A decision without a published opinion is authority only in the case in which such decision is rendered and should not be cited in any other case in any court for any other purpose, nor should any court consider any such decision for any purpose except in the case in which such decision is rendered. See Rule of Appellate Procedure 30 (e)(3).

NO. COA01-1303

NORTH CAROLINA COURT OF APPEALS

Filed: 20 August 2002

In re:
SHAVONNE MARIA REAGAN,            Caswell County        
A Minor Child                    00 J 33

    Appeal by respondent from judgment entered 25 June 2001, nunc pro tunc 17 April 2001 by Judge Mark Galloway in Caswell County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 15 May 2002.

    Theresa K. Pressley, for respondent-appellant.

    David G. Powell, for petitioner-appellee.

    BRYANT, Judge.

    Respondent mother appeals from judgment terminating her parental rights as to her biological daughter, Shavonne Maria Reagan.
    Respondent is the natural mother of Shavonne who was born on 23 June 1997. Respondent is married to Thomas S. Roman, who is not Shavonne's father. At the time of the hearing to terminate respondent's parental rights, respondent was living with her husband in a single-wide mobile home. Respondent's relationship with her husband has been unstable.
    Respondent has been diagnosed with, among other things, Bipolar Disorder, Mixed Type and Borderline Personality Disorder. She also has a history of polysubstance abuse for alcohol and crack cocaine. At the time of the order terminating respondent'sparental rights, respondent was being treated at Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health.
    In September 1997, respondent arranged for Shavonne, then two- and-one-half years old, to stay with her brother and sister-in-law [petitioners] until she could stabilize her medications for mental illness. Shavonne has lived with petitioners since that time.
    Shavonne was adjudicated as dependent on 11 August 1998 after the Caswell County Department of Social Services [DSS] was notified that respondent dropped Shavonne onto a chair during a dispute with her niece. DSS was concerned about respondent's mood swings, anger control and her actions with respect to medications she was taking for her mental illnesses. Respondent sometimes slept through her baby's cries, possibly because her medication made her drowsy. Petitioners filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights on 23 August 2000. The trial court entered a judgment terminating respondent's parental rights on 25 June 2001, nunc pro tunc 17 April 2001. Petitioners and respondent appeal.

__________________
    Respondent presents four assignments of error. The trial court erred by: 1) denying respondent's motion for an expert witness; 2) finding that the child was neglected for purposes of terminating respondent's parental rights; 3) finding the child was willfully left in foster care for more than twelve months; and 4) terminating respondent's parental rights. Petitioners present one cross-assignment of error, arguing that the trial court erred in concluding as a matter of law that petitioners failed to establishthe grounds for terminating respondent's parental rights pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(6) (1999). Based on our holding in this opinion, we do not address the cross-assignment of error. We hold that the trial court did not err and affirm the trial court's order terminating respondent's parental rights.
Termination of Parental Rights
    A termination of parental rights [TPR] proceeding has two stages: adjudication and disposition. At the adjudication stage, the petitioner has the burden of proving by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that at least one statutory ground for termination exists. In re McMillon, 143 N.C. App. 402, 408, 546 S.E.2d 169, 173-74, review denied, 354 N.C. 218, 554 S.E.2d 341 (2001) (citing In re Young, 346 N.C. 244, 485 S.E.2d 612 (1997); In re Bluebird, 105 N.C. App. 42, 411 S.E.2d 820 (1992)); see N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109(f) (1999) (requiring findings of fact to be based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence). A finding of one statutory ground is sufficient to support the termination of parental rights. In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984). Upon so finding, the trial court proceeds to the disposition stage, where it determines whether termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child. In re McMillon at 408, 546 S.E.2d at 174.
    On appeal from an order terminating parental rights, this Court reviews whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence, and whether those findings support the court's conclusions of law. Id. (citing In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 536 S.E.2d 838 (2000), appeal dismissed and review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9 (2001); In re Allred, 122 N.C. App. 561, 471 S.E.2d 84 (1996)). If the decision is supported by such evidence, the trial court's findings are binding on appeal, even if there is evidence to the contrary. In re Williamson, 91 N.C. App. 668, 674, 373 S.E.2d 317, 320 (1988).
I.
    Respondent first argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion for appointment of an expert witness. We disagree.
    In a TPR proceeding in which a parent whose ability to care for a juvenile is at issue, the trial court may order an examination by an expert to determine the parent's psychological condition upon a finding that reasonable cause exists. N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109(c) (1999). Here, the trial court made the following findings:
            1. That said respondent proffered no testimonial or other evidence to the Court in support of said motion.

            2. That, although said respondent stated through counsel that she had not yet had the opportunity to meet with the new psychiatrist assigned to her case at Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health, she conceded at argument that she has been treated by psychiatrists and social workers at Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health for the last three years . . . .

