In re K.S., 380 N.C. 60 (2022)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: In 2019, the juvenile was adjudicated dependent based on a stipulation agreement where the parties agreed to certain facts, including the allegations that led to the child’s removal and prior adjudications of abuse, neglect, and dependency of the juvenile’s older siblings, father’s conviction of felony child abuse, and a recent verbal and physical altercation between mother and father with a sibling present. Mother reserved her right to argue the stipulated facts were not sufficient to support an adjudication of neglect. The social worker also testified at the hearing. The court adjudicated the juvenile dependent and dismissed the allegation of neglect. Mother appealed. DSS cross-appealed on the dismissal of the neglect claim. The court of appeals determined the trial court did not err in dismissing the neglect claim. The supreme court granted discretionary review of the dismissal of the neglect claim.
  • A trial court’s conclusions of law are reviewed de novo by the appellate court. A de novo review is when “the appellate court uses the trial court’s record but reviews the evidence and law without deference to the trial court’s rulings.” 380 N.C. at 64 (citation omitted). The appellate court “considers the matter anew and freely substitutes its own judgment for that of the [trial court].” Id.
  • The findings are based largely on agreed upon facts and are supported by sufficient evidence. Unchallenged findings are binding on appeal and are presumed to be supported by competent evidence. There is no reweighing of the evidence, and no deference is given to the trial court on a de novo review. The court of appeals was required to determine whether the facts support the conclusion that the juvenile was neglected as defined by G.S. 7B-101(15). The court of appeals failed to conduct a proper de novo review, instead it gave improper deference to the trial court’s conclusion of law.
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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