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2009-UP-145 - SCDSS v. Shawna O.

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

South Carolina Department of Social Services, Respondent,

v.

Shawna O. and David S., Appellants.

In the interests of four minor children under the age of 18.


Appeal From Aiken County
Peter R. Nuessle, Family Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2009-UP-145
Submitted March 2, 2009 – Filed March 17, 2009   


APPEAL DISMISSED


A. Shane Massey, of Aiken, and Charles C. Mayers, of Augusta, for Appellants.

Amanda F. Whittle, of Aiken, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM: Shawna O. (Mother) and David S. (Father) appeal from the family court's order of August 6, 2007, requiring them to comply with the terms of a South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) Treatment Plan.  On appeal, Mother and Father argued the family court erred in finding their four minor children (1) were neglected or abused, and (2) could not be protected from further harm without intervention.  We find a subsequent order of the family court has rendered Mother's and Father's appeal moot. Accordingly, we dismiss their appeal.

FACTS/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Initially, the attorneys for Mother and Father submitted affidavits stating a review of the hearing transcript demonstrated their appeals were without merit, and they asked to be relieved as counsel, pursuant to Ex Parte Cauthen, 291 S.C. 465, 354 S.E.2d 381 (1987), and S.C. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. v. Frederick Downer, Sr., S.C. Sup. Ct. Order dated February 2, 2005 (extending the procedure set forth in Cauthen to situations where an indigent person appeals from an order imposing measures short of termination of parental rights).  Thereafter, this court required counsel to submit briefs addressing the merits of two specific issues in Mother's and Father's appeal.  While this court was considering the briefs submitted in this appeal, Father appealed a subsequent ruling of the family court. 

The family court's order of July 31, 2008, found by a preponderance of the evidence that Mother's and Father's children are abused or neglected due to Father's sexual abuse of one child and Mother's neglect of their children.  The order required Father to have no contact with his daughters and only supervised contact with his sons while DSS and law enforcement investigated the allegations against Mother and Father.  Furthermore, the family court placed three of Mother's and Father's children in DSS custody, and they now are residing in foster care.  The family court allowed Mother to retain custody of two children under a safety plan that prohibited Father from residing in the home with Mother and the children.  Moreover, the family court ordered DSS to develop new Treatment Plans for Mother and Father that specifically addressed the issues that led to the removal of three of their children. 

LAW/ANALYSIS

“A moot case exists where a judgment rendered by the court will have no practical legal effect upon an existing controversy because an intervening event renders any grant of effectual relief impossible for the reviewing court.  If there is no actual controversy, this Court will not decide moot or academic questions.”  Seabrook v. Knox, 369 S.C. 191, 197, 631 S.E.2d 907, 910 (2006) (internal citations omitted).  “A matter becomes moot when judgment, if rendered, will have no practical legal effect upon [the] existing controversy.  This is true when some event occurs making it impossible for [the] reviewing Court to grant effectual relief.”  Collins Music Co. v. IGT, 365 S.C. 544, 549, 619 S.E.2d 1, 3 (Ct. App. 2005); see also Curtis v. State, 345 S.C. 557, 549 S.E.2d 591 (2001), 535 U.S. 926 (2002) (stating a case becomes moot when a decision, if rendered, will have no practical legal effect upon the controversy); Waters v. S.C. Land Resources Conservation Comm’n, 321 S.C. 219, 467 S.E.2d 913 (1996) (explaining a "justiciable" controversy is real and substantial controversy appropriate for judicial determination).  

Our opinion in this case would have no practical effect because the family court's order of July 31, 2008, has mooted the issue of whether the court erred in ordering, on August 6, 2007, that Mother and Father comply with treatment plans.  Accordingly, Mother's and Father's appeal is

DISMISSED.

HEARN, C.J., CURETON, A.J., and GOOLSBY, A., concur.