plan, as such, is not ground for terminating parental rights. Rather, evidence of neglect or abuse can only be based on a failure to “substantially comply,” i.e., fail in a case plan task that bears on the circumstances that caused the creation of the plan. Here, that circumstance was N.F.’s failure to make arrangements for her daughter’s care when she was arrested. There was no allegation or evidence that N.F. had a substance abuse problem, let alone one that endangered her daughter’s safety or well-being. See R.F., 22 So.3d at 653 (reversing termination of parental rights on ground of parents’ continuing drug abuse in absence of showing that drug use harmed children); M.H. v. Dep’t of Children & Families, 866 So.2d 220, 222 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (same). Therefore, the court’s implication that N.F. had not complied with mandatory drug screenings, even if true, could not legally support a termination of her parental rights.

In short, the Department’s position amounted to nothing more than parroted statutory phrases and bald incantations of buzz words. Such conclusory assertions, devoid of factual support, were not competent substantial evidence—let alone clear and convincing evidence—of anything.

N.F. v. DCF, — So.3d —-, 2012 WL 881612 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2012).

I’ve heard of shotgun weddings. The court seems to believe this was a shotgun TPR.


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