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In re H.N.D.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

April 16, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF H.N.D. & L.N.A-D.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 27 February 2019.

          Appeal by Respondent-Appellant Mother from orders entered 28 March 2017 and 27 June 2018 by Judge Cheri Siler-Mack in Cumberland County District Court Nos. 14-JA-68, 14-JT-68, 15-JA-117, 15-JT-117.

          Elizabeth Kennedy-Gurnee for Petitioner-Appellee Cumberland County Department of Social Services.

          Miller & Audino, LLP, by Jeffrey L. Miller, for Respondent-Appellant.

          Stephen M. Schoeberle for Guardian ad Litem.

         

          COLLINS, JUDGE.

         Respondent-Appellant Mother (Mother) appeals from orders ceasing reunification efforts with and terminating her parental rights to her minor children L.N.A-D. (Lee) and H.N.D. (Hank)[1] (collectively, the Children). She contends that the trial court erred by making various findings of fact and conclusions of law in both orders. We affirm in part and dismiss in part.

         I. Background

         On 24 February 2014, Petitioner-Appellee Cumberland County Department of Social Services ("DSS") filed a juvenile petition alleging that Lee was neglected and dependent. The DSS petition alleged the following: (1) Mother had a history of domestic violence with Lee's father Jerry Dennings; (2) Mother and Dennings had a physical altercation on or about 27 December 2013 in which Dennings hit Mother in Lee's presence and forced her out of the house threatening to kill her if she took Lee, after which Mother left Lee with Dennings; (3) Mother stated that she attempted to retrieve Lee from the house on 30 December 2013, but could not do so because Dennings fired a gun at her; (4) Dennings was involved in a physical altercation with another woman involving a gun in Lee's presence on 17 February 2014; (5) the police came to Dennings' house on 17 February 2014, Dennings fled as a result leaving Lee unsupervised, and Mother retrieved Lee the same day; (6) starting on 17 February 2014, Mother told social workers she had moved with Lee into the house of another man with whom she had children, and with whom she had a similar history of domestic violence, including multiple physical altercations in the presence of Mother's children.

         DSS obtained nonsecure custody of Lee on 24 February 2014. On 5 May 2014, pursuant to an agreement between DSS and Mother, the trial court adjudicated Lee dependent because of domestic violence issues, and on 26 June 2014 a disposition order was entered. On 18 November 2014, an initial permanency planning hearing took place, and the trial court established a plan of reunification with Mother. In its permanency planning order, the trial court found that Mother and Dennings continued to reside together as a couple and that they had not appropriately addressed their domestic violence issues. The trial court thus concluded that it was not possible for Lee to return to his parents' custody because the conditions which had led to his removal had not yet been alleviated. Subsequent permanency planning orders continued with a plan of reunification.

         Following Hank's birth on 3 April 2015, DSS filed a petition alleging that Hank was neglected and dependent. The 17 April 2015 petition described the findings from the prior order adjudicating Lee dependent, and alleged continuing issues between Mother and Dennings, including a 17 April 2015 argument in which Dennings threatened to break Mother's neck. DSS obtained nonsecure custody of Hank on 17 April 2015. At a 23 September 2015 hearing, DSS and Mother stipulated to Hank's dependent status because of domestic violence issues. On 24 May 2014, the trial court entered an adjudication and disposition order adjudicating Hank dependent.

         By written order entered 24 March 2017, the trial court ordered the primary permanent plans for both Lee and Hank to be adoption, and no longer reunification with Mother. In so doing, the trial court found a "long and enduring" history of domestic violence between Mother and Dennings, including an incident in August 2016 in which Dennings was arrested for assaulting Mother with a deadly weapon and Mother sought a restraining order against Dennings. The orders were entered on 28 March 2017, and Mother timely preserved her right to appeal them on 30 March 2017. Subsequent permanency planning orders continued with the plan of adoption.

         On 19 September 2017, DSS filed a petition to terminate Mother's rights to the Children. Hearings took place in February and March 2017, after which the trial court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights on 27 June 2018. Mother timely noticed her appeal of the permanency planning order ceasing reunification efforts and the order terminating her parental rights on 18 July 2018.

         II. Appellate Jurisdiction

         This Court has jurisdiction to hear Mother's appeal under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1001(a)(5) (2017)[2] and Mother is a proper ...


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