In re R.G.L., 379 N.C. 452 (2021)

  • Facts: In 2018, the juvenile was adjudicated neglected due to circumstances of a lack of proper care and supervision because of parents’ substance use and housing concerns. DSS filed a TPR motion in 2020 after the primary permanent plan of adoption was identified. The TPR was granted, and father appeals. Father challenges the findings of fact as being verbatim recitations of the allegations in the TPR motion and as conclusory and as unsupported by the evidence. Father challenges the grounds and best interests determination. This summary focuses on the grounds.
  • Rule 52 does not require a recitation of the evidentiary and subsidiary facts to prove the ultimate facts but does require specific findings of the ultimate facts that are established by the  evidence (including admissions and stipulations) that are determinative of the questions involved in the action and are essential to support the conclusion of law.
  • There are differences between the court’s findings and the allegations in the TPR motion, showing the court independently reviewed and judged the evidence. The findings show the court’s reasoning for its conclusion regarding the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions that led to the child’s adjudication as father failed to engage in services and continued to use substances.
  • In challenging specific findings as unsupported by the evidence, other unchallenged findings are binding on appeal.  Evidence also supported the challenged findings regarding DSS efforts for reunification including referrals to substance abuse treatment and parenting skills, requests for random drug screens, supervision for the visits with the child, providing a housing list to assist in finding housing, quarterly meetings with the parents to review the case plan, and contact by the DSS social worker to father’s doctor. Although the evidence does not support the finding that father did not avail himself of services, evidence does support other findings that father initially made progress but then faltered and did not fully utilize the services DSS did offer and was unwilling to work with DSS. Similarly evidence does not support the findings that father did not create a bond with his child. Unsupported findings are disregarded.
  • Under G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1), neglect is a ground for TPR. When a parent has been separated from their child for a long period of time, there must be evidence of past neglect and a likelihood of a future neglect based on evidence of changed circumstances between the past neglect and time of the TPR hearing.
  • A parent’s failure to make progress on a case plan is indicative of a likelihood of future neglect. The evidence shows the child’s prior neglect was based on circumstances created by both parents failure to provide proper care and supervision because of their substance use. Father only partially engaged with the case plan to address these issues. There was a likelihood of future neglect.
Termination of Parental Rights
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