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An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority.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. COA07-603


Filed: 2 October 2007

IN THE MATTER OF:                    Cleveland County
A.M., Z.B., A.B., C.S.                Nos. 06 JA 63-66


    Appeal by respondent from an order entered 20 February 2007, nunc pro tunc 24 January 2007, by Judge Anna F. Foster in Cleveland County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 4 September 2007.

    Charles E. Wilson, Jr., for petitioner-appellee Cleveland County Department of Social Services.

    Pamela Newell Williams, for guardian ad litem.

     Robin Strickland, for respondent-appellant.

    JACKSON, Judge.

     Shelly B. (“respondent”) appeals from an order terminating her parental rights to her minor children, A.M., Z.B., A.B., and C.S. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.
    On 15 December 2004, the Cleveland County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) filed a petition alleging that A.M., Z.B., A.B., and C.S. were neglected juveniles. DSS stated that on 14 December 2004, respondent had been arrested and the children's aunt was staying with them. The aunt told DSS she would not be able to watch the children for “more than a little while longer” and could not take them home with her. DSS responded to the home and foundthe aunt and her husband along with the four juveniles. The aunt told DSS that respondent had called her that morning from jail and asked her to check on the children. She and her husband found the children with a man they did not know. She agreed to stay with the children long enough for DSS to go to the jail and talk with respondent.
    DSS interviewed respondent at the jail and asked what her plan was for the children. Respondent stated that “she didn't need a plan because she was getting out of jail . . . .” DSS learned that respondent was facing charges of common law robbery and assault with a staple gun, and her bond was set at $10,000. DSS spoke with Mike Brown (“Brown”), a friend of respondent who allegedly was a convicted sex offender. Brown told DSS that “he was working on getting the money to get [respondent] out of jail but could not promise anything.” Eventually, respondent signed a voluntary placement agreement in case Brown was unsuccessful in his attempts to get her out of jail. When asked about who the man was that the aunt found at her home watching the children, respondent stated that her neighbors were watching the children and no man should have been there. DSS assumed custody of the children.
    While at the DSS office, one of the juveniles, A.M., stated that “Jason” had been staying with them. A.M. then identified Jason Guye (“Guye”) from a picture on the North Carolina Sex Offenders Web Site. DSS stated that Guye is a convicted sex offender, and that DSS was familiar with him from prior involvement with the family. On 1 April 2004, respondent had signed a safetyplan with DSS in which she agreed that she would not allow her children around Guye and would not allow Guye into her home. The plan stated that respondent “understands that allowing her children around a sex offender places her children at risk of being sexually abused and being removed from the home.” Upon learning that Guye was living in the home again and helping to care for the children, DSS decided to file the petition alleging neglect. DSS assumed custody of the children by non-secure custody order.
    On 30 March 2005, an adjudicatory hearing was held in Cleveland County District Court. The court found that on 14 December 2004, Guye was alone in the home with the juveniles, and had been in the home prior to that date. The trial court further noted that DSS made an unannounced visit to the home on 28 March 2005. While in the home, the DSS social worker observed men's clothing and someone hiding under a blanket in the bedroom. The person would not identify himself or come out from under the blanket. Respondent claimed that the person was someone named “Octavius Odoms,” and that he was not dressed and was embarrassed to come out. The children were adjudicated as neglected juveniles.
    The trial court held review hearings on 25 May and 20 July 2005. The court noted that respondent had been cooperative with DSS, had been participating in the By-Standers Group, and had completed parenting classes. Custody remained with DSS, but the trial court ordered that respondent be allowed unsupervised day visitation.    Another review hearing was held on 21 September 2005. The court noted that since its prior hearing, respondent had been arrested on a felony charge of conversion of a motor vehicle. Respondent also was allegedly kidnapped and held in her home overnight by two men. The men were arrested when respondent left her home and called the police. Both men were found asleep in the home; a gun was found inside as well. Charges against the men were later dropped due to lack of evidence. Due to these incidents, unsupervised visitation was suspended.
    On 30 March 2006, DSS filed a petition to terminate respondent's parental rights. DSS alleged three grounds for termination: (1) that respondent had neglected the juveniles within the meaning of North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-101(15), and pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B- 1111(a)(1) ; (2) that respondent had willfully left the juveniles in foster care for more than twelve months without showing that reasonable progress under the circumstances had been made in correcting those conditions that led to the removal of the juvenile s, pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B- 1111(a)(2); and (3) that the juveniles had been placed in the custody of the petitioner and that respondent, for a continuous period of six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, had willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the juvenile s, although physically and financially able to do so, as required by North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-1111(a)(3) .     Hearings were held on the petition to terminate parental rights 4 October, 1 November, and 20 December 2006. The trial court concluded that sufficient grounds for termination existed pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-1111(a)(1) and (2). The court further concluded that it was in the juveniles' best interest that respondent's parental rights be terminated. Respondent appeals.

