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.
  • The court must comply with the UCCJEA to have subject matter jurisdiction in A/N/D and TPR actions. There was no home state at the time the neglect petition was filed. South Carolina was not the juvenile’s home state as he had resided there for 131 days and not six consecutive months (G.S. 50A-102(7)). At the time the juvenile was placed in South Carolina, he was not six months old. By the time he was six months old, he had not resided in any one state with a parent or person acting as a parent.
  • North Carolina had jurisdiction based on significant connection/substantial evidence under G.S. 50A-201(a)(2). The significant connection and substantial evidence existed with mother’s and her older child’s residence in NC (rather than mere presence), history with CPS in NC (including the report regarding this juvenile), identification by mother of 2 safety resources in NC, her probation in NC, and the juvenile’s birth in and living in NC prior to his safety placement in SC.
  • Specific findings of fact demonstrating UCCJEA jurisdiction are not required, but the record must show the requirements for jurisdiction were satisfied when the court exercised its jurisdiction. The record reflects the jurisdictional requirements of the UCCJEA were satisfied.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Significant Connection Jurisdiction
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