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In re J.A.K.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

March 6, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: J.A.K.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 18 January 2018.

         Appeal by Father from orders entered 18 April 2016, 19 October 2016, and 22 March 2017 by Judge J.H. Corpening, II, in New Hanover County District Court Nos. 14 JT 194, 195.

          Jennifer Cooke for Petitioner-Appellee New Hanover County Department of Social Services.

          Jeffrey L. Miller for the Respondent-Appellant Father.

          Administrative Office of the Courts, by GAL Appellate Counsel Matthew D. Wunsche, for guardian ad litem.

          DILLON, JUDGE

         Father appeals from three orders: the trial court's 22 March 2017 order (the "TPR Order") terminating his parental rights to J.A.K. ("Jack")[1] and two prior permanency planning orders entered in this matter; one entered on 18 April 2016 (the "April Order") eliminating reunification efforts and changing the permanent plan to adoption with a concurrent plan of guardianship; and one entered six months later on 19 October 2016 continuing the April Order (the "October Order"). We affirm the trial court's TPR Order and the April Order, and we dismiss Father's appeal of the October Order.

         I. Background

         In August 2014, the New Hanover County Department of Social Services ("DSS") obtained nonsecure custody of four-month-old Jack, [2] and filed a petition alleging that he was a neglected juvenile. Father was named in the petition, but, despite several attempts, was never served with process.

         In September 2014, the trial court entered an order adjudicating Jack neglected based on the mother's stipulation to the allegations in the petition. Though Father still had not been served with process, the trial court ordered Father to present himself to DSS to enter into a case plan and establish a visitation agreement.

         In June 2015, after paternity testing confirmed Father was Jack's biological father, Father was appointed counsel. Father also began visitation with Jack, and he entered into a case plan with DSS. His case plan required completion of parenting classes and maintaining stable and appropriate housing and employment. In a permanency planning order following a September 2015 hearing, the trial court ordered Father to comply with his case plan.

         Months later, in the April Order, the trial court ordered DSS (1) to cease reunification efforts with Father; (2) pursue termination of Father's parental rights; and (3) changed the permanent plan for Jack from reunification to adoption by Jack's foster parents, with a concurrent plan of guardianship.

         In June 2016, DSS filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights to Jack, alleging two grounds for termination. The petition also sought to terminate the parental rights of Jack's mother. In the October Order, a permanency planning order entered in October 2016, the trial court confirmed the permanent plan of adoption with the foster parents, with a concurrent plan of guardianship with the foster parents.

         Following a hearing, the trial court entered the TPR Order, in which it found the existence of both grounds for termination alleged against Father and Jack's mother. The trial court also concluded that termination of the parental rights of Father and of Jack's mother was in the juvenile's best interest. Father appealed.

         II. Analysis

         As an initial matter, we must determine whether Father's appeals from the April Order and October Order are properly before us. Father has filed an alternative petition for writ of certiorari in the event that they are not. We address each order in turn.

         In the April Order, the trial court ceased reunification efforts with Father pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-906.2(b) (2015). Section 7B-1001(a) of our juvenile code states that when our Court is reviewing a trial court order terminating parental rights, our Court shall also review any prior order by the trial court eliminating reunification as a permanent plan if all the following apply:

1. A motion or petition to terminate the parent's rights is heard and granted.
2. The order terminating parental rights is appealed in a proper ...

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