In re M.R.J., 378 N.C. 648 (2021)

  • Facts: DSS received a report of suspected child neglect. During the assessment, mother agreed to a safety resource in Wake County but then moved her child to her mother (maternal grandmother) in South Carolina. DSS filed a petition alleging neglect while the child was living in South Carolina, although he was visiting a potential safety resource in Wake County. After the petition was filed, the juvenile was placed in the safety resource in Wake County. The juvenile was adjudicated neglected. DSS filed a motion to TPR, which was ordered on the grounds of neglect and failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions leading to the juvenile’s removal (G.S. 7B-1111(a)(1) and (2)). Mother appeals, challenging the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, raising standing, verification of the petition, and the UCCJEA as issues.
  • Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that is reviewed de novo and may be raised at any time. The appellate court presumes a trial court properly exercises its jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction proves otherwise.
  • Wake County DSS had standing to file the petition as it had legal custody of the juvenile; the court had subject matter jurisdiction in the underlying neglect case such that its orders were valid. As previously held in In re A.P., 371 N.C. 14 (2018), the definition of “director” under G.S. 7B-101(10) does not impose a geographical limit on which county director may file a petition to invoke the court’s jurisdiction. The language of “a county director” (vs “the county director”) does not limit the DSS director to a county where the juvenile resides or is found. The statute addressing residency for social services purposes, G.S. 153A-257(a) also does not limit the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction as the venue statute, G.S. 7B-400, refers to G.S. 153A-257 and states the juvenile’s absence from his home due to a protection plan during the DSS assessment does not change the original venue when it is necessary to subsequently file a petition.
  • Venue is not jurisdictional but instead may be waived if an objection is not timely raised in the trial court. Mother waived any improper venue claim. Additionally, Wake County was the proper venue; the petition alleged that mother is a resident of Wake County and the child was visiting in Wake County and was therefore present in the county when the petition was filed.
  • The petition was properly verified before a notary by the social worker, who was acting as the director’s authorized representative.
Termination of Parental Rights
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
G.S. 7B Jurisdiction
Click on a term below for additional case summaries tagged with the same term.