Respondent mother appeals from order entered 8 June 2005 by
Judge C. Christopher Bean in the District Court in Pasquotank
County. Heard in the Court of Appeals 8 June 2006.
The Twiford Law Firm, P.C., by H. P. Williams, Jr., for
petitioner-appellee Pasquotank County Department of Social
Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, P.L.L.C., by Lewis S. Rowell,
for petitioner-appellee Guardian ad Litem.
Annick Lenoir-Peek, for respondent-appellant.
In October 2004, the Pasquotank County Department of Social
Services (DSS) filed a petition to terminate respondent mother's
parental rights as to minor child S.T.C. The trial court held a
hearing on 9 May 2005 and entered its order on 8 June 2005.
Respondent appeals. We affirm the trial court's order.
The record shows that the court adjudicated S.T.C. neglected
and dependent in March 2002, because respondent had a history of
alcohol abuse and would not participate in treatment. DSSinitially became involved with S.T.C. because of its involvement
with S.T.C.'s older sister. Following the adjudication, S.T.C.
remained in respondent's custody until April 2003.
In June 2002, shortly after the initial adjudication, DSS
received a report that respondent was intoxicated and yelled at and
spanked S.T.C.'s sibling. In March 2003, DSS filed a 30-day
juvenile petition, based on information that respondent continued
to consume alcohol to the point of intoxication. She told a DSS
worker that a 28-day inpatient treatment program would not help her
addiction, but would only dry her out for 28 days. She admitted
to abusing alcohol for over half of her life. In April 2003, DSS
took custody of S.T.C. after respondent was very intoxicated, made
threatening phone calls to relatives, and was very aggressive and
profane to the DSS worker who came to investigate. On 3 July 2003,
S.T.C. was adjudicated neglected and dependent. In April 2004,
after respondent completed an inpatient substance abuse program,
received ongoing outpatient counseling, and was participating in
Alcoholics Anonymous, the court granted unsupervised visits with
S.T.C. However, in August 2004, DSS cancelled the visitations due
to respondent's inconsistent scheduling, as well as her arrest for
Driving While Impaired (DWI) on 17 May 2004. She was convicted
on that charge on 10 September 2004. On 11 August 2004, the court
ordered that DSS cease reunification efforts. Respondent first argues that the trial court committed
reversible error in failing to hold the termination hearing within
ninety days of the filing of the petition. We disagree. N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-1109(a) (2003) provides that a termination hearing be
held no later than 90 days from the filing of the petition or
motion unless the judge pursuant to subsection (d) of this section
orders that it be held at a later time. Id.
[t]he court may for good cause shown continue
the hearing for up to 90 days from the date of
the initial petition in order to receive
additional evidence including any reports or
assessments that the court has requested, to
allow the parties to conduct expeditious
discovery, or to receive any other information
needed in the best interests of the juvenile.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(d) (2003). Here, the initial summons was
issued on 12 October 2004, but returned unserved on 13 November
2004. An alias and pluries summons was then issued on 29 November
2004 and served on 30 January 2005. Following service on
respondent, a notice of hearing for 25 February 2005 was issued.
On 1 March 2005, respondent filed a motion for extension of time of
30 days, in order to prepare and serve responsive pleadings. A
second notice of hearing was issued on 22 April 2005 and the court
heard the matter on 9 May 2005. Although this Court has held that a trial court's failure to
hold the termination hearing within 90 days of the petitions was
reversible error, In re S.W.,
___ N.C. App. ___, 625 S.E.2d 594
(2006), we have also held that the delay is not prejudicial error
where a respondent contributes to the delay by moving for a
continuance. In re D.J.D.
, 171 N.C. App. 230, 243, 615 S.E.2d 26,
35 (2005). Here, it is undisputed that part of the delay resulted
from respondent's request for a continuance. Furthermore, we note
that the initial summons was issued on 12 October 2004 and
respondent was not actually served until 30 January 2005, as she
could not be located. We overrule this assignment of error.
Respondent also contends that the trial court erred in finding
and concluding that grounds existed to terminate her parental
rights. The court concluded that the evidence established three
statutory grounds to terminate respondent's parental rights: N.C.
Gen. Stat. §§ 1111(a)(1), (2), and (6) (2003). In three separate
assignments of error, respondent asserts that the court lacked
competent evidence to support termination under each of these
We first address respondent's contention that the trial court
erred in concluding that grounds existed to terminate her parental
rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2), for willfully
leaving her child in foster care placement for more than twelvemonths without making reasonable progress in correcting the
conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile. Id.
that in her brief, respondent does not bring forth her assignment
of error challenging specific findings of fact. Accordingly, we
presume that the trial court's findings of facts are supported by
competent evidence and these findings become binding on appeal.
