In re M.C., 260A21

Docket Nº260A21
Citation2022 NCSC 89
Case DateJuly 15, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

2022-NCSC-89

IN THE MATTER OF: M.C., M.C., and M.C.

No. 260A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

July 15, 2022


Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from an order entered on 9 April 2021 by Judge Resson O. Faircloth in District Court, Harnett 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.

Duncan B. McCormick, Staff Attorney, for petitioner-appellee Harnett County Department of Social Services.

Mobley Law Office, P.A., by Marie H. Mobley, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Wendy C. Sotolongo, Parent Defender, and Jacky Brammer, Assistant Parent Defender, for respondent-appellant father.

HUDSON, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Respondent-father appeals from the trial court's order terminating his parental rights in M.C. (Michael), M.C. (Monica), and M.C. (Maxine).[1] We affirm.

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I. Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 Michael, Monica, and Maxine were born in February 2014, June 2015, and August 2016, respectively. On 23 August 2017, the Harnett County Department of Social Services (DSS) obtained nonsecure custody of Michael, Monica, and Maxine and filed juvenile petitions alleging them to be neglected juveniles. The petitions alleged a family history with DSS and Cumberland County Department of Social Services dating back to 2015. On 12 May 2015, DSS began working with the family after "several severe incidences of domestic violence between the parents" while in Michael's presence. Respondent-parents' relationship "continued with the same pattern of violence" over the next two years.

¶ 3 Domestic violence was not the only concern. The petitions further alleged that respondent-parents "would use illegal drugs and non-prescribed medications while caring for the children" and "would leave the children with family members . . . for several months" without providing "information as to where they were going or when they would return." At Maxine's birth in 2016, she tested positive for barbiturates, and respondent-mother tested positive for marijuana, benzodiazepines, and cocaine. On 17 March 2017, respondent-father "threatened to kill the children while they were in his care" and "refused to return them" to respondent-mother. Shortly thereafter, respondent-father was arrested on charges of identity theft and possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine. He was imprisoned at the Craven County

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Correctional Institute and was expected to remain there for twelve to twenty-five months.

¶ 4 After hearing the juvenile petitions on 22 September 2017, the trial court entered an order the same day adjudicating the children to be neglected juveniles. Both parents were ordered to enter into a family services agreement. Pertinent to this appeal, respondent-father was required to comply with seven directives: (1) contact DSS upon release from incarceration; (2) participate in any services or programs available in jail or prison and provide documentation of his progress to DSS and the trial court; (3) cooperate with a substance abuse assessment and follow all recommendations; (4) complete a domestic violence assessment and follow all recommendations; (5) obtain and maintain employment upon release from incarceration and demonstrate an ability to financially care for his children; (6) obtain and maintain appropriate housing upon release from incarceration; and (7) sign releases for information as requested by DSS and the guardian ad litem.

¶ 5 Following a permanency planning hearing on 15 December 2017, the trial court entered an order on 7 February 2018 finding that respondent-father remained incarcerated with a projected release date of April 2018. The primary permanent plan was set as reunification, with a secondary plan of guardianship. The trial court also set a third permanent plan of adoption. The trial court granted respondent-father a

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minimum of one hour of weekly supervised visitation upon his release from incarceration.

¶ 6 Following a permanency planning hearing on 10 August 2018, the trial court entered an order finding that although respondent-father had been released from prison in April 2018, he was currently incarcerated in Harnett County on pending charges dating from 2016. The trial court changed the primary permanent plan to adoption, with a secondary plan of guardianship and a concurrent secondary plan of reunification.

¶ 7 Following a permanency planning hearing on 2 November 2018, the trial court entered an order on 11 January 2019 finding that although respondent-father was "able to . . . send cards and letters" to his children while incarcerated, he had failed to do so. Respondent-father's projected release date from Harnett County was in January 2019.

¶ 8 Following a permanency planning hearing on 29 March 2019, the trial court entered an order on 23 May 2019 finding that respondent-father had been released from prison in February 2019, that respondent-father had participated in two visits with his children since his release, and that the "children know him" and the visits "went well." The court further found that on 12 March 2019, respondent-father had completed a substance abuse assessment which recommended he abstain from marijuana use; however, on 13 March 2019, he failed to appear for a drug screen. He

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attended an intake session at HALT, a domestic violence treatment program, but reported not being able to continue with the program...

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