Sunday, June 27, 2010
By Invitation Only: Court Of Appeals Of Tennessee Affirmes Terimination Of Parental Rights Based On Invited Error Doctrine
Under the invited error doctrine, a party is not permitted to take advantage of an error which he himself invited or induced the trial court to make. Although the Court of Appeals of Tennessee did not mention this doctrine by name, it clearly applied it in its recent opinion in In re Corey N.A., 2010 WL 2490758 (Tenn.Ct.App. 2010).
In Corey N.A., the Department of Children's Services petitioned a Tennessee court to terminate the parental rights of L. and R.A. to their minor children. The proceedings against L. and R.A. were precipitated by allegations of abuse by their child Kayla to a caseworker, with her allegations leading to the children being taken into custody. At the ensuing trial, Kayla did not testify, but her allegations of abuse were admitted into evidence and played a big role in the trial court finding "that grounds to terminate the parental rights by clear and convincing evidence existed, as well as clear and convincing evidence that it was in the children's best interest to terminate the parental rights of the parents.
After their parental rights were terminated, the parents appealed, claiming, inter alia, that Kayla's allegations were inadmissible hearsay. The Court of Appeals of Tennessee disagreed, finding that the statements were admissible under Tennessee Rule of Evidence 803(25), which provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for "statements about abuse or neglect made by a child alleged to be the victim of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse or neglect, offered in a civil action concerning issues of dependency and neglect," with victims under 13 years-old not needing to testify for such statements to be admissible.
The Court of Appeals noted that the parents contended on appeal that this exception was inapplicable because Kayla was over the age of 13 at the time of trial and did not testify. But the court noted that at trial, the parents claimed that Kayla was a few months shy of 13, with their attorney admitting that her statements to the caseworker were "probably admissible." Accordingly, the court found that the parents could not "now be heard to complain that Kayla's statements should not have been admitted." Or, in other words, if the trial court erred in admitting Kayla's statements, that error was invited by the parents.