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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA06-970


Filed: 19 June 2007

IN RE Q.R.                     Caswell County        
                                No.04 J 18

    Appeal by respondent from order entered 15 December 2005 by Judge Mark Galloway in Caswell County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 8 February 2007.

    Stuart N. Watlington, for petitioner-appellee Caswell County Department of Social Services.

    Richard E. Jester for respondent-appellant.

    Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP, by Kristin R. Poolos, for Guardian Ad Litem.

    CALABRIA, Judge.

    Sharon D. (“respondent”) appeals from an order of the trial court terminating her parental rights to Q.R. (“the minor child”) on the grounds of neglect, failure to make reasonable progress, and failure to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care. We affirm.
    Respondent is the biological mother of the minor child. On 23 October 2002, the minor child's maternal grandmother (“Sharon R.”) asked the Caswell County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) to take care of the minor child. Sharon R. informed DSS that respondent, who was 20 years old at the time, asked her 18-year-old sibling to care for the minor child on 18 October 2003 with theunderstanding that she would return the following day. Respondent later called to report that she would not return until 20 October 2002. By 23 October 2002, five days later, respondent never contacted Sharon R. or returned. During this time, the minor child experienced respiratory problems and Sharon R. was unable to provide appropriate medical care for the child. DSS obtained a nonsecure custody order for the minor child and on 6 December 2002, the trial court adjudicated the minor child neglected pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15).
    On 25 July 2003, the respondent entered into a case plan with DSS that required respondent to participate in parenting classes, establish her own housing, and consent to random drug screenings. The case plan included information that respondent had a strong support system and that members of respondent's family were willing to assist caring for the minor child.
    During the time between the case plan and the permanency planning review hearing, respondent enrolled in a parenting class and attended three of the four sessions. Respondent attended two of the five scheduled visits with the minor child but missed three scheduled visits. On 8 September 2003, the trial court conducted a permanency planning review hearing and determined that DSS should continue the plan to reunify the minor child with respondent. On 6 October 2003, the trial court entered a subsequent permanency planning review order changing the plan from reunification to adoption and ordered that DSS cease all reunification efforts. The DSS report submitted at the hearing indicated that respondent hadnot attended any parenting classes during the previous month and had attended only two of the four scheduled visitations with the minor child.    At the 3 November 2003 hearing, respondent called the DSS social worker to explain why she was unable to utilize two scheduled visits with the minor child and requested a thirty-minute visit with the child after the court hearing. Nevertheless, the permanent plan for adoption was continued.
    On 1 March 2004, at the review hearing, DSS reported that respondent had married Joseph Cane Davis (“Joseph”) on 14 February 2004 and had been residing with him for the previous six months. Although respondent was employed with P&J Christian Day Care in Durham, North Carolina, she had not provided DSS with a pay stub as of the date of the hearing. Respondent called DSS on several occasions to ask about the well-being of the minor child and informed them that she had been attending private therapy sessions to help with her parenting skills. DSS reported that respondent had attended only three of the ten scheduled visits with the minor child since the previous review hearing and that respondent indicated she was unable to obtain reliable transportation until 20 February 2004.
    At the 5 April 2004 review hearing, DSS reported that respondent recently changed jobs and started working at Kirby Vacuum Cleaners the day prior to the hearing, but continued to reside at the same residence where she lived with her husband since October of 2003. DSS also reported respondent was enrolled in Welcome Baby Parenting Classes and attended each session of theclass. Respondent also requested two-hour visits with her son and visited with the minor child on a weekly basis. Also, respondent's husband attended two of the visits with the minor child.
    On 4 May 2004, DSS filed a petition for termination of parental rights alleging neglect, lack of reasonable progress, willful abandonment, and failure to pay the cost of care of the minor child. Respondent was served with the petition for termination of parental rights on 20 September 2004.
    At the permanency planning review hearing on 27 September 2004, the court found that respondent resided with her husband in Durham, was currently employed with a temporary agency and had been for the past three months, made a child support payment in July of 2004 and had her employment information forwarded to the IV-D Agency to initiate child support payments. The court further found that Durham County Department of Social Services (“Durham County DSS”) completed a home study on respondent's home which was approved but Durham County DSS had concerns about the sleeping arrangements at respondent's home. The court also found that respondent completed a parenting program and inquired about taking additional parenting classes. DSS reported that respondent attended eighteen of the twenty-four visits scheduled with the minor child and respondent's husband attended six out of the twenty-four visits. Respondent and her husband also made frequent calls to DSS concerning the health and well-being of the minor child.    At the 15 November 2004 hearing, DSS reported that respondent was still employed with the temporary agency and resided with her husband in the same residence. DSS reported that on 12 November 2004, respondent and her husband visited with the minor child. During the visit, respondent and her husband watched a movie that was not age appropriate for the minor child. DSS also reported that since the last court hearing, respondent attended four of the six scheduled visits. DSS was concerned that respondent did not have mattresses for the bed frames she had purchased in order to accommodate the minor child. Also, DSS reported that a parenting class had been located for respondent and respondent was attending the class. Based on the DSS report, the court ordered a hearing for 21 January 2005 to continue termination proceedings.
    At the 21 January 2005 hearing, DSS reported that respondent's daughter had recently started residing with respondent and that respondent completed one parenting class on 21 December 2004. DSS also reported that respondent had recently been terminated from her job with the temporary agency but that respondent was working sporadically with a woman who owned a residential cleaning service. The court continued the proceedings to conduct a home study of the minor child's maternal great-grandmother Dianna LeGrant (“Mrs. LeGrant”). On 23 May 2005, the court ordered a ninety-day continuance for the termination proceedings in order to explore the option of a consensual adoption by Mrs. LeGrant.
    At the 24 August 2005 hearing, DSS reported that Mrs. LeGrant visited with the minor child fifteen times. DSS expressed a concern that after the minor child visited with Mrs. LeGrant and returned to his foster home, he experienced a relapse in his potty training and demonstrated aggression towards members of his foster home. Mrs. LeGrant, a certified child-care provider, testified that this was not unusual behavior for a three-year-old child during periods of adjustment. Mrs. LeGrant also testified that the minor child had not experienced any difficulties with his potty training while in her care. Based on their concerns, DSS and the GAL requested that the minor child undergo a professional evaluation. At the 4 October 2005 hearing, the minor child had been evaluated by a professional, but because Mrs. LeGrant had not been interviewed as part of the evaluation, the hearing was continued in order for Mrs. LeGrant to be evaluated.
    On 5 December 2005, the trial court entered an order terminating the parental rights of respondent to the minor child on the grounds of neglect, lack of reasonable progress and failure to pay reasonable cost of care. Respondent appeals.    
    “A termination of parental rights proceeding consists of two phases.” In re Shermer, 156 N.C. App. 281, 285, 576 S.E.2d 403, 407 (2003). “In the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner . . . has the burden of proving by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence at least one of the statutory grounds listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111.” Id. “We review whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law.” Once at least one ground for termination has been established, the trialcourt moves to the dispositional stage. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 909 (2001). At the dispositional stage, the trial court considers whether termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child. In re Anderson, 151 N.C. App. 94, 98, 564 S.E.2d 599, 603 (2002). “We review the trial court's decision to terminate parental rights for abuse of discretion.” Id.