            3. That, in light of the foregoing, the agents of Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health would be sufficiently capable of making any evaluations of said respondent that may be necessary in this case.
The court denied the motion upon concluding that appointing an independent expert to be paid by the State would be "duplicative and an inefficient use of State resources." After careful review of the record, we conclude that the trial court's ruling clearly showed that reasonable cause did not exist to order an examination by an independent expert. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying respondent's motion. Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
II.
    Respondent next argues that the trial court erred by finding that the child was neglected for purposes of terminating respondent's parental rights. In light of our conclusion in Section III that the trial court properly found that the child was willfully left in foster care for more than twelve months, we decline to reach this issue. As we stated previously, a finding of one statutory ground is sufficient to support the termination of parental rights. In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. at 261, 312 S.E.2d at 903.
III.
    Respondent next argues that the trial court erred in finding that respondent willfully left the child in foster care for more than twelve months. We disagree.
    N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a), which enumerates nine bases upon which a court may terminate parental rights, allows for termination of parental rights upon a finding that the parent willfully left a juvenile in foster care for more than twelve months without showingthat reasonable progress under the circumstances was made to correct the conditions leading to the removal of the juvenile. N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2) (1999).
    Our Supreme Court has recently held that the time frame for review of reasonable progress is the twelve-month period immediately preceding filing of the petition for termination of parental rights. In re Pierce, ___ N.C. ___, ___, ___ S.E.2d ___, ___ (June 28, 2002) (No. 647A01). In the instant case, the twelve month period is 23 August 1999 to 23 August 2000. Here the trial court made the following findings of fact:    
        
        9. That respondent previously has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, polysubstance abuse (for alcohol and crack cocaine), borderline personality disorder, and dependent personality disorder.

        10. That respondent's current diagnoses are borderline personality disorder, which means that respondent has difficulty in achieving healthy interpersonal relationships, and bipolar disorder, type 1, mixed, which means that respondent has had at least one manic episode and that her most recent mood disturbance exhibited elements of both mania and depression.

        . . .

        16. That respondent testified that she has been adequately regulated and in remission for 24 months; however, the evidence shows and the Court so finds that:

            a. At her 6 June 2000 therapy session, respondent reported to her social worker and therapist, Donna Adamski of Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health, that she is "up one minute and down the next;"

            b. On that same date respondent was experiencing mood depression andmood fluctuations, and was sleeping a lot due to her depression;

            c. At her 12 June 2000 therapy session with Ms. Adamski in which respondent's recent marriage to Thomas S. Roman was discussed, respondent did not see having married as impulsive, but nevertheless blamed her decision to marry Mr. Roman on a "manic phase;"

            d. At her 15 August 2000 therapy session, respondent herself noted increased depression and lack of motivation;

            e. On 11 September 2000, respondent telephoned Ms. Adamski to report that she had given up her job and that she was experiencing sensations that things were not what they seemed to be. That same day Ms. Adamski contacted respondent's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Ward, to note respondent's report of increased symptoms and request a recommendation regarding an adjustment in medication to assist respondent;

            f. On 12 September 2000, respondent missed her appointment for a therapy session with Ms. Adamski because she was unable to get out of bed and get going sufficiently to make the appointment. That same day Dr. Ward increased the dosage of respondent's antipsychotic medication, Risperdol, from .5 milligram to 1 milligram.

        . . .

        18. That respondent testified that she and her husband, Thomas S. Roman, have a "normal" relationship, that they have never been separated, and that Mr. Roman desires to be involved with Shavonne; however, the evidence shows and the Court so finds that:

            a. On 3 May 2000 respondent reported to Ms. Adamski that she wasdisgusted by Mr. Roman and was counseled by Ms. Adamski on the impulsiveness of having recently married him;

            b. On 12 June 2000 respondent blamed her decision to marry Mr. Roman on a "manic phase";

            c. On 29 June 2000 respondent called 911 and spoke with Corporal Alan Shell of the Caswell County Sheriff's Department to make an emergency report that Mr. Roman had committed a murder, but said report was false and made during a time of marital conflict for the ulterior purpose of removing Mr. Roman from the marital home;

            d. On 15 August 2000 respondent complained to Ms. Adamski that she was staying with a husband, Mr. Roman, whom she did not love, due to her need for financial support. Respondent further expressed disappointment at Mr. Roman's failure to ever express any interest in Shavonne. But respondent indicated that, if given a choice between her husband and Shavonne, she would prefer her husband over Shavonne (though "ideally" she wanted both);

            e. In fact, respondent and her husband have been separated twice since they married last year.

        . . .

