in the Court of Appeals 13 March 2017.
by respondent-mother from order entered 17 May 2016 by Judge
Cheri L. Siler-Mack in District Court, Cumberland County, No.
14 JA 392.
Christopher L. Carr, for petitioner-appellee Cumberland
County Department of Social Services and Beth A. Hall, for
guardian ad litem.
W. Ewing for respondent-appellant-mother.
appeals from a permanency planning order and a custody order,
both entered the same day, both of which grant legal and
physical custody of her daughter to respondent-father. We
affirm the permanency planning order and remand for
correction of a clerical error. We also reverse and remand
the custody order since it does not comply with the
requirements of North Carolina General Statute § 7B-911
for termination of juvenile court jurisdiction and entry of a
civil custody order enforceable and modifiable under North
Carolina General Statute Chapter 50. On remand, the trial
court should enter a new order in accord with North Carolina
General Statute § 7B-911.
September 2014, the Cumberland County Department of Social
Services ("DSS") filed a juvenile petition alleging
that one-year-old Jennifer was neglected and dependent. According
to the petition, DSS received two child protective services
referrals in September of 2014. Respondent-mother had a
history of problems due to her mental illness, and she failed
to take her medication as prescribed. On 28 September 2014,
respondent-mother was admitted to Cape Fear Valley Medical
Center because she was having auditory and visual
hallucinations; this was respondent-mother's second
hospital admission in one month due to the same issues.
Shortly after her admission to the hospital,
respondent-mother tested positive for marijuana. At that
time, DSS was unable to locate any suitable relatives to
provide temporary care and supervision for Jennifer, so DSS
took Jennifer into non-secure custody. On 1 December 2014,
the trial court had a hearing regarding the non-secure
custody order; the trial court ordered "[t]hat the
juvenile shall continue to be placed in the home with the
Respondent Father and Paternal
Grandmother." On 18 August 2015, the trial court entered
an order adjudicating Jennifer dependent.
February 2016, the trial court held a permanency planning
hearing. On 17 May 2016, the trial court entered two orders
based upon the 17 February 2016 hearing. First, the trial
court entered an order entitled "Permanency Planning
Order and Order to Close Juvenile Court Case File"
("Permanency Planning Order"). (Original in all
caps.) In the Permanency Planning Order the trial court made
findings of fact regarding both respondents' and the
juvenile's circumstances. The trial court also found as
23. That the permanent plan of reunification with the
Respondent Father has been achieved.
24. That a termination of parental rights should not be
pursued in this matter inasmuch as the permanent plan of
reunification has been accomplished.
. . . .
26. The Court finds that at this time it would be appropriate
to return legal and physical custody of the juvenile to the
Respondent Father, . . ., and that will be the Order of the
Court. The Court finds that this will achieve the permanent
plan of care for the juvenile and that further Judicial
Review hearings are no longer necessary. The Court will allow
the Department and Guardian ad Litem to close their
respective Juvenile Court case files in this matter[.]
trial court then ordered "[t]hat legal and physical
custody of the juvenile . . . shall be returned to the
Respondent Father" and "[t]hat the Cumberland
County Department of Social Service and the Guardian ad Litem
should be allowed to close their Juvenile Court case
files[.]" The trial court also released the
respondents' court- appointed counsel and granted
visitation to respondent-mother for an hour of visitation
supervised by respondent-father every other week at a
particular McDonald's restaurant.
17 May 2016, the trial court entered another order, entitled
simply "ORDER" ("Custody
Order"). The brief, two-page Custody Order
incorporates the findings from the Permanency Planning Order.
The Custody Order includes a conclusion of law that
"North Carolina is the home state of the juvenile and
this Court has jurisdiction over the juvenile under the
provisions of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction
Enforcement Act for the purpose of entering an Order on
Custody." The Custody order then grants legal and
physical custody of the juvenile to respondent-father and
supervised visitation to respondent-mother, just as set forth
in the Permanency Planning Order. Respondent-mother filed
notice of appeal "from the Review Order changing custody
of the above minor child that was filed on May 17,
Standard of Review
Our review of a permanency planning order is limited to
whether there is competent evidence in the record to support
the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions
of law. The trial court's findings of fact are conclusive
on appeal when supported by any competent evidence, even if
the evidence could sustain contrary findings. In choosing an
appropriate permanent plan under N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-906.1 (2013), the juvenile's best interests are
paramount. We review a trial court's determination as to
the best interest of the child for an abuse of discretion.
Questions of statutory interpretation are questions of law,
which are reviewed de novo by an appellate court.
Unchallenged findings of fact are deemed to be supported by
the evidence and are binding on appeal. Moreover, erroneous
findings that are unnecessary to support the trial
court's conclusions of law may be disregarded as
In re A.C., __ N.C.App. __, __, 786 S.E.2d 728, 733
(2016) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Permanency Planning Order
argues that "the trial court erred in granting . . .
Jennifer[']s custody to the respondent father when it
concluded that the return of the juvenile to the respondents
would be contrary  to the welfare and best interests of the
juvenile." (Original in all caps.) Specifically,
respondent-mother argues the trial court's conclusions of
law in the Permanency Planning Order are contradictory and
prevent this Court from adequately determining whether
granting respondent-father custody of Jennifer was in her
the trial court made the following pertinent conclusions of
2. No reasonable means were available to protect the
juvenile, short of out-of-home placement, because return to
the custody of the Respondents would be
contrary to the welfare of the juvenile.
3. That the primary permanent plan of reunification with the
Respondent Father with a secondary permanent plan of
guardianship with the Paternal Grandmother; the Court
approves of the permanent plans and the plans are consistent
with the juvenile's best interests.
4. That the primary permanent plan has been achieved today.
5. That the Respondent Mother . . . is not a fit and proper
person for the care, custody and control of the juvenile.
That it is in the juvenile's best interests to have