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In re J.R.S.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 3, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: J.R.S. AND Z.L.S.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 20 February 2018.

          Appeal by Respondents from order entered 27 June 2017 by Judge John R. Nance in Stanly County Nos. 15 JA 51/52 District Court.

          Jacqueline P. De Santis for Petitioner-Appellee Stanly County Department of Social Services.

          Mark L. Hayes for the Respondent-Appellant Grandmother.

          Jeffrey William Gillette for the Respondent-Appellant Grandfather.

          K&L Gates LLP, by Leah D'Aurora Richardson, for guardian ad litem.

          DILLON, JUDGE.

         Respondent-Grandmother and Respondent-Grandfather appeal from an order in which the trial court effectively removed them as parties in a neglect and dependency proceeding involving two of their grandchildren, "Jonah" and "Zeke."[1]After careful review, we reverse.

         I. Background

         In September 2015, the Stanly County Department of Social Services ("DSS") filed a petition alleging that Jonah and Zeke were neglected and dependent juveniles. The petition named the children's parents and grandparents as the "parent[s], guardian[s], custodian[s], or caretaker[s][, ]" but its allegations referred only to the conduct of the parents.

         In December 2015, the trial court entered an order (the "Custody Order") establishing a civil custody action and awarding legal and physical custody of both children to Grandmother and Grandfather. The Custody Order relieved DSS of further efforts on behalf of the children, concluding that the children's placement with Grandmother and Grandfather eliminated their need for further services from DSS or continued state intervention through a juvenile proceeding.

         Approximately four months later, in May 2016, DSS began receiving reports of physical and verbal altercations between Grandmother and Grandfather which occurred in the presence of the children. In response, DSS filed a second juvenile petition, alleging that Jonah and Zeke were neglected and dependent juveniles. After a hearing on the petition, the trial court determined that it was not in the children's best interest to remain with Grandmother and Grandfather, nor to be returned to their parents, and ordered that they be placed in DSS custody. The trial court further ordered DSS to work with the parents and grandparents to develop case plans to address the issues that led to the removal of the children. For the next six months, the trial court conducted regular review hearings, but the circumstances of the parties remained relatively unchanged.

         In March 2017, the trial court conducted a review hearing, during which it determined the following:

8. The [parents] have never entered into a case plan, have taken no action to resolve issues that led to the children being removed and have indicated a desire that the minor children [] be placed in ...

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