In re I.E.M., 379 N.C. 221 (2021)

  • Facts: Due to circumstances resulting from mother’s mental illness, the juvenile was adjudicated dependent (this author is unsure if the adjudication was neglect or dependency as the petition appears to have alleged neglect, not dependency). DSS initiated a TPR, which was granted. Mother appeals arguing the court misapprehended the law regarding the time period for when the court looks at a parent’s reasonable progress.
  • G.S. 7B-1111(a)(2) authorizes a TPR when a parent has (1) willfully left the juvenile in foster care placement for more than 12 months and (2) has failed to make reasonable progress under the circumstances to correct the conditions that led to the juvenile’s removal. In addressing the parent’s reasonable progress, the court looks at the parent’s progress up to the date of the TPR hearing.
  • Although DSS objected to evidence of mother’s progress after the TPR petition was filed, the court overruled that objection after making an inquiry to mother’s counsel. DSS, not the court, misstated the law. That misstatement by DSS when coupled with an inquiry by the trial court to another party’s attorney is not the adoption of the inaccurate statement, especially when the court overruled the objection based on the misstatement. Documentary evidence and other witness testimony addressed post-petition evidence, showing the trial court considered evidence of mother’s progress up to the time of the TPR hearing.
  • Although there was evidence of mother’s progress post-petition, the court is not required to make findings on all the evidence presented or state every option it considered. The lack of findings on that evidence does not establish the trial court failed to consider that evidence.
  • The court admitted and considered a 100-page exhibit prepared by DSS that was a timeline addressing the period from the juvenile petition until just before the TPR hearing. Although mother objects to the consideration of this evidence due to hearsay, this general objection is insufficient to show the court erred. A judge who is the fact-finder is presumed to have disregarded any incompetent evidence and to have relied on competent evidence. Mother did not identify inadmissible hearsay evidence the court relied upon in its findings of fact.
Termination of Parental Rights
Willfully Leaving Child in Foster Care or Other Placement
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