In re G.B.

Citation377 N.C. 106,856 S.E.2d 510
Decision Date16 April 2021
Docket NumberNo. 438A19,438A19
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
Parties In the MATTER OF: G.B., M.B., and A.O.J.

Mary Boyce Wells, Office of the Wake County Attorney, for petitioner-appellee Wake County Human Services.

Michelle FormyDuval Lynch and Reginald O'Rourke, for appellee guardian ad litem.

Robert W. Ewing, Clemmons, for respondent-appellant mother.

Sean Paul Vitrano, Wake Forest, for respondent-appellant father.

MORGAN, Justice.

¶ 1 Respondent-mother and respondent-father appeal from the trial court's order terminating their parental rights to their minor children M.B. (Mark), who was born in November 2013, and G.B. (Gail), who was born in July 2016. Respondent-mother also appeals from the portion of the same order which terminated her parental rights to her minor daughter from a previous relationship, A.O.J. (Ann), who was born in December 2005.1 Ann's father is not a party to this appeal. After careful review, we conclude that the trial court properly adjudicated at least one ground for termination and did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination of respondents’ parental rights was in the children's best interests. Accordingly, we affirm the termination of parental rights order.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

¶ 2 In November 2016, all three children were living with respondents. On 30 November 2016, respondent-father became incarcerated and remained in this capacity throughout the proceedings in this case. After respondent-father's incarceration, respondent-mother became involved in a romantic relationship with Deyonte Galloway, a nineteen-year-old with several felony convictions on his record.

¶ 3 In April 2017, officers with the Fuquay-Varina Police Department found Mark, who was three years old at the time, wandering outside alone and only wearing a diaper. After investigating this circumstance by going door-to-door in the neighborhood, the officers located respondent-mother's home. When questioned, respondent-mother responded that no one in the home had realized that Mark was outdoors. Between April and June 2017, Mark experienced several injuries, including three black eyes and bruising that appeared to have been made by fingers. On 5 June 2017, Mark suffered a broken arm, but respondent-mother did not seek care for her son until two days later. After Mark received a cast for the broken limb on 7 June 2017, respondent-mother left Mark in the bathtub, causing the cast to get wet and requiring a new cast to be created for Mark's arm on the following day.

¶ 4 At some point, petitioner Wake County Human Services (WCHS) received reports that respondent-mother and Galloway had substance abuse issues and that they engaged in domestic violence in the presence of the children, including incidents that left holes in the walls of respondent-mother's home and other occasions during which Galloway damaged respondent-mother and Ann's cellular telephones to prevent them from contacting help. In August 2017, respondent-mother tested positive for cocaine and marijuana; in another instance, respondent-mother refused to provide a hair sample for a drug screen after having admitted that she had previously used urine obtained from Ann in order to favorably affect her drug screen results. WCHS also received reports that respondent-mother (1) had thrown a shoe at Mark, striking his head; (2) had been moving the children from hotel to hotel along with Galloway—a known gang member with multiple outstanding arrest warrants—in order to avoid Galloway's arrest; (3) was verbally abused by Galloway when she made telephone calls; and (4) failed to use a voucher that she received to obtain free eyeglasses for Ann, who is legally blind as a result of a degenerative eye disease.

¶ 5 On 13 October 2017, WCHS filed a petition alleging that Gail, Mark, and Ann were abused and neglected juveniles. A nonsecure custody order was entered by the trial court on the same date. On 20 October 2017, an amended petition was filed which added allegations regarding (1) a sexual assault committed against Ann by Galloway's brother and (2) respondent-mother's use of Ann to provide urine samples for respondent-mother's drug screen. Pursuant to the trial court's nonsecure custody order, Mark and Gail were placed with their paternal grandparents and Ann was placed in foster care. At an adjudication hearing held on 14 November 2017, respondents entered into a consent order in which they admitted that all three children were neglected juveniles and that Mark was an abused juvenile in that "the child's parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker has inflicted or allowed to be inflicted on the child a serious physical injury by other than accidental means and has created or allowed to be created a substantial risk of physical injury by other than accidental means."

