In re N.X.A., 254 N.C. App. 670 (2017)

No Error
  • Facts: Three petitions alleging dependency and neglect were verified upon information and belief by the DSS attorney. The children were adjudicated and placed in DSS custody. Two years later, DSS filed verified petitions to terminate respondent parents’ rights, which were granted. Respondents appeal on the basis of a lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to the improper verification made by the DSS attorney of the underlying dependency and neglect petitions.
  • “A trial court’s subject matter over all stages of a juvenile case is established when the action is initiated with the filing of a properly verified petition.” In re T.R.P., 360 N.C. 588, 593 (2006). The verification was effective pursuant to Rule 11(d) of the N.C. Rules of Civ.P.
  • Rule 11 addresses verification requirements. Rule 11(b) governs verification by a party and Rule 11(c) governs verification by an agent or attorney, and both provisions require the person completing the verification to have personal knowledge of the facts. But, Rule 11(d) applies to corporations and state officers. Citing to Vaughn v. N.C. Dep’t of Human Res., 296 N.C. 683 (1979) and G.S. 108A-14(a)(5), with respect to certain issues including the provision of foster care, a county DSS director is an agent of the state, specifically the Social Services Commission and NC DHHS. When implementing the provisions of the Juvenile Code, DSS is acting as an agent of the state agency that oversees the laws in the Juvenile Code. As such, Rule 11(d) regarding verification by the State and not Rule 11(b) or (c) applies.
  • Rule 11(d) states “when the State or any officer thereof in its behalf is a party, the verification may be made by any person acquainted with the facts.” The DSS attorney was acquainted with the facts of the case. The application of Rule 11(d) is reinforced in practice because DSS, and not the person with personal knowledge who made the initial report, has standing to file a petition. It is not feasible to assume one person from DSS has complete personal knowledge of a case but rather it can be assumed that anyone verifying an affidavit does so having reviewed the materials compiled by several DSS employees and representatives and is therefore “acquainted with the facts” as required by Rule 11(d).
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Verification of Petition
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