In re A.M.C., 341A21

Docket Nº341A21
Citation2022 NCSC 82
Case DateJuly 15, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

2022-NCSC-82

IN THE MATTER OF: A.M.C. and N.A.G.

No. 341A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

July 15, 2022


Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from an order entered on 27 May 2021 by Judge Kimberly Gasperson-Justice in District Court, Henderson County. This matter was calendared 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.

Susan F. Davis, Assistant County Attorney, for petitioner-appellee Henderson County Department of Social Services.

Alston &Byrd LLP, by Kelsey L. Kingsbery, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Freedman Thompson Witt Ceberio &Byrd PLLC, by Christopher M. Watford, for respondent-appellant mother.

EARLS, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Respondent-mother appeals from the trial court's order terminating her parental rights in her minor children "Ava" and "Noah."[1] The sole basis for the appeal is the trial court's denial of her counsel's motion for a continuance of the termination hearing. The record demonstrates that this motion was not based on the potential

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denial of a constitutional right; therefore, an abuse of discretion standard applies. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to continue, and we affirm the trial court's order terminating respondent's parental rights in Ava and Noah.

I. Background

¶ 2 On 21 June 2019, the Henderson County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a juvenile petition alleging that Ava and Noah were neglected and dependent juveniles. The petition stated that law enforcement had executed a search warrant that morning at respondent's home, where they discovered intravenous needles, some filled with a "brownish clear liquid," and a pipe, all within easy reach of the children. Law enforcement contacted DSS after discovering Ava and Noah in the home and arrested respondent and her boyfriend on charges related to methamphetamines. Respondent told a social worker she was using methamphetamines and had been doing so for at least a year, but she refused to sign a safety plan or participate in services with DSS and was unable to identify a potential placement for the children. Based on the allegations in the petition and lack of an appropriate caretaker, DSS sought and obtained nonsecure custody of the children the same day.

¶ 3 After a hearing on 10 October 2019, the trial court entered an order adjudicating Ava and Noah to be neglected and dependent juveniles. The adjudication was based on the allegations in the juvenile petition as well as the children's

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subsequent forensic medical examinations, which revealed further evidence regarding how respondent's drug use was affecting the children and evidence of the children's exposure to domestic violence. Noah's hair follicle test returned positive for methamphetamine, amphetamine, and cocaine. In the contemporaneous disposition order, the court ordered respondent to satisfy several requirements to achieve reunification with the children, including completing assessments related to substance abuse and domestic violence and following the resulting recommendations, submitting to random drug screens, obtaining a stable income and maintaining appropriate housing, visiting with the children, and keeping in contact with DSS. The children were placed in their aunt's care.

¶ 4 In the order entered following the first review and permanency-planning hearing held on 13 February 2020, the trial court found respondent had made some progress towards completing the requirements for reunification. Respondent had obtained a substance abuse assessment, which recommended individual and family therapy and ninety hours in a substance abuse intensive outpatient treatment program (SAIOP), and had begun individual therapy. The court had established a child support requirement of $50.00 a month. Moreover, the court found that respondent had visited with the children, maintained contact with DSS, and obtained appropriate housing. Nonetheless, the court found respondent's progress to be inadequate based upon her multiple positive drug screens, as well as her failures to

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obtain a domestic violence assessment, complete a parenting class, obtain employment or a stable and sufficient income, or complete substance abuse treatment.[2] The court set a primary plan of reunification and a secondary plan of guardianship with an appropriate caretaker and allowed respondent a minimum of one hour of supervised visitation per week.

¶ 5 After several continuances, the matter came on for a review and permanency planning hearing on 10 December 2020. The court again found respondent's progress towards completing the requirements for reunification insufficient to remedy the conditions which led to the children's removal. Respondent had either failed to submit to requested drug screens or tested positive; failed to complete substance abuse treatment; failed to complete a domestic violence assessment, despite evidence of continued domestic violence between respondent and her boyfriend; failed to complete parenting classes; failed to pay child support, having accrued a $250.00 arrearage; and failed to obtain employment or a stable income. The court changed the primary plan to adoption and maintained a secondary plan of guardianship with an appropriate caretaker. The trial court found that the children were negatively affected by visitation with respondent, especially Noah, who "reacted very

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disrespectfully towards his aunt" afterward. The court thus suspended respondent's visitation.

¶ 6 On 25 January 2021, DSS filed a motion to terminate respondent's parental rights in Ava and Noah based on neglect and failure to make reasonable progress. N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1)-(2) (2021). The termination hearing was first scheduled for 8 April 2021, but it was continued to 16 April 2021 "due to the number of cases scheduled for hearing and the...

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