In re J.A.M., 259 N.C. App. 810 (2018), aff'd 372 N.C. 1 (2019)

There is a dissent.
  • Procedural History: The trial court adjudicated J.A.M. neglected based upon an injurious environment. The circumstances of neglect related to the parents’ lack of progress to remedy conditions arising from each parent’s history of domestic violence with other partners that resulted in the prior involvement of DSS with their other children, including respondent mother’s rights being terminated to six of her other children. Respondent mother appealed. The court of appeals reversed the neglect adjudication holding that the findings (1) were not supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence and (2) did not support the conclusion of neglect. See In re J.A.M., 795 S.E.2d 262 (2016). The N.C. Supreme Court granted discretionary review, determined the court of appeals misapplied the standard of review, and reversed and remanded the appeal back to the court of appeals for reconsideration with the proper standard of review applied. See In re J.A.M., 370 N.C. 464 (2018).
  • Standard of Review: “In a non-jury neglect adjudication, the trial court’s findings of fact supported by clear and convincing competent evidence are deemed conclusive, even where some evidence supports contrary findings.” Sl. Op. at 6 quoting In re J.A.M., 370 N.C. at 464. Conclusions of law are reviewable de novo.
  • Under G.S. 7B-101(15), evidence of the abuse of another child in the home is relevant in a neglect adjudication. The trial judge has discretion to determine the weight to give that evidence. The trial court’s decision is “predictive in nature, as the trial court must assess whether there is a substantial risk of future abuse or neglect of a child based on the historical facts of the case.” Sl. Op. at 7 quoting In re McLean, 135 N.C. App. 387, 396 (1999). In a case involving a newborn, the court may consider the parents’ failure to correct conditions resulting in their other children’s neglect or abuse as evidence of future neglect.
  • The trial court found, based on the evidence admitted (including the prior adjudications for the other children and a DSS supervisor’s and respondent mother’s testimony), that the respondent-mother failed to acknowledge her role in the termination of parental rights to her other six children, refused to work with DSS and engage in services in the current case, and became involved with J.A.M.’s father who had been convicted of domestic violence even though domestic violence was one of the reasons her other children had been removed. The evidence supporting these findings “is consistent with a substantial risk of future injury in the home.” Sl. Op. at 11. The weight of the trial court’s findings support the neglect adjudication, and the court of appeals may not reweigh the underlying evidence.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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