    We first consider respondent's argument that the trial court erred by failing to conduct the termination hearing promptly . Respondent argues that the hearing was not initiated until seven months after the petition was filed, and that she was prejudiced by this delay. We disagree.
    North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-1109(a) provides that termination hearings should be heard “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.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(a) (2005). Further, subsection (d) provides:
        The 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. Continuances that extend beyond 90 days after the initial petition shall be granted only in extraordinary circumstances when necessary for the proper administration of justice, and the court shall issue a written order stating the grounds for granting the continuance.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1109(d) (2005). Here, the petition was filed on 30 March 2006. Respondent did not respond to the petition until 13 June 2006, long after the statutorily required thirty day limit had passed. We note that respondent's failure to timely respond to the petition itself could have resulted in the termination of her parental rights. “Upon the failure of a respondent parent to file written answer to the petition . . . within 30 days after service of the summons and petition . . . , the court may issue an order terminating all parental and custodial rights of that parent with respect to the juvenile[.] N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1107 (2005).
     On 28 June 2006, a special hearing was held, and the trial court scheduled a hearing on the termination petition for 2 August 2006. However, on 17 July 2006, respondent's attorney moved for a continuance because she previously had scheduled a vacation for 2 August 2006. The trial court granted the motion and continued the matter until 30 August 2006. On 30 August 2006, the trial court entered another continuance. The trial court noted that due to a busy docket and the estimated length of the trial, that a continuance was “necessary for the proper administration of justice” and was “not contrary to the best interest[s] of the juvenile[s].” Thus, since the court entered a written order stating the reason for the continuance, including circumstances relating to the proper administration of justice, the hearing was not untimely. Furthermore, assuming arguendo that the termination hearing was erroneously delayed, respondent can demonstrate no prejudice since the delay was partially attributable to her failureto timely answer the petition and due to the initial continuance sought by her attorney. See In re D.J.D., D.M.D., S.J.D., J.M.D., 171 N.C. App. 230, 243, 615 S.E.2d 26, 35 (2005) ( since respondent moved for the continuance, he could demonstrate no prejudice from any delay in holding the termination hearing) . Accordingly, this assignment of error is overruled.
    Respondent next argues that the trial court erred by failing to hold a separate permanency planning review hearing. Respondent claims that the trial court should have entered a permanency planning order which ceased reunification efforts and changed the permanent plan for the children to adoption. Respondent contends that the trial court's failure to enter such an order deprived her of the opportunity to appeal that decision. We disagree.
    “When a petition for termination of parental rights is filed in the same district in which there is pending an abuse, neglect, or dependency proceeding involving the same juvenile, the court on its own motion or motion of a party may consolidate the action pursuant to G.S. 1A-1, Rule 42.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1102(c) (2005). Here, the record shows that the trial court joined the termination hearing and the permanency planning hearing without objection by the parties. Accordingly, the assignment of error is overruled.
    We next consider respondent's argument that the trial court erred by finding that grounds existed to terminate her parental rights. We are not persuaded.     North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-1111 sets forth the statutory grounds for terminating parental rights. A finding of any one of the separately enumerated grounds is sufficient to support a termination. In re Taylor, 97 N.C. App. 57, 64, 387 S.E.2d 230, 233-34 (1990). “The standard of appellate review is 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.” In re D.J.D., 171 N.C. App. at 238, 615 S.E.2d at 32 (citing In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 291, 536 S.E.2d 838, 840 (2000), disc. rev. denied, 353 N.C. 374, 547 S.E.2d 9, 10 (2001) ).
    Here, the trial court concluded A.M., Z.B., A.B., and C.S. were neglected juveniles. A “[n]eglected juvenile” is defined as:
        [a] juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile's parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or who has been abandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile's welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2005). The trial court partially based its conclusion that respondent neglected the juveniles on multiple findings of fact relating to respondent's drug abuse. In finding of fact number 25, the court noted that respondent tested positive for cocaine in April and May 2006 and also admitted to using illegal drugs in April and May 2006. Respondent did not assign error to this finding of fact. Thus, this finding of fact is deemed supported by competent evidence and is conclusive onappeal. See In re Padgett, 156 N.C. App. 644, 648, 577 S.E.2d 337, 340 (2003).
    The trial court then found as fact:

