In re L.E.W., 375 N.C. 124 (2020)

  • Facts: Child was adjudicated neglected and dependent. DSS filed a petition to TPR and before that petition was heard, a permanency planning hearing was held that eliminated reunification as a permanent plan. Respondent mother preserved her right to appeal the permanency planning order (PPO), and after the TPR was granted, she appealed both the PPO and TPR.
  • PPO:
    • Burden of Proof: In a permanency planning hearing, no party bears the burden of proof but rather the trial court determines the child’s best interests based on sufficient competent evidence. Although mother correctly identifies the trial court mistakenly applied a clear, cogent, and convincing evidence standard of proof, and that standard conflicts with the applicable standard of proof applied to a PPO, she is not entitled to relief as it constituted harmless error since it required stronger proof to eliminate reunification than is actually required.
    • When eliminating reunification as a permanent plan, the court must make written findings under G.S. 7B-906.2(b) and (d), but the use of verbatim statutory language, although best practice, is not required so long as the substance of the statutory provisions are satisfied. The findings that addressed the court’s continued concerns, mother’s failure to comply with her case plan, and that the parents continue to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the juvenile’s health and safety address the ultimate finding mother asserts was missing.
    • A review of a trial court’s order of dispositional order for visitation is based on an abuse of discretion. There was no abuse of discretion in reducing the vitiation as part of the PPO that eliminated reunification that made certain findings regarding mother’s lack of progress in her case plan, missing visits, and being late to visits.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Cease Reunification
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