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2009-UP-398 - Charleston County DSS v. Christina H.

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 268(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Charleston County Department of Social Services, Respondent,

          v.

Christina H., Father 1, and Father 2, Defendants,

Of Whom Christina H. is the Appellant.

In the interests of M.H. and J.B., minor children under the age of 18.


Appeal From Charleston County
Frances P. Segars-Andrews, Family Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No.   2009-UP-398
Submitted July 1, 2009 – Filed August 4, 2009


AFFIRMED


Deidre Shelton McCool and Erin E. Richardson, both of Charleston, for Appellant.

John Corbitt Hinson, III, of North Charleston, for Respondent.

D. Peters Wilborn, Jr., of Charleston, Guardian Ad Litem for M.H.

Wendy Lee Wilkie, of Mt. Pleasant, Guardian Ad Litem for J.B.

PER CURIAM: Christina H. (Mother) appeals from the family court’s order terminating her parental rights (TPR) to her minor children, M.H. and J.B.  Mother argues the family court erred in finding DSS established, by clear and convincing evidence, that: (1) Mother satisfied a statutory ground for TPR, and (2) TPR was in the best interest of M.H. and J.B.  We disagree.

1.  We affirm the family court’s finding that clear and convincing evidence established that M.H. and J.B. were outside the home of either parent for six months, and during that time, Mother's failure to visit them was "willful." See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2570 (Supp. 2008) (stating the family court may order TPR upon finding a statutory ground is established and also finding TPR is in the best interest of the children); S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2570(3) (Supp. 2008) (explaining a statutory ground for TPR is established when "the child has lived outside the home of either parent for a period of six months, and during that time the parent has wil[l]fully failed to visit the child.  The court may attach little or no weight to incidental visitations . . . .").

2.  Furthermore, despite Mother’s arguments to the contrary, we find DSS proved by clear and convincing evidence that termination of Mother’s parental rights was in the best interests of M.H. and J.B.  See S.C. Code Ann. § 63-7-2620 (Supp. 2008) (explaining when the child's interests and the parental rights conflict, the child’s interests shall prevail); Charleston County Dep’t of Soc. Servs. v. King, 369 S.C. 96, 105, 631 S.E.2d 239, 244 (2006) (“When reviewing the family court decision, appellate courts may make their own conclusions of whether DSS proved by clear and convincing evidence that parental rights should be terminated.”); Charleston County Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Jackson, 368 S.C. 87, 95, 627 S.E.2d 765, 770 (Ct. App. 2006) (stating despite the appellate court’s broad scope of review, it should not necessarily disregard the findings of the family court, which was in a better position to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses and to assign weight to their testimony); S.C. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. v. Smith, 343 S.C. 129, 133, 538 S.E.2d 285, 287 (Ct. App. 2000) (declaring the best interests of the children are the paramount consideration in a TPR case).

3.  Mother contends the family court erred by failing to consider due process violations that occurred before the family court ordered Mother to comply with the terms of the 2006 Placement Plan.   We find this argument to be without merit.  See Rule 220(b)(2), SCACR (stating the appellate court "need not address a point which is manifestly without merit").

4.  Finally, Mother contends section 63-7-2570(8) of the South Carolina Code is unconstitutional because this ground for TPR is unrelated to "parental unfitness."  Because only one statutory ground is needed to affirm the family court's termination of Mother's parental rights, and clear and convincing evidence supports TPR based on Mother's willful failure to visit, an analysis of this constitutional question is not necessary to the resolution of the case.  See S.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs. v. Seegars, 367 S.C. 623, 633, 627 S.E.2d 718, 723 (2006) (quoting Fairway Ford, Inc. v. County of Greenville, 324 S.C. 84, 86, 476 S.E.2d 490, 491 (1996) (“[I]t is this Court's firm policy to decline to rule on constitutional issues unless such a ruling is required.”).

Accordingly, the family court order terminating Mother’s parental rights to M.H. and J.B. is  

AFFIRMED.[1]

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


[1]We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.