IN THE MATTER OF:
D.M.L. Wayne County
R.E.L. Nos. 04 JT 75-76
E.B. Borden Parker for petitioner-appellee Wayne County
Department of Social Services.
Jeremy B. Smith for appellee Guardian Ad Litem.
Janet K. Ledbetter for respondent-appellant.
Respondent-mother appeals from orders terminating her parental
rights to children, D.M.L. and R.E.L. For the following reasons,
In April of 2004, the Wayne County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a juvenile petition alleging that D.M.L. and R.E.L. were neglected based upon reports that respondent-mother and her live-in boyfriend were dealing drugs out of the home. The trial court adjudicated the children neglected on 25 June 2004. Respondent-mother was subsequently arrested for and pled guilty to possession of precursor chemicals to manufacture methamphetamine. After conducting permanency planning hearings, the trial courtentered permanency planning orders on 7 April 2006 and concluded that the permanent plan of the juveniles be changed to adoption.
On 11 July 2006, DSS filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of respondent-mother as to D.M.L. and R.E.L. on the grounds of neglect and abandonment. DSS also sought to terminate the parental rights of the father of D.M.L. and R.E.L. By orders entered 5 March 2007, the trial court terminated the parental rights of respondent-mother and the father. Respondent-mother appeals.
Respondent-mother first contends that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to enter orders terminating her parental rights because the termination petition did not comply with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1104(6). We disagree.
Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1104(6), a proper petition for termination of parental rights must set forth [f]acts that are sufficient to warrant a determination that one or more of the grounds for terminating parental rights exist. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1104(6) (2005). A petitioner's bare recitation . . . of the alleged statutory grounds for termination does not comply with the requirement in [§ 7B-1104(6)]. In re Quevedo, 106 N.C. App. 574, 579, 419 S.E.2d 158, 160 (1992). While there is no requirement that the factual allegations be exhaustive or extensive, they must put a party on notice as to what acts, omissions or conditions are at issue. In re Hardesty, 150 N.C. App. 380, 384, 563 S.E.2d 79, 82 (2002). Further, compliance with the statutory requirements to allege sufficient facts pursuant to Section 7B-1104(6) may be metby attached and incorporated orders. See Quevedo, 106 N.C. App. at 579, 419 S.E.2d at 160.
Here, the petitions stated the grounds on which termination was sought, neglect and abandonment, and included the permanency planning orders entered in the cases. The attached incorporated orders contained findings of fact regarding respondent-mother's drug abuse and incarceration. Thus, sufficient allegations were made in the petition to comply with N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1104(6). The corresponding assignments of error are overruled.
Respondent-mother next contends that the trial court erred by not holding the special hearing required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1108(b). We disagree.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1108(b) requires that the trial court conduct a special hearing . . . to determine the issues raised by the petition and answer when a respondent denies via answer any material allegation contained within a petition to terminate parental rights. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1108(b) (2005). We find instructive the case of In re B.D., 174 N.C. App. 234, 620 S.E.2d 913 (2005), disc. review denied, 360 N.C. 289, 628 S.E.2d 245 (2006). In In re B.D., the respondents argued on appeal that the trial court erred by holding the special hearing required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1108(b) immediately prior to commencement of the termination hearing instead of notifying them of the special hearing ten days prior to its commencement. This Court concluded that the respondents were not prejudiced by holding the special hearing immediately prior to the termination hearing becauserespondents had denied all material allegations of the petition, which indicated that each ground for termination was in dispute and no further issues remained to be delineated by the trial court at the special hearing. Id. at 240, 620 S.E.2d at 917.
Similarly, respondent-mother here denied all material allegations of the petition and no further issues remained for the trial court to dispose of at the special hearing. We, therefore, cannot say that the trial court's failure to conduct a special hearing prejudiced respondent-mother. Accordingly, respondent- mothers's second argument is overruled.
