In re C.R.L., 377 N.C. 24 (2021)

  • Facts: In 2015, an underlying neglect action was commenced by DSS. Arising from that action, DSS filed TPR petitions on March 22, 2017. Although the court ordered DSS to notice the TPR cases for hearing in orders dated between Oct. 4, 2017 and July 25, 2019, the TPR was not heard until Dec. 9-10, 2019, almost 33 months after the petitions were filed. The TPR was granted, and the order found the TPR hearing was more than 90 days after the petition was filed. Father appeals, raising the delay in holding the hearing within the statutory time period as his sole challenge. The parties agree the TPR hearing occurred well outside the statutory time limit and that there were no continuances for extraordinary circumstances.
  • G.S. 7B-1109(a) states the TPR hearing shall be held no later than 90 days from the filing of a TPR petition/motion unless the court continues the hearing under subsection (d). G.S. 7B-1109(d) allows the court to continue the hearing for up to 90 days based on good cause to receive additional evidence including conducting discovery, receiving reports/assessments the court requested, or other information needed for the best interests of the child. Continuances beyond 90 days from the filing of the petition/motion “shall be granted only in extraordinary circumstances when necessary for the proper administration of justice….” 377 N.C. at 27.
  • Applying a previous holding in In re T.H.T., 362 N.C. 446 (2008) addressing the delay in entering an adjudication and disposition order, “this statutory violation should have been remedied while it was occurring by the filing of a petition for writ of mandamus.Id. As previously stated in In re T.H.T., “the availability of the remedy of mandamus ensures that the parties remain actively engaged in the district court process and do not ‘sit back’ and rely upon an appeal to cure all wrongs.” 377 N.C. at 28. Granting an appeal would “compound the delay in obtaining permanence for the child.” 377 N.C. at 28. Here, father did not file a writ of mandamus at any point in the 33-month delay or offer any explanation. By failing to file a petition for a writ of mandamus, father “missed his opportunity to remedy the violation of N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109.” 377 N.C. at 29.
Termination of Parental Rights
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