In re Z.A.M., No. 212A19

Docket NºNo. 212A19
Citation839 S.E.2d 792, 374 N.C. 88
Case DateApril 03, 2020
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina

374 N.C. 88
839 S.E.2d 792

In the MATTER OF: Z.A.M. and E.B.M.

No. 212A19

Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Filed April 3, 2020


Staff Attorney Lucy R. McCarl, Lenoir, for petitioner-appellee Caldwell County Department of Social Services.

Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP, Winston-Salem, by Lawrence Matthews and Erin Epley, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

Rebekah W. Davis, for respondent-appellant father.

Parent Defender Wendy C. Sotolongo, by Assistant Parent Defender J. Lee Gilliam, for respondent-appellant mother.

NEWBY, Justice.

839 S.E.2d 794
374 N.C. 89

Respondent-father and respondent-mother appeal from an order entered by the trial court terminating their parental rights to their children, Z.A.M. (Zane) and E.B.M. (Ethan)1 . Upon careful consideration of respondents’ arguments, we affirm the trial court order terminating respondents’ parental rights.

Caldwell County Department of Social Services (DSS) has a history of involvement with these respondent-parents. The juveniles, Ethan and Zane, have been the subject of eight Child Protective Services (CPS) reports, four of which resulted in determinations that services were

374 N.C. 90

appropriate due to parental abuse and domestic violence between respondents. The children's half-siblings also have an extensive history with CPS and have been raised by relatives. Respondents have a long history of substance abuse; criminal charges related to respondent-father's alcohol abuse date back to 1987, and criminal charges related to respondent-mother's substance abuse date back to 2007.

In February 2017, DSS became involved with the juveniles again due to respondent-parents’ alcohol and substance abuse, and due to repeated domestic violence between respondent-parents. Once DSS became involved, respondent-mother took the juveniles to live with their maternal grandparents, with whom the juveniles had previously lived for over a year. While the juveniles resided with their grandparents, respondent-father admitted that he consumed alcohol, and respondent-mother admitted that she regularly used crack cocaine and opiates and engaged in criminal activity to support her drug habit. Though respondent-father called in weekly to check on the children, he was typically inebriated during the calls. Neither parent attempted to visit the children or offered any financial support.

After several incidents of domestic violence between respondents, on 11 July 2017, DSS filed juvenile petitions alleging Zane and Ethan were neglected and dependent. After a hearing, on 6 September 2017, the trial court entered adjudication and disposition orders concluding that the children were neglected and dependent. It awarded DSS custody of the children, and DSS determined that the juveniles should continue to reside with their maternal grandparents.

The trial court issued a case plan requiring respondents to, inter alia , complete clinical assessments with substance abuse components and comply with recommendations; execute consents for release of information to allow DSS to follow up with service providers; submit to random drug and alcohol screens; complete domestic violence assessments, comply with recommendations, and refrain from acts of violence; refrain from illegal drug and alcohol use; comply with the visitation plan; maintain appropriate housing and employment; and cooperate with the children's therapists. Respondents were allowed one hour of supervised visitation per week.

Respondents’ efforts to address their substance and alcohol abuse varied. Respondent-mother completed sporadic detox programs but did not complete the rest of her required substance abuse treatment. Respondent-mother relapsed numerous times, missing and failing multiple drug tests. At one point, respondent-mother did find employment,

374 N.C. 91

but she admitted to using her paycheck from the job to buy drugs. To further support her drug habit during relapses, respondent-mother committed various criminal acts resulting in multiple convictions and periods of criminal confinement while the children were out

839 S.E.2d 795

of the home. Furthermore, respondent-mother had not completed her required domestic violence treatment classes. She continued her relationship with respondent-father, resulting in more instances of domestic violence. Specifically, in March 2018, respondent-mother reported that respondent-father was intoxicated and had become violent, and she locked herself in the bathroom until law enforcement responded and removed her from the home. Based on this and respondents’ continuous substance abuse, in March 2018, the trial court ordered that respondent-parents could no longer visit the minor children until respondent-parents could each pass two consecutive negative drug screens.

While respondent-father had begun Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Treatment (SAIOP) at the end of 2017, during this treatment, on 27 April 2018, respondent-father admitted to relapsing. In June 2018, respondent-father passed two consecutive alcohol screening tests and was able to resume visitation privileges. Visitation continued until 24 August 2018, however, when respondent-father failed a breathalyzer test. Despite respondent-father's alcohol use, he completed SAIOP treatment at the end of August 2018, after having failed his breathalyzer test days earlier. He then failed another alcohol screen on 21 September 2018. Additionally, respondent-father refused to attend any form of inpatient treatment from the time the children were removed from the home until after he knew that DSS would be pursuing termination of parental rights. Beginning 16 December 2018, he attended an approximately three-week inpatient program, two months before the termination hearing.

