September 8, 2016
From Anderson County Edgar H. Long, Jr., Family Court Judge
Kimberly Yancey Brooks, of Kimberly Y. Brooks, Attorney at
Law, of Greenville, for Appellant.
Kathleen J. Hodges, of South Carolina Department of Social
Services, of Anderson, for Respondent.
Brittany Dreher Senerius, of Senerius & Tye, Attorneys at
Law, of Anderson, for the Guardian ad Litem.
Tran (Mother), a Georgia resident, appeals the family
court's order terminating her parental rights to her
minor daughter (Child). On appeal, Mother argues the family
court (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the
Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
(UCCJEA) and (2) erred in finding clear and convincing
evidence supported two statutory grounds for termination of
parental rights (TPR). Because we find the Department of
Social Services (DSS) failed to establish subject matter
jurisdiction, we vacate the underlying removal order and TPR
order and remand for additional findings.
case began as a removal action on May 21, 2012, when
Mother-who was traveling through South Carolina-was admitted
to the hospital due to an "altered mental status."
DSS received allegations that Mother "was found sitting
in the middle of the road and was not very responsive, "
Child was with her, and Mother could not identify a family
member to pick up Child. Mother was still hospitalized when
the family court held a probable cause hearing on May 24,
2012; the family court determined probable cause existed to
remove Child and granted DSS custody of Child "[p]ending
to a placement plan prepared by DSS, Mother previously had an
"altered mental episode" in Georgia and left Child
unattended; Mother had an "extensive history" with
the Department of Families and Children in Georgia; Child had
been placed in foster care in Georgia; and there were
"allegations of criminal domestic violence in
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with [Mother's] husband."
In a December 3, 2012 merits removal order, the family court
found Mother placed Child at a substantial risk of harm of
physical neglect and returning Child to Mother's home
would place Child at an unreasonable risk of harm. The family
court granted DSS custody of Child and ordered Mother to
complete a placement plan.
March 6, 2014, the family court held a TPR hearing. Mother
was not present, and the family court denied her request for
a continuance. At the hearing, a DSS foster care worker
testified Mother was a resident of Cobb County, Georgia;
Father's last-known address was in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania; and Child was born in Pennsylvania. Following
testimony, the family court found clear and convincing
evidence showed Mother failed to remedy the conditions
causing removal, Child had been in foster care for fifteen of
the most previous twenty-two months, and TPR was in
Child's best interest.
filed a motion for reconsideration alleging she was a
survivor of domestic abuse and had a pending case in
Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. The family court held a
hearing on Mother's motion. During the hearing, Mother
asserted "there was a case in Philadelphia in 2005 that
she believed Child was going to be required to go back
to." The family court asked DSS whether it had
investigated the allegations of domestic violence in
Pennsylvania. Counsel for DSS replied,
[B]ased on 2005 we did not do an independent investigation
early on in the case in terms of the Philadelphia situation.
I can tell the [c]ourt that we have subsequently checked with
Philadelphia to find out what the status of that case was.
They can find nothing on their records. They're going
back and ...