IN THE MATTER OF: K.L. and R.E.
in the Court of Appeals 5 June 2017.
by respondent from order entered 12 May 2016 by Judge Toni S.
King in Cumberland County District Court. No. 14 JA 12-13
Christopher L. Carr for petitioner Cumberland County
Department of Social Services and Beth A. Hall for guardian
ad litem (joint brief).
Appellate Defender's Office, by Assistant Appellate
Defender Annick Lenoir-Peek, for respondent-appellant.
appeals from an order entered, which removed reunification as
a concurrent permanent plan for her children, K.L. and R.E.
We reverse and remand.
case returns to the Court for a second time. In re
K.L., __ N.C.App. __, 778 S.E.2d 104, 2015 WL 4898180
(unpublished). Cumberland County Department of Social
Services ("DSS") filed a petition, which alleged
Respondent-mother's children A.J., K.L. and R.E. were
seriously neglected and dependent juveniles on 14 January
allegations of neglect were asserted after DSS received
reports alleging Respondent-mother had abused her autistic
grandson, while he was in her care, and that her adult
children also reported that she abused them as children. DSS
voluntarily dismissed the allegations of serious neglect and
dependency. Pursuant to stipulations between the parties, the
trial court adjudicated the juveniles to be neglected at a
hearing on 9 June 2014. A.J. has reached the age of majority
and is no longer part of this case.
trial court's disposition order retained physical and
legal custody of the juveniles with DSS, and decreed for DSS
to continue to make reasonable efforts towards reunification
of the children with Respondent-mother. Following a hearing
on 1 December 2014, the court entered a permanency planning
order ("15 January 2015 order"). The court
concluded the permanent plan was to place K.L. and R.E. into
the custody of their married adult sibling ("Ms.
E.") Respondent-mother appealed to this Court.
initial appeal, Respondent-mother argued the trial court had
improperly ceased reunification efforts. She asserted no
appropriate findings were made, as required by N.C. Gen.
Stat. § 7B-906.1(e)(1), to explain why it would not be
possible for K.L. and R.E. to be returned to her custody
within the next six months. She also asserted the court had
not verified whether Ms. E. understood the legal significance
of the custodianship pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-906.1(j). In re K.L., 2015 WL 4898180 at *4-5.
Court held that the order appealed from did not show the
trial court had ceased reunification efforts. The trial
court's order specifically directed DSS to continue
efforts to eliminate the need for continued placement of the
juveniles outside of the home and DSS should continue efforts
to reunify the juveniles with Respondent. Id. at *4.
Court further held the trial court's 15 January 2015
order made minimally sufficient findings to comply with N.C.
Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1(e)(1) and (j). The case was
remanded for the trial court to enter a specific visitation
schedule with the juveniles. Id. at *5-8.
January 2016, a permanency planning hearing was held. On 12
May 2016, the court entered a subsequent permanency planning
order which listed a visitation schedule, as required by this
Court upon remand. The court also found that reasonable
efforts to reunify the family would be futile, that the
permanent plan was "previously achieved" and that
legal and physical custody of K.L. and R.E. should remain
with Ms. E. Respondent-mother again appeals to this Court.
lies in this Court pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §
asserts the trial court improperly ceased reunification
efforts and failed to follow statutory requirements, prior to
granting permanent custody to Ms. E. Respondent-mother also
argues the court violated the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 7B-906.1(n) and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-905.1(d).
Standard of Review
Court reviews an order that ceases reunification efforts to
determine whether the trial court made appropriate findings,
. . . whether the findings of fact support the trial
court's conclusions, and whether the trial court abused
its discretion with respect to disposition." In re
C.M., 183 N.C.App. 207, 213, 644 S.E.2d 588, 594 (2007).
"An abuse of discretion occurs when the trial
court's ruling is so arbitrary that it could not have
been the result of a reasoned decision." In re
N.G., 186 N.C.App. 1, 10-11, 650 S.E.2d 45, 51 (2007)
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted), affirmed
per curiam, 362 N.C. 229, 657 S.E.2d 355 (2008). The
trial court's conclusions of law are reviewed de
novo on appeal. In re D.H., 177 N.C.App. 700,
703, 629 S.E.2d 920, 922 (2006) (citation omitted).
Ceasing Reunification Efforts
Purpose of Permanency Planning Hearing
Juvenile Code provides:
Review hearings after the initial permanency planning hearing
shall be designated as subsequent permanency planning
hearings. The subsequent permanency planning hearings shall
be held at least every six months thereafter or earlier as
set by the court to review the progress made in finalizing
the permanent plan for the juvenile, or if necessary, to make
a new permanent plan for the juvenile.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1(a) (2016).
Court affirmed the 15 January 2015 order, which included a
finding that DSS should continue reunification efforts and
that custody with a relative to be the permanent plan. This
Court concluded the trial court's permanency planning
order did not cease reunification efforts. In re
K.L, 2015 WL 4898180 at *4.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1(d)
permanency planning hearing, the trial court
"shall consider the following criteria and make
written findings regarding those that are relevant:"
(1) Services which have been offered to reunite the juvenile
with either parent whether or not the juvenile resided with
the parent at the time of removal or the guardian or
custodian from whom the child was removed.
(2) Reports on visitation that has occurred and whether there
is a need to create, modify, or enforce an appropriate
visitation plan in accordance with G.S. 7B-905.1.
(3) Whether efforts to reunite the juvenile with either
parent clearly would be unsuccessful or inconsistent with the
juvenile's health or safety and need for a safe,
permanent home within a reasonable period of time. The court
shall consider efforts to reunite regardless of
whether the juvenile resided with the parent, guardian, or
custodian at the time of removal. If the court determines
efforts would be unsuccessful or inconsistent, the court
shall consider other permanent plans of care for the
juvenile pursuant to G.S. 7B-906.2.
(4) Reports on the placements the juvenile has had, the
appropriateness of the juvenile's current foster care
placement, and the goals of the juvenile's foster care
plan, including the role the current foster parent will play
in the planning for the juvenile.
(5) If the juvenile is 16 or 17 years of age, a report on an
independent living assessment of the juvenile and, if
appropriate, an independent living plan developed for the
(6) When and if termination of parental rights should be
(7) Any other criteria the court deems necessary.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.1(d) (2016) (emphasis
trial court's order is required to "make [it] clear
that the trial court considered the evidence in light of
whether reunification would be futile or would be
inconsistent with the juvenile's health, safety, and need
for a safe, permanent home within a reasonable period of
time. The trial court's written findings must address the