¶ 6 Respondent-mother agreed to a case plan under which she would (1) have supervised visitation with the children for one hour per week, (2) obtain and maintain safe, stable housing for herself and her children, (3) not allow Galloway in the vicinity of her children, (4) obtain and maintain legal and sufficient income for herself and her children, (5) provide documentation to verify her income once a month, (6) complete a psychological evaluation and comply with any resulting recommendations, (7) complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with any resulting recommendations, (8) submit to random drug screens upon the request of WCHS and treatment providers, (9) complete a parenting education program and demonstrate skills and lessons learned, (10) complete a domestic violence assessment and any program or services which were recommended, and (11) successfully complete a non-offending caregiver program and demonstrate lessons learned. Under his own case plan, respondent-father agreed to (1) establish legal paternity of Mark, (2) complete a substance abuse assessment and comply with all resulting recommendations, (3) submit to random drug screens upon the request of WCHS and treatment providers, (4) complete a mental health assessment and comply with all resulting recommendations, (5) obtain and maintain safe, stable housing, and (6) maintain lawful income sufficient to meet the needs of his family and provide monthly verification of it to WCHS.

¶ 7 At a review hearing in February 2018, respondent-mother represented that she was living with an aunt in Holly Springs and that she was no longer in a relationship with Galloway. However, family members reported that respondent-mother had simply left her belongings with the aunt and was not actually staying in the aunt's home. In addition, respondent-father, who had been scheduled for release from incarceration in March 2018, had been charged with illegally possessing a cellular telephone while incarcerated, had received an additional 11-23 months of active time, and had subsequently lost his right to visitation with Mark and Gail. Furthermore, the children's maternal grandmother, with whom Mark and Gail had been living, had reported to WCHS that the grandmother needed medical treatment due to her cancer diagnosis and could not provide further care for the children at the time. Consequently, Mark and Gail were placed with foster parents. All three children were reported to be doing well in their respective foster placements.

¶ 8 At a subsequent permanency planning review hearing in August 2018, the trial court found that respondent-mother was unemployed and living with her mother. Respondent-mother had also been charged with possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and carrying a concealed weapon after being discovered engaging in sexual activity in a car with Galloway in June 2018. When a WCHS social worker interviewed respondent-mother about the incident, respondent-mother was untruthful, stating that she had been pulled over in a friend's car while alone in the vehicle. Respondent-father had been transferred to Mountain View Correctional Institution (MVCI) in June 2018 upon having received six infraction reports while incarcerated at his previous penal facility, Franklin Correctional Center. Respondent-father was transferred again in August 2018, going to Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution. While at this facility, he received numerous infractions for disobeying orders, obtaining tattoos, assaulting and threatening staff, and making false accusations.

¶ 9 At a February 2019 permanency planning review hearing, the trial court found that respondent-mother continued to test positive for the presence of impairing substances and continued to be involved with Galloway, who attended at least one visitation with the children in violation of the visitation agreement. The case's guardian ad litem (GAL) recommended that the primary plan become adoption because the children could not return to the care of respondents within a reasonable time, noting that since the previous permanency planning hearing, respondent-father had received twelve infractions while incarcerated and had advised the social worker that he was going "to continue to receive infractions." The trial court changed the children's primary plan to adoption.

¶ 10 On 22 March 2019, WCHS filed a motion to terminate the parental rights of both respondents, alleging the existence of the following grounds: (1) neglect, (2) that respondents "willfully left the juvenile[s] in foster care for more than twelve months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress had been made in correcting the conditions that led to the removal of the" children, and (3) that the children had been in the custody of WCHS during which respondents, for a period of six months preceding the filing of the motion, willfully failed for such period "to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of the care for the [children] although physically and financially able to do so." See N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(1), (2), and (3) (2019). A hearing on the ...

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