In re C.H., 176A21

Docket Nº176A21
Citation2022 NCSC 84
Case DateJuly 15, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

2022-NCSC-84

IN THE MATTER OF: C.H. & J.H.

No. 176A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

July 15, 2022


Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) (2019) from orders entered on 22 February 2021 by Judge Eula E. Reid in District Court, Currituck County, and on writ of certiorari to review an order and a permanency planning order entered on 6 March 2020 by Judge Eula E. Reid in District Court, Currituck County and an order entered on 21 May 2021 by Meader W. Harriss III in District Court, Currituck County. This matter was calendared for argument in the Supreme Court on 1 July 2022 but determined on the record and briefs without oral argument pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Courtney S. Hull for petitioner-appellee Currituck County Department of Social Services.

Keith Karlsson for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Robert W. Ewing for respondent-appellant father.

EARLS, JUSTICE

¶ 1 Respondent-father appeals from the trial court's 6 March 2020 order ceasing reunification efforts, the 6 March 2020 permanency planning order eliminating reunification as a permanent plan, and 22 February 2021 orders terminating his

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parental rights to his sons, C.H. (Chris) and J.H. (James),[1] as well as the 21 May 2021 order dismissing his appeal from the 6 March 2020 orders. Because we conclude that the permanency planning order lacked findings which address one of the four issues contemplated by N.C. G.S. § 7B-906.2(d), we remand to the trial court for a further hearing and for the entry of additional findings. However, because as authorized by N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a2) respondent's claim of error concerning the trial court's permanency planning order is properly resolved by remand in this case, and does not necessitate vacating or reversing the challenged permanency planning order, it is presently premature for this Court to consider the trial court's orders terminating respondent's parental rights. See N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a2) (2019).

I. Background

¶ 2 On 12 April 2019, the Currituck County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed juvenile petitions alleging that Chris, born November 2017, and James, born September 2018, were neglected juveniles. The petitions alleged that DSS had been providing services to the family since 19 November 2018 after it received a Child Protective Services (CPS) report alleging that the children were living in an injurious environment. The allegations in the report "involved high risk, potentially lethal behavior in front of the children such as suicidal attempts or gesturing." The petitions

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also alleged that the parents had engaged in physical and verbal domestic violence while the children were present.

¶ 3 The family began receiving in-home services on 2 January 2019. The petitions alleged that while CPS was providing in-home services, the parents continued "to show concerning behavior regarding physical and verbal violence." The petitions also alleged concerns regarding the impact of respondent's mental illness on his ability to be the sole caregiver for the children. Respondent reported being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and being prescribed four psychiatric medications.

¶ 4 The petitions further alleged that on 11 April 2019, respondent restricted DSS's access to his home and children. Respondent informed DSS that he was seeking legal counsel after complaining of DSS coming to his home unannounced after hours. He requested proper notice before DSS's arrival at his home and the presence of a supervisor. DSS obtained nonsecure custody of the children upon the filing of the juvenile petitions.

¶ 5 On 2 August 2019, the trial court entered an order adjudicating the children neglected based, in part, on stipulations by respondent. In its disposition order entered on 16 August 2019, the court ordered respondent to comply with the components of his Out-of-Home Services Agreement, which required him to participate in mental health therapy to include domestic violence, anger

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management, and a substance abuse assessment and follow all recommendations; comply with all recommendations from his parental capacity evaluation; secure and maintain housing; participate in a group parenting education class and demonstrate skills learned during visitation; comply with the child support enforcement agency; and seek and maintain employment. The court awarded respondent two and a half hours of supervised visitation twice per week.

¶ 6 On 18 November 2019, DSS suspended respondent's visitations with his children due to concerns regarding respondent's emotional and mental stability after he "demonstrated volatile and hostile behavior while in the presence of [his] children during visitation[s]." During the 18 November 2019 visit, respondent told the social worker he was frustrated with Chris's behaviors and wanted to "pop" him. When the social worker informed him that "the use of any form of corporal punishment was not an acceptable form of discipline," respondent became upset and "asked how he was supposed to redirect his children if he was not allowed to do that." The social worker attempted to provide alternative discipline techniques, but respondent "was too upset to let her speak." During this interaction, respondent "continuously raised his voice, was argumentative with various [DSS] staff and displayed grandiose gestures all while holding [James] in his arms." Respondent "continued to express his frustration" and remained argumentative after the children were removed from the visit, resulting in DSS "asking to have him removed from the building."

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¶ 7 The trial court held a hearing on 22 November 2019 but determined that good cause existed to continue the matter to 20 December 2019 "to allow [respondent] to provide the [c]ourt with a letter from [respondent's] therapist setting forth his progress or lack thereof[.]" The court determined respondent's visitation should remain suspended and that "the resumption of visitation should not commence until such time as [respondent], through his attorney, shall provide to the [c]ourt a current letter from his mental health provider confirming he is current and actively participating in his mental health treatment and medication management."

¶ 8 Following the 20 December 2019 hearing, the court ceased reunification efforts with respondent but continued its decision regarding a change in the permanent plan until the next hearing "to allow [respondent] to demonstrate to the court that he can progress toward reunification." The trial court entered its order from the December 2019 hearing on 6 March 2020. The court found that the "most prominent barrier" to the children's reunification with respondent is his inappropriate "display of various emotions and behaviors" including his "verbal aggression" and "combativeness" toward the social workers. The court found that respondent often called DSS "multiple times a day demanding to speak with someone and on any given day, he will ask to speak with various staff at [DSS]. If he does not get the answer he wants after speaking with one person, he will move on to the next person[,]" and some days he "called [DSS] more than ten times requesting the same information from various

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workers." The court also found that respondent "often gets upset and argumentative using vulgar and threatening language, especially when he does not understand, or does not want to understand, what [DSS] staff is trying to explain to him. He will cut them off, monopolize conversation, not let them say anything, and hang up."

¶ 9 The court also found that respondent continued to minimize his involvement with the children being removed from the home and failed to "see the connection between his mental health concerns and his parenting skills." The court found respondent had only "minimally complied" with the trial court's orders and had a "pattern of starting and then stopping a service when it no longer suits his needs." The court further found that respondent "continuously demonstrates his inability to accept constructive criticism, which impedes his ability to parent his children appropriately and is a skill that he must be able to demonstrate as his children get older and begin school, especially for [Chris] who has" a severe hearing disability that requires regular attention. The court found that it was in the best interests of the children to cease reasonable efforts toward reunification with respondent "as such efforts to reunify would be clearly futile or would be inconsistent with the juveniles' health, safety, and need for a safe permanent home within a reasonable period of time." The court continued the permanent plan of reunification finding that although DSS was no longer required to make reasonable efforts toward reunification, the court "ha[d] not yet made a determination as to the best plan of care to achieve a safe,

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permanent home for the children within a reasonable period of time" and continued its decision on that issue until the next hearing.

¶ 10 The court held another permanency-planning hearing on 7 February 2020. In its permanency planning order entered on 6 March 2020, the court found that the conditions which led to the filing of the petitions continued to exist and that the return of the children to either parent would be contrary to the juveniles' welfare. Respondent was arrested on 3 February 2020 on misdemeanor charges of intoxication, possession of drug paraphernalia, and resisting an officer following an incident at a gas station. The court ceased reunification efforts, changed the permanent plan to adoption with a concurrent plan of guardianship, and ordered DSS to file a petition to terminate the parents' parental rights. On 23 March 2020, respondent filed a notice to preserve his right of appeal from the 6 March 2020 order "wherein the [trial court] found that reasonable efforts to...

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