        26. That on the Labor Day Weekend of September, 2006, the mother was admitted in Gaston Memorial Hospital. She admitted having used cocaine the day before, and she was pregnant. The mother tested positive for cocaine upon her admission to Gaston Memorial.

In findings of fact numbers 27 to 33, the trial court described how following her admission to Gaston Memorial Hospital, a social worker made “diligent efforts to find the mother bed, housing, money and care.” The social worker finally was able to secure a bed at the Florence Crittenden Home so that respondent could receive proper pre-natal care and live in a safe home, free from illegal drugs. The trial court found that the social worker explained to respondent that the home would assist her with her pregnancy and drug abuse. The social worker completed a taxi voucher to transport the respondent from the hospital to the home. However, instead of going to the home, respondent used the taxi voucher to go elsewhere. Respondent did not assign error to any of these findings of fact. Thus, these findings of fact are deemed supported by competent evidence and are conclusive on appeal. See id. Based upon these findings, the trial court stated:
        34. That the mother's decision to return to Shelby and to not enter the Florence Crittenden Home while pregnant is clear and convincing evidence of neglect on behalf of the juveniles in that the mother intentionally abused illegal drugs and turned down help to assist her in becoming stable and appropriate and safe for the juveniles of this action. These actions on the part of the motherdemonstrate the ongoing neglect to which the mother will expose the juveniles, as well as the likelihood that this neglect will continue for the foreseeable future.

In light of the trial court's findings relating to respondent's persistent drug abuse, we hold that the trial court was free to conclude that respondent neglected the juveniles, and that there was a probability of repetition of neglect. Accordingly, we hold that sufficient grounds existed for termination of respondent's parental rights.
    Because grounds exist to support the trial court's order, the remaining ground found by the trial court to support termination need not be reviewed by this Court. See Taylor, 97 N.C. App. at 64, 387 S.E.2d at 233-34.
    Finally, respondent argues that the trial court erred in concluding that it was in the best interests of the juveniles to terminate her parental rights. We disagree.
     “The trial court has discretion, if it finds that at least one of the statutory grounds exists, to terminate parental rights upon a finding that it would be in the child's best interests.” In re Nesbitt, 147 N.C. App. 349, 352, 555 S.E.2d 659, 662 (2001) (citing In re Blackburn, 142 N.C. App. 607, 543 S.E.2d 906 (2001); In re McLemore, 139 N.C. App. 426, 583 S.E.2d 508 (2000)). Factors to consider in determining the juvenile's best interests include: (1) the age of the juvenile; (2) the likelihood of adoption; (3) the impact on the accomplishment of the permanent plan; (4) the bond between the juvenile and the parent; (5) the relationship between the juvenile and a proposed adoptive parent or other permanentplacement; and (6) any other relevant consideration. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a) (2005). The court is to take action “which is in the best interests of the juvenile” when “the interests of the juvenile and those of the juvenile's parents or other persons are in conflict.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1100(3) (2005). As a discretionary decision, the trial court's disposition order will not be disturbed unless it could not have been “the result of a reasoned decision.” In re J.B., 172 N.C. App. 747, 751, 616 S.E.2d 385, 387, aff'd, 360 N.C. 165, 622 S.E.2d 495 (2005).
     The trial court's detailed findings of fact reveal that the trial court considered the factors required by North Carolina General Statutes, section 7B-1110(a). The trial court made specific findings referencing the birth date of each of the children, respondent's failure to maintain stable employment and housing, respondent's persistent drug abuse, respondent's instability, the efforts of DSS to reunify the children with respondent, and the relationship between respondent and her children. Based upon the findings of fact made by the trial court after an extensive termination hearing, we can discern no abuse of discretion. Accordingly, we affirm.
    Judges STEELMAN and JACKSON concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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