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In re S.P.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

October 1, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: S.P. and J.P.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 5 September 2019.

          Appeal by Respondent-Father from order entered 21 August 2018 by Judge William F. Southern, III in Surry County District Court Nos. 17 JA 48-49.

          Susan Curtis Campbell for petitioner-appellee Surry County Department of Social Services.

          Peter Wood for respondent-appellant father.

          James N. Freeman, Jr. for guardian ad litem.

          MURPHY, JUDGE.

         Respondent-Father ("Edouard"[1]) appeals from an order appointing the Johnsons as guardians of his minor children, Arthur and Cesar. Because no oral testimony was received at the hearing, we vacate the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         On 11 July 2017, the Surry County Department of Social Services ("DSS") filed petitions alleging that Arthur and Cesar were neglected juveniles. DSS alleged the children did not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from their parents and lived in an environment injurious to their welfare due to their parents' significant substance abuse. DSS obtained nonsecure custody of the children and placed them with the Johnsons, a couple related to the children's mother.

         After a hearing on 17 August 2017, the trial court entered an order on 12 September 2017 adjudicating the children to be neglected juveniles. In its disposition order, entered the same day, the trial court continued custody of the children with DSS, ordered the parents to comply with the Family Services Case Plans they had entered into with DSS, and granted the parents bi-weekly supervised visitation with the children.

         The trial court entered review hearing orders on 31 January 2018 and 22 March 2018. It found the children were doing well in their placement with the Johnsons and that the parents were making only limited progress on the requirements of their case plans. The trial court continued custody of the children with DSS and directed they remain in placement with the Johnsons. The parents were ordered to comply with DSS requests and the provisions of their case plans and to submit to immediate drug screening. The trial court modified visitation to two visits per month to be supervised by the Johnsons.

         On 27 June 2018, the trial court conducted a permanency planning hearing. The trial court entered its order from that hearing on 23 July 2018 and entered an amended order on 21 August 2018. In that order, the trial court found the parents had not made satisfactory progress on their case plans. The trial court set the primary plan for the children as guardianship and the secondary plan as reunification and appointed the Johnsons as guardians of the children. The trial court relieved DSS from further responsibility in the case, discharged the guardian ad litem for the children, released the parents' appointed counsel, and held no further hearings were required in the case. The parents were granted a minimum of one two-hour visit with the children each month, to be supervised by the Johnsons, and the Johnsons were authorized to expand visitation in their discretion. Edouard filed timely notice of appeal.

         ANALYSIS

         Edouard argues the trial court erred by (1) delegating "its judicial responsibility by granting the [Johnsons] excessive discretion over [his] visitation rather than setting specific terms[, ]" (2) "awarding guardianship to nonparents without verifying that the guardians understood the legal significance and had adequate resources[, ]" and (3) terminating "juvenile court custody without [following] ...


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