IN THE MATTER OF: A.L.L., R.J.M., R.A.M., A.O.Z., D.A.M., O.E.J.M.
in the Court of Appeals 5 June 2017.
by Respondents Father and Mother from an Order to Terminate
Parental Rights entered 14 November 2016 by Judge Betty J.
Brown in Guilford County District Court; appeal by Respondent
Father from orders entered 4 June 2015, 17 December 2015 and
3 June 2016 by Judge Angela C. Foster in Guilford County
District Court. Guilford County, Nos. 14 JT 380-383, 15 JT
Mercedes O. Chut, for petitioner-appellee Guilford County
Department of Health and Human Services.
Law Firm, by Daniel J. Melo, for guardian ad litem.
& Audino, LLP, by Jeffrey L. Miller, for
Assistant Appellate Defender J. Lee Gilliam, for
Carolina court properly exercises jurisdiction over children
living in this state and alleged to be abused, neglected or
dependent, even if the children were previously the subject
of custody orders and continuing jurisdiction by a foreign
state court, once the foreign court enters a facially valid
order declining further jurisdiction.
("Mother") appeals from an order terminating her
parental rights as to her minor children A.L.L.
("Abigail"), R.J.M. ("Riley"), R.A.M.
("Robert"), A.O.Z. ("Ava"), D.A.M.
("Diana"), and O.E.J.M. ("Oscar");
Respondent-father ("Father") appeals the same order
terminating his parental rights as to Abigail, Riley, and
Robert and seeks certiorari review of three
permanency planning orders entered on 4 June 2015, 17
December 2015, and 3 June 2016 (the "Permanency
Orders"). Mother contends that the trial court erred in
finding that the children were dependent and that Mother had
failed to make reasonable progress in correcting the
conditions that led to their removal, and argues the trial
court abused its discretion in determining the termination of
parental rights would be in the best interests of Riley and
Robert. Father contends that the trial court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction to terminate his parental rights to
Abigail, Riley, and Robert, and, in his petition for
certiorari, contends that the trial court's permanency
planning orders failed to make the requisite findings of fact
to support its adjudication of the children as neglected and
careful review, we affirm.
Factual and Procedural History
evidence presented to the trial court tended to show the
Mother gave birth to Ava in Detroit, Michigan, on 4 January
2006. In 2007, Mother began a relationship with Father and,
by the end of 2009, they had two children together, Robert
and Riley, also born in Michigan. In the course of the
parents' relationship, four reports were made to Michigan
Child Protective Services for homelessness, domestic
violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues; none of
the reports resulted in intervention by the Michigan agency.
Father was convicted at least three times for domestic
violence, including two incidents involving Mother in 2007
and 2012; he was also convicted of concealed weapon offenses
in 2003 and 2010.
domestic violence against Mother, Father also engaged in
inappropriate physical disciplining of Ava and exposed the
older three children to inappropriate sexual content. In
August of 2012, Mother left Father and refused to allow him
further contact with Robert and Riley; her departure rendered
her and her children homeless. The next month, Mother gave
birth to Abigail, appellants' third child in common, in
after Abigail was born, on 31 October 2012, Mother filed a
child support and custody action against Father as to Riley
and Robert in the Circuit Court for Wayne County, Michigan
(the "Michigan Action"). During the pendency of the
Michigan Action and while the children were in Mother's
custody, three more reports were made to Michigan Child
Protective Services for neglect, physical abuse, and mental
health issues; none of these reports resulted in intervention
by the Michigan agency.
September 2013, the Michigan court awarded Mother sole legal
and physical custody of Riley and Robert. Shortly after entry
of the custody order in the Michigan Action, Mother fled the
state with her four children to escape Father. Mother and the
children settled in Guilford County, North Carolina.
filed a motion to modify the custody order in the Michigan
Action on 4 October 2013. The Michigan court held an
evidentiary hearing on Father's motion on 16 April 2014
with Father present and Mother participating by phone. The
Michigan court found that Father had not established grounds
to regain custody, but granted Father supervised visitation
rights in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at his own expense.
never exercised the visitation rights awarded by the Michigan
court in 2014. He has not seen Robert or Riley since 2012,
when Robert was four and Riley was three. He has never met
Abigail, who is now five.
after moving to North Carolina, Mother obtained housing
assistance from Petitioner-Appellee Guilford County
Department of Health and Human Services ("DHHS"),
which paid her rent for three months. However, Mother was
evicted in the fourth month for her failure to pay rent.