        21. That respondent testified that she always wanted to have Shavonne; however, the evidence shows and the Court so finds that:

            a. Respondent voluntarily placed Shavonne with petitioners when the child was 2 ½ months old;

            b. Respondent has willfully allowed petitioners to provide the exclusive care for Shavonne since that time,and Shavonne has not received proper care, supervision or discipline from respondent, such that respondent has neglected Shavonne;
        
            c. In December 2000 respondent told Ms. Adamski that she was considering renouncing Shavonne;

            d. Respondent has made no meaningful efforts to regain custody of Shavonne;

            e. Although respondent was afforded regular visitation with Shavonne by this Court, respondent often failed to show up for her scheduled visits, and sometimes missed as many as three Monday visits in a row. When respondent would avail herself of visitation with Shavonne, she would often return the child to petitioners before the end of the visitation period.

        . . .

        23.    That respondent's testimony as noted above, when examined in the light of the entire record before the Court, diminishes her credibility, demonstrates a diminished ability to recall, reason, and function rationally, and further indicates a diminished capacity to provide proper care, supervision, and discipline to the child, Shavonne, as well as the failure to provide the same.

        24. That notwithstanding respondent's mental and emotional problems, she nevertheless has made sufficient clinical improvement, and has had the ability, to make reasonable progress under the circumstances within the last twelve months toward correcting the conditions leading to the (sic) Shavonne's removal from her custody, but has failed to do so.

        30.    That it is in Shavonne's best interests that her home life with petitioners continue without the possibility of the future instability of leaving matters open for subsequent inquiry, or of interference or disruption by respondent.
"The trial court, not the appellate court, weighs the credibility of evidence. Therefore, '[w]here there is competent evidence in the record supporting the court's findings, we presume that the court relied upon it and disregarded the incompetent evidence.'" State v. Coronel, 145 N.C. App. 237, 250, 550 S.E.2d 561, 570 (2001) (alteration in original) (citations omitted), review denied, 355 N.C. 217, 560 S.E.2d 144 (2002).
    It is clear from the evidence that although respondent made some progress in stabilizing her mental conditions, she willfully left Shavonne in foster care for more than twelve months without demonstrating to the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances had been made to correct the conditions leading to the removal of Shavonne. Respondent was confused over whether her husband or custody of her daughter were a priority. She even conceded that if she had to choose between her husband and Shavonne, she would choose her husband, but that ideally she wanted both in her life. Based on the evidence, we conclude that there is clear, cogent and convincing evidence in support of the trial court's finding that respondent failed to demonstrate that she made reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions leading to Shavonne's removal. Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
IV.
    Respondent next argues that the trial court erred in terminating respondent's parental rights. We disagree.    The trial court concluded that respondent willfully left her child in foster care for more than twelve months without showing that reasonable progress under the circumstances was made to correct the conditions leading to the removal of the juvenile. See N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2) (1999). Once the trial court determines that at least one ground for termination exists, it next determines whether termination is in the best interests of the child. In re McMillon, 143 N.C. App. at 408, 546 S.E.2d at 174. "The decision of whether to terminate parental rights should not be relegated to a choice between the natural parent and the foster family." In re Nesbitt, 147 N.C. App. 349, 360-61, 555 S.E.2d 659, 667 (2001).
        Even if it were shown . . . that a particular couple desirous of adopting a child would best provide for the child's welfare, the child would nonetheless not be removed from the custody of its parents so long as they were providing for the child adequately. Similarly, "the best interests of the child" is not the legal standard that governs parents' or guardians' exercise of their custody: so long as certain minimum requirements of child care are met, the interests of the child may be subordinated to the interests of other children, or indeed even to the interests of the parents or guardians themselves.

Petersen v. Rogers, 337 N.C. 397, 401-02, 445 S.E.2d 901, 904 (1994) (alteration in original) (quoting Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292, 304, 123 L. Ed. 2d 1, 18 (1993)).
    On appeal, this Court determines whether the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that it is in the best interests of the child to terminate parental rights. See In re Brim, 139 N.C. App. 733, 535 S.E.2d 367 (2000). Therefore, thetrial court's ruling will not be overturned on appeal unless "its ruling was manifestly unsupported by reason and could not have been the result of a reasoned decision." State v. Mickey, 347 N.C. 508, 518, 495 S.E.2d 669, 676 (quoting State v. Riddick, 315 N.C. 749, 756, 340 S.E.2d 55, 59 (1986)).
    In the instant case, the trial court found that petitioners have been married for twenty-nine years and have a thirteen-year- old daughter. They have lived in the same home for the last twenty years. Petitioner-husband works during the daytime and petitioner- wife works part-time in the evenings so Shavonne will not have to be put in daycare. Petitioners have provided loving care and a stable home since they took in Shavonne in September 1997. Shavonne considers petitioners to be her parents, and petitioners wish to adopt Shavonne.
    Based on this evidence and our discussion in the previous assignments of error, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering respondent's parental rights terminated nor in concluding that terminating respondent's parental rights was in the best interest of Shavonne.
    Based on the foregoing, we affirm the order of the trial court.
    AFFIRMED.
    Judges WALKER and McCULLOUGH concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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