In re M.R., 195A21

Docket Nº195A21
Citation2022 NCSC 90
Case DateJuly 15, 2022
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

2022-NCSC-90

IN THE MATTER OF: M.R., A.R., M.R.

No. 195A21

Supreme Court of North Carolina

July 15, 2022


Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) (2019) from 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 for petitioner-appellee Harnett County Department of Social Services.

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

Peter Wood for respondent-appellant mother.

David A. Perez for respondent-appellant father.

BERGER, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 Respondent-parents appeal from an order terminating their parental rights to M.R. (Michael)[1], A.R. (Alice), and M.R. (Mary). For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

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¶ 2 Michael and Alice (the twins) were born in June 2009. On May 17, 2017, the Harnett County Department of Social Services (DSS) obtained nonsecure custody of the twins and filed petitions alleging they were neglected juveniles. The petitions alleged the following: respondent-mother had failed to appear for a court date and was in contempt of court for charges related to truancy; Alice was suffering from a yeast infection or urinary tract infection and respondent-mother failed to seek medical care; Alice had not been taken to a dentist although her teeth were rotting and aching; the twins were required to repeat kindergarten because they had missed forty-five days of school the prior year; respondent-mother did not have stable housing; and the twins reported sleeping on a sofa with men that respondent-mother invited into the home.

¶ 3 The petitions further alleged that despite periodically living with a family friend, respondent-mother and the twins were homeless. In addition, personal effects belonging to the twins and respondent-mother were dirty and kept in trash bags, and the twins' clothing was "so small that it hurt them" to wear. Moreover, the petition explained that Alice had been found unaccompanied at a bus stop, stating that she had not eaten dinner and was hungry. The twins were often late for school because respondent-mother was working late and leaving them with other caretakers. Eventually, respondent-mother voluntarily placed the twins with the maternal

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grandmother. In February 2017, DSS developed an In-Home Family Services Agreement with respondent-mother.

¶ 4 The petitions also alleged that on February 24, 2017, respondent-mother moved into a residence of her own. The twins were to remain in a temporary safety provider placement for two weeks while respondent-mother got settled into her home, but respondent-mother took them from the safety provider placement prematurely without notifying DSS. DSS home visits revealed multiple people in the home, and Michael complained about "not being able to rest because of all the people." Respondent-mother could not maintain utilities in the home, and she was evicted on April 17, 2017. During this time, Alice complained "about her private area hurting," but respondent-mother failed to seek medical attention to address Alice's complaints.

¶ 5 On April 20, 2017, respondent-mother was arrested on outstanding warrants for obtaining a controlled substance, identity theft, and trafficking in opiates. Respondent-mother was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and possession with intent to manufacture, sell, and distribute heroin. She was released from custody on May 9, 2017, after using Alice's social security benefits to assist with her bond. Respondent-father had been incarcerated since the twins were a few months old and was scheduled to be released in August 2017.

¶ 6 On September 8, 2017, the trial court entered an order following a hearing adjudicating the twins neglected juveniles. The court ordered respondent-mother to

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complete a number of objectives related to her substance abuse, parenting skills, housing, and employment. The court ordered respondent-father to comply with the terms and conditions associated with life in the halfway house he was residing at and complete several directives related to housing, employment, and parenting skills. Respondent-parents were granted one hour of weekly supervised visitation.

¶ 7 On December 15, 2017, the trial court entered a permanency planning order finding respondent-mother: had missed scheduled visits with the twins in September and November of 2017; had not made progress on her case plan; had failed to complete a parenting course; had not obtained employment; did not cooperate with a substance abuse assessment or show for a scheduled drug screen in October 2017; and had tested positive for cocaine in December 2017.

¶ 8 Respondent-father had been released from prison in August 2017 but had not visited the twins consistently. He cooperated with a drug screen in December 2017, and tested negative, and reported that he had obtained housing in Fayetteville and employment at a construction company. The trial court set the primary permanent plan to guardianship, with concurrent secondary plans as custody with a relative or other suitable person and reunification with respondent-parents. The trial court also suspended respondent-mother's visitation until she could produce two consecutive negative drug screens.

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¶ 9 On March 23, 2018, the trial court entered a permanency planning order finding that the twins had been placed with the paternal great-grandmother since January 29, 2018. Respondent-mother failed to appear for a scheduled drug screen in February 2018 and again when it was rescheduled for March 2018. DSS reported observing respondent-father helping the twins with homework during a visitation, and the paternal great-grandmother reported that respondent-father assisted the twins before and after school.

¶ 10 Mary was born in May 2018, and on June 5, 2018, DSS obtained nonsecure custody after filing a juvenile petition alleging she was a neglected juvenile. The petition alleged that Mary had tested positive for cocaine, marijuana, and opiates at birth and was treated for withdrawal symptoms including tremors, feeding issues, and abnormal muscle tone. Respondent-mother admitted to taking Percocet daily and using cocaine and marijuana during her pregnancy. Following her discharge from the hospital on May 28, 2017, respondent-mother had only visited Mary twice before being arrested for multiple drug-related offenses. DSS also alleged that respondent-father had not made significant progress in complying with his family services agreement.

¶ 11 On July 13, 2018, the trial court entered a permanency planning order as to the twins, finding that the paternal great-grandmother had asked that they be removed from her home on June 8, 2018. The twins were subsequently placed in a

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licensed foster home. The trial court found that respondent-mother had failed to cooperate with drug screens, had not visited the twins since December 2017, and was incarcerated in the Harnett County jail for numerous drug-related charges from 2017 and 2018. Respondent-father had not contacted DSS to schedule visitation with the twins since they were removed from the paternal great-grandmother's home, and DSS had been unsuccessful in attempts to contact him to schedule drug screens. The trial court concluded that "reunification efforts with the parents clearly would be unsuccessful [and] should be ceased," and changed the primary permanent plan to adoption, with a secondary plan of guardianship.

¶ 12 On July 6, 2018, the trial court entered an order adjudicating Mary a neglected juvenile. Neither respondent had entered into family services agreements as to Mary. The trial court suspended respondent-mother's visitation with Mary until she could produce two consecutive negative drug screens. The court granted respondent-father one hour of weekly supervised visitation. The court ordered respondent-mother to enter into a family services agreement containing a host of directives related to her release from jail and cooperation with substance abuse and mental health treatments. Respondent-father was ordered to enter into a family services agreement containing directives related to obtaining and maintaining stable housing, complying with drug screens, and completing parenting classes.

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¶ 13 The trial court held a hearing regarding Mary on October 12, 2018 and entered a permanency planning order finding that respondent-mother was still incarcerated and had not had any negative drug screens or visits. Neither respondent had entered into out of home family services agreements regarding Mary. At the time of the hearing, respondent-father's whereabouts were unknown and he had not been in contact with DSS since DSS filed the juvenile petition on June 5, 2018. The trial court ceased respondents' visitations with Mary and set the primary permanent plan to adoption, with concurrent secondary permanent plans of guardianship and reunification.

¶ 14 On the same day, the trial court entered a permanency planning order as to the twins finding that respondent-mother had not made any progress since the June 29, 2018, hearing and failed to complete any of her case plan objectives. The trial court also determined that respondent-father had not participated in any services since the June 29, 2018, hearing and failed to complete any of his case plan objectives.

¶ 15 On October 16, 2018, DSS filed a motion to terminate respondents' parental rights to the twins pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), and (3). (2021). DSS further alleged that respondent-father had willfully abandoned the twins under N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(7) (2021).

¶ 16 On June 13, 2019, DSS filed a motion to terminate respondents' parental rights in Mary under...

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