Following her eviction, Mother was again living in homeless
shelters with her children and became pregnant with twins by
a third father in early 2014.
September 2014, DHHS received two reports concerning Mother,
Abigail, Riley, Robert, and Ava. The reports indicated that
Mother had slapped four-year-old Riley, resulting in charges
of misdemeanor assault on a child under the age of twelve and
misdemeanor child abuse. The reports also stated that Mother
threatened to kill herself and her children. A mobile crisis
unit evaluated Mother at the scene of the report. Mother was
involuntarily committed to a local hospital for severe
depression and suspected Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
days later, DHHS filed a petition in Guilford County District
Court alleging that Abigail, Riley, Robert, and Ava were
abused, neglected, and dependent juveniles who should be
removed from Mother's custody. DHHS was granted nonsecure
custody as to all four children. The petition alleged that
Mother "used cruel or grossly inappropriate devices or
procedures to modify the behavior of a 4[-year old] child,
" that the children were living in an environment
injurious to their welfare, that Mother could not provide
proper care, supervision, or discipline, and that Mother
could not arrange for appropriate alternative care for her
was served with the petition on 25 September 2014 in open
court during a hearing for continued nonsecure custody.
Although DHHS personnel undertook diligent efforts prior to
the hearing, they were unable to locate and serve Father with
the petition. An adjudicatory hearing was scheduled for 20
the adjudicatory hearing, Mother and DHHS agreed to a case
plan requiring her to undergo parenting, psychological,
psychiatric, and substance abuse evaluations, to attend
domestic violence counseling and parenting classes, and to
secure stable housing. She was permitted visitation
contingent upon a parenting/psychological evaluation and a
meeting with DHHS personnel (termed a "TDM")
consistent with the previously entered nonsecure custody
orders. Consistent with the plan, Mother underwent all
required evaluations between October and December 2014; she
was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, and
Alcohol Use Disorder. Mother's attendance at therapy and
peer support programs was inconsistent, however, and she
never enrolled in a group outpatient substance abuse program
as recommended in her substance abuse evaluation.
November 2014, counsel for DHHS sent an email to District
Court Judge Angela Foster notifying her of the custody order
in the Michigan Action and noting the question of whether
North Carolina could exercise jurisdiction over the children.
Following a phone call with a judge in Michigan, Judge Foster
called the adjudicatory hearing on the 20 November 2014
docket, but continued the hearing to allow the Michigan court
time to enter an order relinquishing jurisdiction to North
December 2014, following the telephone conference with Judge
Foster, the Michigan court entered an order finding that
"North Carolina is the more convenient and appropriate
forum, " and therefore the Michigan court declined and
relinquished further jurisdiction over the custody actions
concerning Riley, Robert, and Abigail to the North Carolina
court. The record does not indicate whether the
Michigan court notified Father that it had relinquished
jurisdiction to North Carolina.
trial court held a pre-adjudication, adjudication and
disposition hearing on 18 December 2014. Mother was present,
as was a provisional attorney appointed by the court to
represent Father's interests. Mother consented to the
adjudication of Abigail, Riley, Robert, and Ava as abused,
dependent, and neglected. As memorialized by order filed 14
January 2015, the court acknowledged that the current plan
for the four children was reunification, but found that
Mother had not yet made sufficient progress on her case plan
to order reunification.
January 2015, Mother delivered twins Diana and Oscar. DHHS
filed juvenile petitions as to the twins alleging the newborn
twins were neglected and dependent on the basis of the DHHS
reports and criminal charges from September 2014 and the