In re K.P., 383 N.C. 292 (2022)

Reversed and remanded in part
  • Procedural History: District court entered a permanency planning order that achieved a permanent plan of custody, eliminated reunification as a permanent plan, and waived further hearings. Mother appealed, and the court of appeals vacated and remanded the order for insufficient findings to eliminate reunification, verify the guardians understanding of their appointment, and waive further hearings. There was a dissent, and an appeal was made by DSS to the NC Supreme Court.
  • Facts: The juvenile was adjudicated neglected based on an injurious environment due to domestic violence and substance use. The child was ordered in DSS custody and placed with the Phillips (step-grandparents). The Phillips are the parents of mother’s spouse, who the court determined was not the child’s father and determined another man was the child’s father. Mother was not making adequate progress on her case plan. At a permanency planning hearing, the Phillips expressed a desire to be the child’s legal custodians and Mr. Phillips testified to such as well as his income. The court found the juvenile was doing well in the Phillips’ home, the Phillips had the financial ability to care for the juvenile, and determined the child’s best interests would be to award permanent custody to them. Permanent custody to the court approved caretakers, was one of the concurrent plans identified at the previous permanency planning hearing, was ordered and achieved. Reunification was effectively eliminated as a permanent plan. Mother appealed.
  • G.S. 7B-906.2(b) unambiguously states “[r]eunification shall be a primary or secondary plan unless the court made written findings under G.S. 7B-901(c) or G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(3), the permanent plan is or has been achieved in accordance with subsection (a1) of this section, or the court makes written findings that reunification efforts clearly would be unsuccessful or would be inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety.” 383 N.C. at 302. ‘Where a statute contains two clauses which prescribe its applicability, and the clauses are connected by a disjunctive (e.g. “or”), the application of the statute is not limited to cases falling within both clauses, but will apply to cases falling within either of them.” Id. (citations omitted). “[T]he use of the disjunctive term “or” in N.C.G.S. § 7B-906.2(b) demonstrates that the satisfaction of any one of the three delineated circumstances which are identified in the statute, even to the exclusion of the remaining two circumstances, relieves the trial court of any further obligation to maintain reunification as a permanent plan.” 383 N.C. at 304.
  • Agreeing with the dissent, the achievement of a permanent plan occurred, regardless of whether it was labeled as the primary permanent plan or a concurrent permanent plan. Also agreeing with the dissent, the findings are sufficient to support the conclusion to eliminate reunification and satisfy the statutory requirement of G.S. 7B-906.1(d)(1) and 7B-906.2(b) that reunification efforts would clearly be unsuccessful or inconsistent with the juvenile’s health or safety.
  • Agreeing with the dissent, the testimony of Mr. Phillips and the DSS social worker demonstrated the Phillips understood the legal significance of their appointment as custodians. Further G.S. 7B-906.1(j) establishes that the juvenile’s stable placement for 6 consecutive months is evidence of adequate resources. Here, the juvenile resided with the Phillips for 7 consecutive months, and Mr. Phillips gave uncontroverted testimony about their ability to support the juvenile. The court made the sufficient required verifications.
  • The decision of the court of appeals regarding waiving further hearings is not before the supreme court and remains undisturbed. That holding was the court did not make all 5 findings required by G.S. 7B-906.1(n).
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Cease Reunification
Findings of Fact
Click on a term below for additional case summaries tagged with the same term.