Respondent-mother next challenges the trial court's determination that grounds existed to terminate her parental rights. Termination of parental rights involves a two-stage process. In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 610, 543 S.E.2d 906, 908 (2001) (citation omitted). In the adjudicatory stage, the petitioner has the burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence that at least one of the statutory grounds listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111 exists. In re Anderson, 151 N.C. App. 94, 97, 564 S.E.2d 599, 602 (2002) (citation omitted). If the trial court determines that grounds for termination exist, it proceeds to the dispositional stage, and must consider whether terminating parental rights is in the best interests of the child. Id. at 98, 564 S.E.2d at 602 (citation omitted). We review the trial court's decision to terminate parental rights for abuse of discretion standard. Id. (citations omitted). Respondent-mother asserts the trial court erred by: (1) entering termination orders without identifying the specific statutory ground for termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a); and (2) failing to make findings based upon clear and convincing evidence that would support a conclusion that she neglected her children under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1).
To support its decision to terminate respondent-mother's parental rights, the trial court made the following findings of fact as to respondent-mother as to R.E.L:
9. That the initial Petition in this matter was filed on April 1, 2004, alleging that the juvenile was a neglected juvenile. The juvenile was living with the mother at that time.
10. That the Court, on June 25, 2004, found the juvenile to be a neglected juvenile within the meaning of the North Carolina General Statutes.
11. That in finding neglect, the Court found that at the time of the filing of the Petition, the following facts existed:
a. The home was in disarray.
b. The mother was living on an inheritance and child support and was providing a home for a live-in boyfriend . . . who was unemployed until sometime in June, 2004.
c. At the time, the mother had criminal convictions, including misdemeanor larceny, simple assault, driving while license revoked and DWI.
d. [T]he live-in boyfriend of the mother, had been living with the mother and the juvenile for 10 months and prior to that time had lived with the previous female owners of the home.
e. [The live-in boyfriend] had a number of convictions including, breaking and entering,possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell, and driving while license was revoked.
f. [The live-in boyfriend] had recent positive drug test for marijuana.
g. The marijuana was purchased in a mobile home park where the mother, [her live-in boyfriend] and the juvenile resided and the methemphetamine was purchased near or in the mobile home park.
h. The juvenile had lice in his hair when he was placed in the custody of the Department of Social Services in March, 2004.
12. That when the juvenile was originally removed from the mother, he had missed more than 20 days of school.
13. That as set out below, the father had previously abused the juvenile. It was recommended that the juvenile have counseling and at the time of the juvenile being removed from the home of the mother, the juvenile had not had counseling for approximately one and one half years, although the mother of the juvenile was supporting a live-in boyfriend.
14. That the Court placed the juvenile in the custody of Patrick and Debbie Cansler, brother and sister-in-law of the respondent mother.
15. That on June 25, 2004, the Court ordered the mother, Rita L., to complete a substance abuse evaluation and to follow the recommendations of the evaluator, be subject to random drug screens, complete parenting classes and demonstrate skills learned and to have a complete psychological evaluation and to follow the recommendations of the evaluator.
16. That in September, 2004, the Court found that the mother had separated from [her live- in boyfriend], but had no drivers license nor automobile.
17. That the Court further found that the mother had lost her job, but was seeking employment.
18. That in September, 2004, the Court found that the mother, Rita L., had not had a drug test since the last Court date in June, 2004, the mother had an appointment for a psychological evaluation and a substance abuse evaluation and that she had scheduled parenting classes for October, 2004.
19. That from June, 2004, through September, 2004, the mother had not complied with the Order of the Court made on June 25, 2004.
20. That in September, 2004, the Court again ordered the mother, Rita L., to complete a substance abuse evaluation and to follow the recommendations of the mental health professional, to complete parenting classes and demonstrate skills learned and to have a complete psychological evaluation and follow the recommendations.
21. That on December 16, 2004, the Court found that [Rita L.], mother of the juvenile, was in jail, having been arrested for operating a methamphetamine house.
22. That the mother of the juvenile is incarcerated because of a guilty plea to two counts of possession of precursor chemicals. Precursor chemicals are used to manufacture methamphetamine.
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