In re L.N.H., 382 N.C. 536 (2022)

Reversed and Remanded
  • Facts and Procedural History: DSS became involved when the 2-month-old infant was treated at a hospital for injuries resulting from mother punching infant in the chest, spraying green liquid on the infant, and burning her infant’s feet with a lighter. The infant was left alone on the porch, and the neighbors took her to the hospital. Mother was charged with felony child abuse. DSS filed a petition alleging abuse, neglect, and dependency. The court held an adjudication, disposition, and permanency planning hearing on the same day. The court ordered the cessation of reunification efforts. The trial court found reunification efforts with mother would be clearly  unsuccessful or inconsistent with the juvenile’s health and safety and aggravating circumstances exist as mother’s conduct cause serious injuries to the juvenile. Mother appealed. The Court of Appeals determined mother received ineffective assistance of counsel based on a lack of objection to hearsay and reversed the dependency adjudication because the trial court did not look at the circumstances that existed at the time of the adjudicatory hearing. DSS and mother both filed a petition for discretionary review, which were granted. This summary addresses the cessation of reunification efforts.
  • When a court ceases reunification efforts at initial disposition, it must make written findings under G.S. 7B-901(c). The reference to “aggravating circumstances” invokes G.S. 7B-901(c) even when the statutory citation was not specifically cited. Referring to “aggravating circumstances” without an explanation of those circumstances is insufficient for a G.S. 7B-901(c) finding.
    • DSS’s argument that the findings showing severe burns requiring hospitalization for 2 days and medical treatment for several weeks satisfied G.S. 7B-901(c)(1)f that the parent engaged in “any other act, practice, or conduct that increased the enormity or added to the injurious consequences of the abuse of neglect” is rejected. G.S. 7B-901(c)(1)f requires “other” conduct that is more than the facts the resulted in the adjudication of abuse or neglect. Because that evidence supported the adjudication, it does not support a determination of this statutory aggravating factor.
    • There is sufficient evidence to supporting a finding under G.S. 7B-901(c)(3)(iii) when a parent has committed a felony assault resulting in serous bodily injury to the child. The court could have made this finding based on the evidence in the record. This portion of the order ceasing reunification is vacated and remanded for the trial court to enter an appropriate finding about whether reasonable efforts should be ceased under G.S. 7B-901(c).
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Cease Reunification
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