NC COA: Termination of Parental Rights, In re T.H. and M.H.

By Jessica B. Heffner

Termination of Parental Rights, NC COA18-926, In re T.H. & M.H., June 18, 2019, Rowan County 

Respondents appealed an order terminating their parental rights due to issues of ongoing substance abuse, mental health, and inadequate care and supervision of their children.  The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion as to the termination of either parent’s rights.

In February 2016, DSS filed a petition alleging Respondent’s children were neglected and dependent.  A week later, Respondents entered into an Out of Home Family Services Agreement requiring them to take measures to secure proper housing, employment, mental heath treatment, substance abuse treatment, and to participate in a parenting course and resolve all pending legal/criminal issues.  In March 2016, the court entered a consent order adjudicated the children neglected and dependent; the order required Respondents to comply with their case plan.  Over the next several months, however, the Respondents were in and out of jail.  In June 2017, the trial court entered a permanency planning order which changed the primary permanent plan for the children to adoption with reunification as the secondary plan, finding that Respondents had not made “any progress” on their case plans.  The next month, in July 2017, DSS filed a petition to terminate Respondents’ parental rights, which was granted.  Respondents appealed.

With respect to Respondent-Mother’s appeal, she argues the court abused its discretion in determining that termination of her parent rights was in the children’s best interests.  First, Mother argues the court failed to make written findings required by Section 7B-906.2(b); however, this statute is for permanency planning hearings, not termination of parental rights hearings.  The court made adequate findings as required by the applicable statutes within Chapter 7B, Article 11. 

Second, Mother argues the trial court failed to consider “other relevant considerations” pursuant to Section 7B-1100(a)(6).  The Court of Appeals overruled this argument as follows: (1) the court did consider Mother’s recent sobriety, and it is within the court’s discretion to determine that “recent progress” toward sobriety is outweighed by the Mother’s long history of “unaddressed substance abuse issues”; (2) the court did appropriately consider Mother’s and her family’s bond with the children—however this did not bolster her case; (3) and the court is not required to make findings with respect to reunification efforts (as there was no conflict in the evidence on this issue, and the court is not required to make findings on all evidence presented or state every option considered prior to terminating parental rights).  No abuse of discretion in terminating the Mother’s parental rights.

As for Respondent-Father’s appeal, Father’s appellate attorney filed a “no merit brief” and requested that the Court of Appeals conduct an independent examination of the case pursuant to Rule 3.1(e) of the N.C. Rules of Appellate Procedure.  Father’s attorney advised Father of his right to file his own arguments directly with the Court of Appeals; however, Father did not submit any written arguments.  As a result, the Court of Appeals is not required to conduct a review as requested.  Nevertheless, the Court, in its discretion under Rule 2, did consider the appeal.  After careful review, the Court of Appeals found no error.  Affirmed.