In re R.L.G., 260 N.C. App. 70 (2018)

Vacated and Remanded
  • Facts: At the adjudication hearing, DSS read respondent mother’s (RM) admission into the record, and mother agreed to the truth of the admission under oath. RM admitted that the juvenile is neglected in that she did not provide proper care and supervision, ensure regular school attendance, the child had 25 absences and 37 tardies in one school year and did not pass 3 core classes, and RM did not take her child to medical well child visits. The court accepted the admission, adjudicated neglect based solely on the admission, and moved on to the disposition hearing. Separate adjudication and initial disposition orders were entered, which RM appealed.
  • Procedurally, an adjudication occurs through a hearing or a consent. A consent “is an agreement of the parties, their decree, entered upon the record with the sanction of the court”, and requires the 3 elements of G.S. 7B-801(b1) be satisfied, one of which is that the court makes sufficient findings of fact. Sl. Op. at 4 (citation omitted). There is separate statute, G.S. 7B-807, that addresses procedures for factual stipulations, one of which allows for the facts to be read into the record, followed by an oral statement of agreement from each party stipulating to the facts. The procedure used here was a stipulation to certain facts by RM under G.S. 7B-807 and not a valid consent order under G.S. 7B-801(b1). See In re L.G.I., 227 N.C. App. 512 (2013); In re K.P., 790 S.E.2d 744 (2016) (both holding there was no consent order).
  • The findings of fact do not support the conclusion that the juvenile is neglected. RM’s admission that the child is “neglected” is a conclusion of law, and “stipulations as to questions of law are generally held invalid and ineffective, and not binding upon the courts, either trial or appellate.” Sl. Op. at 9-10 (citation omitted). No findings were made as to the reasons for the child’s poor school attendance, whether the absences were excused, or whether the failure to pass 3 classes was a result of poor attendance or lack of proper care, supervision, or discipline. The finding that well child checks were missed do not support an adjudication of neglect based on not receiving necessary medical care. The findings do not address the frequency or reasons for the missed visits, the medical conditions requiring the visits, or the adverse effect of missing the visits on the child’s health. A finding incorporating by reference the findings of the pre-adjudication order in full does not support an adjudication of neglect. The adjudication order did not indicate it was relying on any finding in the pre-adjudication order when making the neglect determination; the pre-adjudication order is described as addressing jurisdictional issues; and the finding referenced on appeal by DSS is not a finding as it states “DSS made the finding” and “the trial court may not delegate its fact finding duty by relying wholly on DSS reports and prior court orders.” Sl. Op. at 15-16.   
Abuse, Neglect, Dependency
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