I. Bifurcated Hearing
    Respondent argues the trial court erred by not conducting a bifurcated hearing and by considering dispositional evidence during the adjudication phase of the proceeding.
    Rule 10(b)(1) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure requires a party to object during trial in order to preserve an issue for appellate review. N.C. R. App. P. 10(b)(1) (2005). In this case, the respondent failed to object to the trial court's decision to hear dispositional evidence before hearing the remaining adjudication evidence. Because of respondent's failure to object, this issue was not properly preserved for review and is dismissed.
II. Substituted Judgment
    Respondent next argues the trial court erred by substituting the recommendations of Dr. Paul Brinich (“Dr. Brinich”) for its own judgment. We disagree.
    It is well settled that “the trial court must, through 'processes of logical reasoning,' based on the evidentiary facts before it, 'find the ultimate facts essential to support theconclusions of law.'” In re J.S., 165 N.C. App. 509, 511, 598 S.E.2d 658, 661 (2004) (quoting In re Harton, 156 N.C. App. 655, 660, 577 S.E.2d 334, 337 (2003)). “[I]t is permissible for trial courts to consider all written reports and materials submitted in connection with [juvenile] proceedings.” In re M.R.D.C., 166 N.C. App. 693, 698, 603 S.E.2d 890, 893 (2004) (internal quotations omitted). “However, despite this authority, the trial court may not delegate its fact finding duty.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).
    In the case before us, after reviewing Dr. Brinich's report and hearing the testimony presented, the trial court made a finding regarding the best interests of the child and whether any changes in the child's placement would have an impact on the child's mental stability and adjustment. The trial court went further and addressed the issue of the child's placement with a family of a different ethnic background and the possible impact on the child. The trial court determined that the best interests of the child was to terminate the respondent's parental rights. The trial court did not delegate its fact finding duties and made ultimate findings of facts that supported its conclusions.
III. Findings of Fact     
    Respondent next challenges several findings of fact, arguing that they are not supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. Respondent first challenges finding of fact IX which states:
        IX.    [Respondent] was directed by Caswell County DSS to complete a parenting class,and that although she shows she has completed certain programs having to do with certain skills in being a parent, the Court has yet to be satisfied that to this day, that she has completed a parenting program. That [respondent] has not called the child on the telephone for the last few months; that the Court has made it clear . . . that although efforts by [DSS] were ceased, that it was open to [respondent] to show that . . . she was desirous of resolving the issues which made it necessary for the child to go into care. The Court made it clear that she could visit with the child on her own initiative. . . . [Respondent] has made no efforts to contact the Social Worker since January, 2005, and efforts by the Social Worker . . . to relay messages to [respondent to have [respondent] return calls to her have met with no response.

