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In re I.G.C.

Supreme Court of North Carolina

December 6, 2019


         Appeal pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1001(a1)(1) from orders entered on 2 January 2019 by Judge F. Warren Hughes in District Court, Madison County. This matter was calendared in the Supreme Court on 7 November 2019 but determined on the record and briefs without oral argument pursuant to Rule 30(f) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure.

          Hockaday & Hockaday, P.A., by Daniel M. Hockaday, for petitioner-appellee Madison County Department of Social Services.

          Patrick, Harper & Dixon, LLP, by Amanda C. Perez, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

          Wendy C. Sotolongo, Parent Defender, by J. Lee Gilliam, Assistant Parent Defender, for respondent-appellant father.

          Edward Eldred for respondent-appellant mother.

          MORGAN, JUSTICE.

         Respondents, the parents of the minor children I.G.C. (Ivy) and J.D.D. (Jacob)[1](collectively, the children), appeal from the district court's orders terminating their parental rights. We conclude that the district court made sufficient findings of fact, based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, to support the court's conclusions that grounds existed to terminate respondents' parental rights, and that such termination was in the children's best interests. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's orders.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         On 27 September 2016, the Madison County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed petitions alleging that Ivy and Jacob were neglected and dependent juveniles. DSS had received a report on 6 September 2016, indicating that respondent-mother was drinking alcohol, using methamphetamines on a daily basis, and driving with the children while she was intoxicated. After DSS initiated a case to investigate this report, respondent-mother twice drove to the DSS office after drinking, registering a .07 reading on the breathalyzer test on one occasion and a .03 reading on the other. Ivy disclosed to DSS an incident during which respondent-mother drank "a little" and then hit a guardrail with Ivy in the vehicle. The female juvenile further disclosed that respondents had a "big fight" with each other while at a birthday party. Respondent-mother reported to DSS that respondent-father consumed alcohol, used methamphetamines, and smoked crack cocaine. DSS obtained nonsecure custody of both juveniles.

         On 4 November 2016, the district court entered an order which adjudicated Ivy and Jacob as dependent juveniles. Although respondents both consented to an adjudication of neglect based upon the facts alleged in the petition and recounted above, the district court dismissed the neglect allegations. The dependency order from the district court, however, incorporated, inter alia, the above-stated facts as the basis for the children's removal from respondents' home and ordered respondents to enter into case plans with DSS within ten days of the trial court's adjudication order. The children remained in the custody of DSS. Respondent-mother's case plan contained eleven requirements designed to address her issues with parenting, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence, stable housing, and employment. As part of the case plan, respondent-mother was not to incur any new criminal charges and was required to attend all scheduled visitations and team meetings with DSS. Respondent-father's case plan included similar requirements.

         On 23 October 2017, the district court entered a permanency planning order which found that respondents had only made minimal progress toward completing their respective case plans. The permanent plan was set as adoption, with a concurrent plan of guardianship. The district court relieved DSS of further reunification efforts and ordered DSS to file termination of parental rights petitions within sixty days.

         On 18 January 2018, DSS filed motions in the cause to terminate respondents' parental rights on the grounds of neglect, willfully leaving the children in a placement outside the home for more than twelve months without making reasonable progress in correcting the removal conditions, and willful abandonment. See N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), (7) (2017). The termination hearing was conducted during the time period of 25-26 September 2018. On 2 January 2019, the district court entered orders finding that the evidence established facts sufficient to support the termination of both respondents' parental rights pursuant to N.C. G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1)-(2). The district court also concluded that it was in the children's best interests for the parents' rights to be terminated and therefore, terminated respondents' parental rights. Each respondent appealed to this Court pursuant to N.C. G.S. §§ 7A-27(a)(5) and 7B-1001(a1)(1).

         Respondent-mother's Appeal

         Respondent-mother argues that the district court erred by concluding that grounds existed to terminate her parental rights. She contends that the district court's ultimate findings and conclusions as to grounds for termination were unsupported in light of the evidence presented regarding the progress that ...

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