Anderson Chevrolet/Olds, Inc. v. Higgins
, 57 N.C. App. 650, 653,
292 S.E.2d 159, 161 (1982); see also
, In re T.L.B.
, 167 N.C. App.
298, 301, 605 S.E.2d 249, 251 (2004). Thus, we must determine only
whether the unchallenged findings of fact support the court's legal
conclusion that statutory grounds existed to terminate respondent's
Here, it is undisputed that S.T.C. had been in foster care for
more than 12 months and the court made the following pertinent
findings of fact:
31. Since June 2004, [respondent's] commitment
to treatment, cooperation and contact with the
Pasquotank County Department of Social
Services and visitations with [S.T.C.] has
decreased. During the August 11, 2004,
Permanency planning review hearing,
[respondent] admitted, under oath, that she
had resumed consuming alcohol. It is unknown
when [respondent] began consuming alcohol
again; however, she was arrested on May 17,
2004 for Driving While Impaired. This charge
was obtained during the time period in which
[respondent] was allowed unsupervised
visitation with [S.T.C.] and she was
transporting [S.T.C.] from Pasquotank Countyto Beaufort County and back. [S.T.C.] was not
in the vehicle with [respondent] at the time
of her DWI. She was convicted of this charge
at a court hearing held September 16, 2004 in
Beaufort, North Carolina . . .
* * *
36. Alcohol addiction/dependency is a chronic,
relapsing/reoccurring problem and a long-term
commitment must be made to achieve sobriety.
Recovery is a life long decision. Although
[respondent] has made attempts at recovery by
receiving outpatient as well as inpatient
substance abuse treatment, she relapsed which
continues to be a pattern. There have been
indications and admissions from [respondent]
that although she has stated she has remained
sober for periods of time; she has continued
to consume alcohol. Pasquotank County
Department of Social Services has been
involved with [respondent] and her family
since December 1999 as a result of her
addiction to alcohol. This agency provided
case planning/case management and permanency
planning services from December 1999 to June
2002. Five days after having legal custody of
her children returned to her care, another
child protective services report was received
because of [respondent's] consumption of
alcohol and the risk of harm to her children.
Again, case planning/case management and
permanency planning services were provided
from June 2002 until present. With
[respondent's] admission to alcohol use after
a period of reported sobriety . . .
[respondent] was permitted to have
unsupervised visits with [S.T.C.] and was
permitted to transport from Pasquotank County
to Beaufort County for visits. In the five
years this agency has been involved with this
family, [respondent] has been unable to
maintain sobriety and continues to use/abuse
alcohol. She admits to abusing alcohol
beginning at an early age (14-15 years old). Given the fact that she has been (documented
by her history) unable to maintain sobriety
for any substantial amount of time, it is
highly unlikely that there will be a
substantial change in her circumstances.
[Respondent] admits she is an alcoholic. She
has used alcohol with the three months
preceding the hearing.
Thus, we conclude that these findings of fact support the
conclusion that respondent had failed to make reasonable progress
in correcting the conditions which led to the removal of S.T.C.
Respondent also contends that the trial court failed to establish
that such failure to make progress was willful. However, the trial
court made several findings regarding respondent's failure to
follow through on treatment as well as her failure to follow up
with DSS in scheduling and attending meetings and visitations. We
overrule this assignment of error. Because we conclude that the
trial court properly terminated respondent's parental rights under
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2), we need not address her other
related assignments of error: the finding of any one of the
grounds is sufficient to order termination. Owenby v. Young
N.C. 142, 145, 579 S.E.2d 264, 267 (2003).
Finally, respondent argues that the trial court erred in
concluding that termination was in S.T.C.'s best interest. Once
the trial court concludes that one or more grounds for termination
exists, it must proceed to the dispositional stage where the bestinterests of the child are considered. In re Blackburn,
App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001). There, the court shall
an order terminating the parental rights unless it further
determines that the best interests of the child require otherwise.
(emphasis added). This Court reviews the trial court's
decision whether to terminate parental rights for abuse of
discretion. In re Anderson
, 151 N.C. App. 94, 98, 564 S.E.2d 599,
602 (2002). Here, given the trial court's findings and conclusions
of respondent's chronic alcohol abuse, as well as its determination
that S.T.C. was thriving in a foster home with foster parents who
wished to adopt, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its
discretion in terminating respondent's parental rights.
Judges MCCULLOUGH and TYSON concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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