This finding was supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence. Although respondent entered evidence that she completed a parenting class, the class did not teach general parenting skills but focused on teaching parents how to read to their children. The case plan required respondent to complete parenting classes that dealt with parenting skills. Further, during the period of time between continuation of the termination proceedings and the final hearing, respondent did not maintain contact with DSS and only contacted the child when the child was in Mrs. LeGrant's home. Respondent was instructed on several occasions that it was her responsibility to show that she was making progress in the case plan even though reunification efforts by DSS ceased. However, respondent failed to contact DSS after January of 2005 and failed to respond to attempts by the social worker to contact respondent. Thus, the court's finding was supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence.
    Respondent also challenges the trial court's findings that (1) the minor child was neglected; (2) that respondent failed to make reasonable progress to correct the situation which led to the removal of the minor child; (3) that respondent failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care; (4) and that the conditions of the prerequisites to terminate respondent's parental rights were met. Because these findings are more appropriately designated conclusions of law, we treat them as such. See In re Helms, 127 N.C. App. 505, 510, 491 S.E.2d 672, 676 (1997)(“The determination of neglect[failure to make reasonable progress, or failure to pay reasonable cost of care] requires the application of legal principles set forth in N.C. Gen. Stat. § [7B-1111(a)(1-3)] and is therefore a conclusion of law.”).
    In this case, the trial court listed three grounds to support termination of respondent's parental rights. If at least one ground is supported by competent evidence, the trial court's order must be affirmed.
Failure to Make Reasonable Progress
     The trial court terminated respondent's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(2) (2005). In order to terminate parental rights under § 7B-1111(a)(2), the petitioner must prove by clear, cogent and convincing evidence:
        That [respondent] has willfully left the juvenile in foster care or in placement outside the home for more than twelve months without showing to the satisfaction of theCourt that reasonable progress is being made under the circumstances to correct the conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile.

Id. In In re Pierce, 356 N.C. 68, 565 S.E.2d 81 (2002), our Supreme Court concluded that the twelve-month period designated by § 7B-1111(a)(2) is the twelve months preceding the filing of the termination petition. Id. 356 N.C. at 75, 565 S.E.2d at 86. The Court, in reaching its decision, noted that “evidence gleaned from the twelve-month period immediately preceding the petition would provide the trial court with the most recent facts and circumstances exhibiting a parent's progress or lack thereof.” Id. The Court went on to determine whether the evidence of the parent's progress in the twelve-month period preceding the petition was sufficient to support a finding that the parent had not made reasonable progress.
    In this case, the termination of parental rights petition was filed 4 May 2004. The relevant evidence of respondent's progress extended from May 2003 until May 2004. The evidence showed that although respondent took steps towards reaching the goals of the case plan, as a whole, respondent continued to show a lack of commitment to correct the conditions which caused the minor child's removal. From July of 2003 to August of 2003, respondent attended the majority of her parenting classes, but she failed to attend three of the five scheduled visits with her child. During September of 2003, respondent failed to attend any of the parenting classes and only attended half of the scheduled visits with herchild. In October of 2003, respondent never visited with her child during the entire month. Between October of 2003 and February of 2004, respondent only attended three of the ten scheduled visits with her child. However, during that period, respondent married, obtained stable housing, and obtained employment. In March of 2004, respondent enrolled in a parenting class and attended each session. Also, respondent requested two-hour visitations with her child and visited with the child each week. Although respondent made great progress during the month before DSS filed the termination petition, respondent's progress for the entire twelve month period prior to the filing of the petition was not reasonable progress in light of the circumstances. The trial court's conclusion that respondent failed to make reasonable progress was supported by clear, cogent and convincing evidence in the record.     Because we have determined that at least one ground for terminating respondent's parental rights exists, we need not address respondent's remaining arguments. The order of the trial court is affirmed.
    Judges McGEE and STEPHENS concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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