Prior to the 17 October 2018 review hearing, the trial court had established the primary permanent plan for the children as reunification and the secondary plan as adoption. Following the October hearing, on 1 November 2018, the trial court issued an order finding that the issues that led to DSS involvement continued to exist and that further efforts for reunification of the children with respondents would be unsuccessful and inconsistent with the best interests, welfare, health, and safety of the children. Accordingly, the trial court ceased reunification efforts and changed the primary permanent plan for the children to adoption and the secondary plan to guardianship.

On 21 December 2018, DSS filed a motion to terminate respondents’ parental rights on grounds of neglect and willfully leaving the children in foster care for more than twelve months without making reasonable

374 N.C. 92

progress to correct the conditions that led to their removal. See N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2) (2019).

On 20 February 2019, the trial court held a hearing on DSS's petition to terminate respondents’ parental rights. After hearing and considering all of the evidence, the trial court made the following findings relevant to its adjudication of grounds to terminate respondents’ parental rights under N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1) and (2) :

14. [On] September 6, 2017, the juveniles were adjudicated to be neglected and dependent juveniles pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-101(5) and N.C.G.S. § 7B-101(9). Respondent parents each appeared at the hearing and stipulated to the allegations set forth in the juvenile petitions as modified in the written stipulation submitted to the court.

15. The juveniles are neglected juveniles within the meaning of 7B-101(15) and such neglect by Respondent father continues as of today's hearing. Respondent father has failed to adequately address his issues of alcohol abuse which contributed to domestic violence in the home. Respondent father's issues with alcohol and domestic violence caused the need for a Comprehensive Clinical Assessment (CCA) and treatment. Respondent father has received extensive treatment for his abuse of alcohol, including the completion of 90 hours of Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient (SAIOP) treatment. Despite receiving such intensive treatment, Respondent father continues to use alcohol. He has experienced one period of sobriety in excess of three (3) months during the twenty-two (22) months the juveniles have been placed out of the home of the Respondent parents. Respondent father has willfully failed to successfully address his issues of alcohol abuse. These issues will continue to exist in the foreseeable future such that the juveniles
839 S.E.2d 796
will be unable to safely return to the home of the Respondent father.

16. The Respondent father has willfully left the juveniles in foster care for more than 12 months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances have [sic] been made in correcting the conditions which led to the juveniles to be placed out of the home. Respondent father submitted to a breathalyzer screen conducted by law enforcement personnel on
374 N.C. 93
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77 practice notes
  • In re G.B., No. 438A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 16, 2021
    ...evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law." In re K.H. , 375 N.C. 610, 612, 849 S.E.2d 856 (2020) (quoting In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 94, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) ). The majority's opinion goes beyond this task and supplements the trial court's order with new factual findings. ......
  • In re A.M., No. 380A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 23, 2021
    ...In re J.W. , 173 N.C. App. 450, 465–66, 619 S.E.2d 534 (2005), aff'd per curiam , 360 N.C. 361, 625 S.E.2d 780 (2006) )); In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 99, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) (upholding a termination of parental rights based on N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2) when "viewing the evidence as a whole......
  • In re Z.G.J., 339A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • August 27, 2021
    ...has not made reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions which led to the removal of the child. In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 95, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020). A parent's reasonable progress "is evaluated for the duration leading up to the hearing on the motion or petition ......
  • In re H.A.J., No. 127A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • March 19, 2021
    ...process for termination of parental rights proceedings consisting of an adjudicatory stage and a dispositional stage." In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 94, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) (citing N.C.G.S. §§ 7B-1109, -1110 (2019)). "At the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner bears the burden of proving by ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
81 cases
  • In re G.B., No. 438A19
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 16, 2021
    ...evidence and the findings support the conclusions of law." In re K.H. , 375 N.C. 610, 612, 849 S.E.2d 856 (2020) (quoting In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 94, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) ). The majority's opinion goes beyond this task and supplements the trial court's order with new factual findings. ......
  • In re A.M., No. 380A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 23, 2021
    ...In re J.W. , 173 N.C. App. 450, 465–66, 619 S.E.2d 534 (2005), aff'd per curiam , 360 N.C. 361, 625 S.E.2d 780 (2006) )); In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 99, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) (upholding a termination of parental rights based on N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2) when "viewing the evidence as a whole......
  • In re Z.G.J., 339A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • August 27, 2021
    ...has not made reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions which led to the removal of the child. In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 95, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020). A parent's reasonable progress "is evaluated for the duration leading up to the hearing on the motion or petition ......
  • In re H.A.J., No. 127A20
    • United States
    • North Carolina United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • March 19, 2021
    ...process for termination of parental rights proceedings consisting of an adjudicatory stage and a dispositional stage." In re Z.A.M. , 374 N.C. 88, 94, 839 S.E.2d 792 (2020) (citing N.C.G.S. §§ 7B-1109, -1110 (2019)). "At the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner bears the burden of proving by ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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