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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

NO. COA06-694


Filed: 5 June 2007

                            Catawba County            
I.N.P.                        No. 99-J-109

    Appeal by respondent from judgment entered 13 January 2006 by Judge C. Thomas Edwards in Catawba County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 23 April 2007.

    J. David Abernethy, for petitioner-appellee Catawba County Department of Social Services.
    Brannon Strickland, PLLC, by Anthony M. Brannon, for respondent-appellant.

    Holly M. Groce, for petitioner-appellee Guardian ad Litem.

    MARTIN, Chief Judge.

    I.N.P. was born on 2 September 1996. On 1 June 1999, I.N.P. was adjudicated neglected and dependent. The Catawba County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) removed I.N.P. from the custody of her biological parents and placed her with respondent, her paternal grandmother. Respondent adopted I.N.P. on 31 July 2000.
    On 23 October 2002, DSS received a report that I.N.P. had bruises on her back, shoulder, arm and face. Respondent signed a safety plan stipulating that I.N.P. was not to receive any corporal punishment. On 31 January 2003, DSS received a second report of marks on I.N.P.'s back, arms and legs. In connection with thereport, I.N.P.'s biological father was charged and convicted of assault on a juvenile. Respondent signed a second safety plan. In March 2003, DSS substantiated allegations that I.N.P.'s biological father was continuing to live with respondent. The trial court issued an order for non-secure custody and removed I.N.P. from the home.
    On 22 October 2003, the trial court adjudicated I.N.P. neglected by respondent for permitting I.N.P. to live in an injurious environment. At the disposition, the court ceased reunification efforts with respondent, allowing for a final visit. A permanency planning hearing was held on 4 May 2004. The trial court implemented a permanent plan of terminating respondent's parental rights and adoption. On 12 January 2005, DSS filed a motion to terminate respondent's parental rights. Beginning 18 October 2005, the trial court held an adjudicatory hearing, which was concluded on 15 November 2005, at which time the trial court ruled that I.N.P. was neglected by respondent, that such neglect was reasonably likely to continue, and that respondent had willfully left I.N.P. in foster care for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress in correcting the conditions which led to her removal. With consent of the parties, the court indicated that it would draft findings of fact at a later time. A disposition hearing was set for 13 December 2005. On 13 December, the trial court held the disposition hearing and, after hearing respondent's testimony, the arguments of counsel, and considering the court's file and the reports of the guardian ad litem,determined that the child's best interests would be served by terminating respondent's parental rights. Separate orders of adjudication and disposition were entered on 13 January 2006. Respondent gave notice of appeal from both orders on 20 January 2006.

    A proceeding to terminate parental rights is a two-stage process, consisting of an adjudicatory stage and a dispositional stage. See In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001). In the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner must prove by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that one or more of the statutory grounds for terminating parental rights exists. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(f) (2005). If the petitioner meets this burden, the trial court moves to the dispositional stage and is given the discretion to terminate a respondent's parental rights based on the juvenile's best interest. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B- 1110(a) (2005); see also In re Carr, 116 N.C. App. 403, 406-07, 448 S.E.2d 299, 301 (1994).
    In the present case, the trial court entered separate orders of adjudication and disposition. In the adjudication order, the trial court made extensive findings of fact and concluded that two statutory grounds existed for termination of respondent's parental rights. The trial court then proceeded to the disposition hearing, after which it entered a second order, making findings based upon the evidence heard at that hearing, the court's file, and reportsfiled by the social worker and the guardian ad litem. In that order, the trial court terminated respondent's parental rights.
    “[T]he scope of review on appeal is confined to a consideration of those assignments of error set out in the record[.]” N.C. R. App. P. 10(a) (2005). In this appeal, respondent specifically assigns error to the trial court's findings of fact and conclusions of law in the disposition order terminating her parental rights, but does not assign error to any of the court's findings of fact or conclusions of law in the adjudication order in which it found, by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, the existence of two statutory grounds for termination. In fact, none of the thirty assignments of error contained in the record are directed to the adjudication order. Notwithstanding respondent's attempt to argue the insufficiency of the evidence to support those findings and conclusions, because respondent has not assigned error to any of the trial court's adjudicatory findings of fact or conclusions of law, they are binding on appeal, In re C.D.A.W., 175 N.C. App. 680, 686, 625 S.E.2d 139, 143 (2006), and the adjudicatory order is no longer before us for review.
    In her first fifteen assignments of error directed to the disposition order, respondent argues that the trial court erred by reciting the testimony of each witness rather than making actual findings of fact, and, specifically, that Findings 6 through 19, were “not supported by clear[,] cogent and convincing evidence.” As noted above, while the existence of grounds for termination of parental rights must be proven by the petitioner “based on clear,cogent, and convincing evidence,” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(f) (2005), the trial court's decision, once such grounds are proven, is vested in its sound discretion.
    Although respondent assigned error to findings of fact 6 through 19 of the disposition order, she argues only that findings of fact 9 through 15 are in error. As to the remaining findings of fact assigned as error, questions “raised by assignments of error in appeals from trial tribunals but not then presented and discussed in a party's brief, are deemed abandoned.” N.C. R. App. P. 28(a) (2005). Respondent challenges the following findings of fact within the disposition order:
        9. [Respondent] was present at several hearings concerning the first petition involving the minor child's biological parents. These hearings include the hearing on October 26, 1999, when [I.N.P.'s father] had been released from prison; the hearing on November 30, 1999, including a finding of fact what [sic] [Respondent] was making new day care plans because of Ms. Eno's instability; and on February 15, 2000, when the court determined that it was unsafe for the father and mother to leave the residence with the minor child. The court found that [I.N.P.'s father] had engaged in domestic violence and neglect. As of October of 2002, [respondent] knew that the child had received inappropriate discipline and nonetheless allowed [I.N.P.'s father], the only other person in the home, to be around [I.N.P.]. [Respondent]'s statements that she was unaware of the history of the case are unconvincing.

