In re B.L.H., 376 N.C. 118 (2020)

  • Facts: A TPR was granted on several grounds: G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), (5), and (7). Respondent father appeals raising a single issue – the court erred by failing to affirmatively state the statutory standard of proof in its TPR order.
  • A court does not commit reversible error by failing to explicitly state the statutory burden of proof set forth in G.S. 7B-1109(f) in its written TPR order if the trial court explicitly states the proper standard of proof in open court at the hearing. “We hold the trial court satisfies the announcement requirement of N.C.G.S. § 7B-1109(f) so long as it announces the ‘clear, cogent, and convincing’ standard of proof either in making findings of fact in the written termination order or in making such findings in open court.” Sl.Op. at 14.
  • Here, at the close of the TPR hearing, the court stated it makes the following findings of fact by clear, cogent and convincing evidence, reciting the facts, and concludes TPR grounds existed. The order does not state that standard and does not indicate a different standard was applied.
  • Statutory construction involves ascertaining and effectuating the intent of the legislature by looking at the language of the statute, the spirit of the act, and what the act seeks to accomplish. A statute must be considered as a whole so that none of the provisions are rendered useless or redundant, if possible, since it is presumed mere surplusage was not intended. Statutes addressing the same subject matter should be construed in pari materia and reconciled, if possible, to give effect to each.
  • G.S. 7B-1109(f) specifies that all findings shall be based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence without providing whether the trial court must announce that standard. We hold “the statute implicitly includes a requirement that the trial court announce the standard of proof it is applying in making findings of fact in a termination proceeding.” 9. This enables the appellate court to determine whether the proper heightened standard was applied and gives effect to the language by making it enforceable rather than have it be mere surplusage. G.S. 7B-1109(f) advances the purpose of Article 11, Termination of Parental Rights (G.S. 7B-1100) to provide judicial procedures that adequately protect the rights of parents and to protect juveniles from the unnecessary severance of the parental relationship. In looking at G.S. 7B-807 and -2411, those statutes require the court find the allegations in the petition be proved by clear and convincing evidence and “the court shall so state.” Sl.Op. at 12. When construed together, we conclude the Legislature intended the same requirement for TPR actions.
Termination of Parental Rights
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