Zachariah Scott Cooper and Amie Rochelle Lord Cooper, Appellants,
South Carolina Department of Social Services, Shanice Carter, and Michael Jones, Respondent. AND Arlene Annett Palazzo, Appellant,
South Carolina Department of Social Services, Shanice Carter, and Michael Jones, Respondent. In the interest of minors under the age of eighteen. Appellate Case No. 2018-001151
September 26, 2019
from Lexington County Peter R. Nuessle, Family Court Judge
Dale Dove, of Dove Law Group, LLC, of Rock Hill, for
Appellants Zachariah Scott Cooper and Amie Rochelle Lord
J. Butcher and Deborah J. Butcher, both of The Camden Law
Firm, PA, of Camden, for Appellant Arlene Annett Palazzo.
Scarlet Bell Moore, of Greenville, for Respondent South
Carolina Department of Social Services.
Mange Scott, of Parnell & Parnell, P.A., of White Rock,
for Respondent Shanice Carter.
Earnest Deon O'Neil, of Columbia, for Respondent Michael
Scott Cooper, Amie Rochelle Lord Cooper, and Arlene Annett
Palazzo are foster parents of three sibling children placed
in their care by the South Carolina Department of Social
Services (DSS). The Coopers foster one of the children, and
Palazzo fosters the other two children. DSS initiated removal
actions in the family court. The Coopers and Palazzo
(collectively, Foster Parents) filed private actions seeking
termination of parental rights (TPR) and adoption of their
respective foster children. This consolidated appeal stems
from the family court's order denying several motions
made by Foster Parents. We affirm in part, reverse in part,
and remand this matter to the family court for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Jones (Father) and Shanice Carter (Mother) are the biological
parents of four children. Child 1 was born in 2013, Child 2
was born in 2014, and Child 3 was born in 2016. Child 1,
Child 2, and Child 3 (collectively, the Children) are the
focus of this appeal. The fourth child's interests are
not an issue in this litigation.
removed Child 1 and Child 2 from Father and Mother's care
in 2015 and placed them in foster care with Palazzo. DSS
removed Child 3 from Father and Mother's care shortly
after his birth and placed him in foster care with the
Coopers in July 2016, and Child 3 has continuously resided
with the Coopers since then. At the time of oral argument,
this Court was under the impression that Child 1 and Child 2
had been residing with Palazzo since their placement with
Palazzo in 2015; however, this Court learned through
collateral filings made after oral argument that DSS removed
Child 1 and Child 2 from Palazzo's home in February 2019
and placed them with the Coopers. This removal was prompted
by an abuse complaint made against Palazzo, and proceedings
relative to that complaint are reportedly still pending.
Palazzo strenuously denies the complaint.
commenced two separate removal actions in the family court,
one involving Child 1 and Child 2, and the other involving
Child 3. Foster Parents assert DSS repeatedly informed them
the permanent plan for the Children was TPR and adoption.
However, in January 2018, Foster Parents received word that
DSS was considering changing the permanent plan to relative
placement with a maternal great uncle. A DSS caseworker
subsequently sent Mrs. Cooper a text message informing her
that the great uncle's home study was favorable. After
Mrs. Cooper inquired as to what the placement plan was and as
to whether there would be any transitional arrangements for
the Children, the DSS caseworker replied, "Good morning,
the agency has decided that there will not be any
transitional visits. . . So if everything goes as planned on
[March] 5th, I will be moving all of the children on the
January 29, 2018, Palazzo filed a complaint seeking TPR and
adoption for Child 1, Child 2, and Child 3. After learning
the Coopers wanted to adopt Child 3, Palazzo amended her
complaint seeking TPR and adoption for only Child 1 and Child
2. On February 12, 2018, Palazzo moved to (1) intervene in
the DSS removal action concerning Child 1 and Child 2, (2)
consolidate her TPR and adoption action with DSS's
removal action, and (3) have physical placement of Child 1
and Child 2. DSS opposed each motion.
March 1, 2018, the Coopers sent a letter to DSS objecting to
Child 3's removal and appealing DSS's intended
removal of Child 3. On March 2, 2018, the Coopers filed a
complaint seeking TPR and adoption for Child 3. The Coopers
also moved to (1) intervene in the DSS removal action
concerning Child 3, (2) consolidate their TPR and adoption
action with the removal action, (3) request discovery in the
consolidated action, (4) require DSS to join their TPR and
adoption action, and (5) have temporary custody of Child 3.
DSS opposed each motion.
submitted several affidavits from professionals and friends
endorsing her parenting skills and supporting the continued
placement of Child 1 and Child 2 in her home. Child 1 and
Child 2's therapist, Dr. Warren Umansky Ph.D., LPC, spoke
highly in his affidavit of Palazzo's parenting skills and
stated that disrupting Child 1 and Child 2's placement
again "would be irresponsible and do further damage to
these impressionable children at a time where they are
experiencing success, enjoyment in their lives, and
security." Licensed Professional Counselor Pam Stafford
performed an assessment of Palazzo, Child 1, and Child 2 and
stated in her affidavit that Ms. Palazzo is clearly a central
figure in these two children's lives and that their
relationship is creating a solid foundation for empathy,
control, trust, and overall emotional well-being. Stafford
further stated the relationship should not be interrupted
unless absolutely necessary, as breaking the bond would
re-traumatize the children.
Coopers submitted affidavits from two professionals
supporting the continued placement of Child 3 in their home.
Stafford performed an assessment of the Coopers and Child 3
and found the attachment relationship between the Coopers and
Child 3 is secure and apparent and that this attachment helps
a toddler learn basic trust, enhances intellectual
development, and creates a foundation for a sense of
identity. Stafford further stated healthy attachment forms
the foundation for emotional well-being and that it would be
incomprehensible for such a child to be removed from the only
home he has ever known unless it was absolutely necessary.
Philip G. Steude, MD, found Child 3 was bonded to the Coopers
and stated, "Removal of this Child from [the] ongoing
presence of Mrs. Cooper and, secondarily, Mr. Cooper and the
older children would be exceptionally disruptive and
traumatic. [Child 3's] basic response would tend to be
shutting down relationships with other people, withholding
and avoiding, causing probable disruption of his personality
development into being a loner, angry, and untrusting."
March 5, 2018, the family court held a permanency planning
hearing in the DSS removal actions. At the hearing, DSS
sought relative placement with the maternal great uncle, even
though Mother lived with great uncle. Mother and Father
supported this placement. DSS recommended the Children be
placed with the great uncle as soon as possible. The
Children's volunteer guardian ad litem (GAL) in the DSS
actions did not "feel comfortable making a
recommendation because everything ha[d] changed so
quickly." Foster Parents objected to the permanency
planning hearing going forward until their administrative
appeal and motions could be heard. The family court continued
the hearing, noting Foster Parents' pending motions would
have to be heard and that there was no need to rush the
Children's removal from Foster Parents' homes.
March 19, 2018, the family court heard Foster Parents'
motions. DSS, Mother, and Father opposed Foster Parents'
motions. At this hearing, DSS announced to the family court
it was no longer pursuing TPR and adoption or placement with
the great uncle and stated the permanent plan for the
Children was reunification with Mother. DSS noted Mother was
seven months into a twelve month treatment plan and that
Mother had to that point successfully completed the plan,
with the exception of the duration requirement for stable
housing. DSS argued that intervention, consolidation, and
granting discovery rights to Foster Parents would
unnecessarily complicate the case. DSS argued Foster
Parents' intervention rights were strictly permissive and
not mandatory. DSS ...