        10. The minor child was subjected to much difficulty by her biological parents. [Respondent] should have been and in fact was aware of the history of the case, and despite that fact she allowed the biological mother and father to provide care for the minor child. After the minor child had a history of physical injury prior to the adoption,[respondent] signed a safety plan in October of 2002 that the minor child was to receive no corporal punishment. Within four months thereafter, the minor child had red marks on her back, arms, and legs, and [respondent] signed another safety plan allowing no contact by [I.N.P.'s father] and required appropriate supervision. Two safety plans were not enough to provide safety for the minor child.

        11. [Respondent] was unable to acknowledge the harm inflicted by the biological mother or father, and as a result was unable to take effective action to deter further harm. She allowed [I.N.P.'s father] to live with her and the minor child in 2003, resulting in further physical injury to the minor child. [Respondent]'s explanation was that she had to work and needed child care. The actions of [respondent] were inconsistent with her knowledge of previous difficulties manifested by each of the biological parents and resulted in a failure to provide adequate care.

        12. [Respondent] made overtures toward counseling in late 2004. The counselor left a message to [respondent] to contact her; that did not occur.

        13. [Respondent] today, for the first time, said she now acknowledges the consequences of allowing [I.N.P.'s father] to provide care for the minor child, which violated the safety plan designed to protect the child. She testified that she now has learned that her decisions to allow [I.N.P.'s father] to provide care were not appropriate given the previous history of the case and her adoption of the minor child.

        14. The minor child requires a strong and consistent and selfless role model to over come [sic] her difficulties as a consequence of the history of this case. The minor child has reported to Ms. Buckland that as a result of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by the father, that the minor child does not wish to reestablish contact with [respondent]. The minor child reports that she does not want to see [respondent] again, and wants to put her entire past, including her parents' relinquishments, behind her.
        15. The minor child has reported great resentment and anger towards [respondent] and feels that [respondent] did not protect her despite knowledge of past harm she had suffered. The minor child will have difficulty in developing trusting bonds in the future.
We find no fault with the form or substance of the trial court's findings in this case. Further, the findings are adequately supported by the evidence submitted during the termination proceeding.
    Next, respondent assigned error to the trial court's decision that terminating respondent's parental rights is in I.N.P.'s best interests. A trial court's decision to terminate parental rights is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Nesbitt, 147 N.C. App. 349, 352, 555 S.E.2d 659, 662 (2001). At the disposition stage, a court is required to issue an order of termination unless it “determines that the best interests of the child require that the parental rights of such parent not be terminated.” In re Parker, 90 N.C. App. 423, 431, 368 S.E.2d 879, 884 (1988) (quotation omitted). In making this determination, a trial court must consider the juvenile's age, the likelihood of adoption, whether termination would facilitate the permanent plan for the juvenile, the bond between the juvenile and the parent, the quality of the relationship between the juvenile and the proposed adoptive parent and other relevant information. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110 (2005).
    Respondent argues that the trial court abused its discretion by basing its decision in large part on I.N.P.'s relationship withher foster family. We disagree. First, the relationship between I.N.P. and her proposed adoptive parents was a permissible consideration. Second, the trial court addressed the other statutorily mandated considerations in reaching its decision. The trial court noted that I.N.P. was nine years old at the time of the disposition. The trial court addressed the prospects for adoption and the facilitation of I.N.P.'s permanent plan in stating that “the permanent plan for the minor child continues to be adoption and this permanent plan is in the best interest of the child.” I.N.P. had “great resentment and anger” towards respondent for failing to protect her from the abuses of her father. The trial court found that respondent was unable to acknowledge the harm inflicted by the biological mother and father and, as a result, was “unable to take effective action to deter further harm.” Accordingly, we reject respondent's argument and affirm the trial court's conclusion that it was in I.N.P.'s best interests to terminate respondent's parental rights.
    Judges STEELMAN and STEPHENS concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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