IN THE MATTER OF: J.R.S. AND Z.L.S.
in the Court of Appeals 20 February 2018.
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.
L. Hayes for the Respondent-Appellant Grandmother.
Jeffrey William Gillette for the Respondent-Appellant
K&L Gates LLP, by Leah D'Aurora Richardson, for
guardian ad litem.
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."After careful review, we reverse.
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.
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
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.
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 ...