In re K.R.C., ___ N.C. ___ (July 17, 2020)

Held: 
Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: This is an appeal of a private TPR that was denied. Petitioner is the mother, who obtained sole legal and physical custody of the juvenile as a permanent plan in a neglect action. The court retained jurisdiction in the 7B action and waived reviews. Petitioner mother filed a TPR petition against father 26 months after obtaining custody of the juvenile. The petition was denied when the court concluded “the grounds” were not proved by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence.
  • Grounds and ground are used interchangeably. Although mother argues the court mistakenly believed she had to prove grounds to TPR rather than one ground, the use of the term “grounds” was not error as “ground” or “grounds” can be used to denote one basis or reason.
  • G.S. 7B-1109 and -1110(c) when read together require the trial court make “appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law” of the existence of nonexistence of the alleged grounds. This applies to both the granting and denial of a TPR. Further Rule 52 of the Rules of Civil Procedure requires the court to find facts specially and separately state conclusions of law. This allows the appellate court to review the record and order. There must be evidence to support findings, findings to support conclusions, and each step must be taken in logical sequence and appear in the order; otherwise, the appellate court cannot determine if the trial court acted correctly. The order does not include ultimate facts, which are the final effect of logical reasoning based on evidentiary facts, that is dispositive of any of the 4 grounds petitioner alleged, and the general conclusion of law does not provide an analysis of the legal standards the trial court applied. The issue here is not a lack of evidence but a lack of adequate findings and conclusions that makes the basis for the order clear.
  • Although the failure to address an alleged ground in a TPR order granted under a different alleged ground amounts to a non-adjudication of that ground, this principle does not apply to the denial of TPR. A denial of a TPR at the adjudicatory phase requires the trial court’s evaluation of each and every ground so that an appellate review may take place.
  • One of the 4 alleged grounds was dependency under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(6). Petitioner’s lack of argument on this issue suggest that she recognizes this ground does not exist. A dependent juvenile was in the custody of her mother (petitioner) and therefore is not dependent as she has a parent who is providing care and supervision. See G.S. 7B-101(9).  
Category:
Termination of Parental Rights
Stage:
Adjudication
Topic:
Findings
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