Termination of Parental Rights

Finding of “Severe Child Abuse”

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals


In re S.S., No. E2021-00761-COA-R3-PT, p. 11-12 (Tenn. Ct. App. Apr. 19, 2022).

When reviewing an independent finding of severe child abuse under ground (g)(4)  [in Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113] on appeal, the following standard of review applies:

In determining whether severe child abuse is established by clear and convincing evidence, we must “‘distinguish between the specific facts found by the trial court and the combined weight of those facts.’” [In re S.J., 387 S.W.3d 576, 591 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2012)] (quoting In re Tiffany B., 228 S.W.3d 148, 156 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2007)). The specific underlying facts, including whether the parent’s conduct with respect to the child’s injuries was “knowing,” “need only be established by a preponderance of the evidence.” Id. at 592. Once the facts have been proven, the court must examine “the combined weight of all of those facts, to see if they clearly and convincingly show severe child abuse.” Id.

In re Walter B., No. M2020-00069-COA-R3-PT, 2020 WL 7422070, at *4 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2020) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Mar. 9, 2021). However, when proceeding under the alternative second avenue under ground (g)(4), “the ground is proven by the prior order finding severe child abuse,” and “[t]he issue of whether abuse occurred may not be relitigated at the termination hearing.” In re B.R.W., No. M2008-00468-COA-R3-PT, 2008 WL 2811301, at *2 (Tenn. Ct. App. July 21, 2008); see, e.g., In re Sebashtian K., No. E2020-01439-COA-R3-PT, 2021 WL 5071966, at *6 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2021) (“The court’s previous severe abuse finding serves as conclusive proof that Mother and Father committed severe child abuse[.]”); In re Madylynn C., No. M2021-00184-COA-R3-PT, 2021 WL 4476810, at *10 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 30, 2021) perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 28, 2021) (“Because neither Appellant challenged the finality or the validity of the adjudicatory dependency and neglect order, the issue of severe child abuse is res judicata.”); In re S.M.C., No. 01A01-9807-JV-00358, 1999 WL 378742, at *2-3 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 11, 1999) (“The existence of the prior court order finding the [parents] committed severe child abuse suffices to establish grounds for termination of parental rights under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-1-113(g)(4).”). “The doctrine of res judicata is ‘based on the public policy favoring finality in litigation and does not depend upon correctness or fairness, as long as the underlying judgment is valid.’” In re S.S.-G., 2015 WL 7259499, at *7 (quoting Lee v. Hall, 790 S.W.2d 293, 294 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990)).


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