In the Matter of T.K., __ N.C. App. __, 800 S.E.2d 463 (2017)


In a disorderly conduct case, the adjudication was reversed where the petition was not signed by a juvenile court counselor nor marked as “Approved for filing.” A petition alleging delinquency that does not include the signature of a juvenile court counselor (or other appropriate State representative) and the language “Approved for Filing” fails to invoke the trial court’s subject matter jurisdiction. The legislature, by enacting the Juvenile Code, imposed specific requirements that must be satisfied before a district court obtains jurisdiction in juvenile cases. G.S. 7B-1703(b) provides that before a juvenile petition alleging delinquency may be filed, it must contain the signature of a juvenile court counselor, the date, and the words “Approved for Filing.” No prior cases have addressed whether the signature and “Approved for Filing” language are prerequisites to jurisdiction in a delinquency case. However, the court held in In re Green, 67 N.C. App. 501 (1984), that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a petition alleging abuse and neglect where the petition was not signed and verified by the petitioner, as required by the Juvenile Code. Based upon this precedent, the petition in this case was fatally defective and failed to invoke subject matter jurisdiction. The court declined to extend the holding of In re D.S., 364 N.C. 184 (2010), to recognize the noncompliance with the signature and “Approved for Filing” language as non-jurisdictional errors. D.S. held that the timelines imposed by G.S. 7B-1703(b) for filing a juvenile petition are not prerequisites to subject matter jurisdiction. However, extending D.S. in this context would conflict with a statutory purpose of the Juvenile Code – “to provide an effective system of intake services for the screening and evaluation of complaints.” G.S. 7B-1500. The court counselor’s signature and approval of the petition is the only indication on the face of a petition that a complaint was properly screened and evaluated.


Concurring Opinion. The concurring opinion found that even if the petition was not fatally defective, the adjudication and disposition orders would need to be reversed because there was no evidence of disorderly conduct. The juvenile was the victim of an assault by another student who walked up to him and punched him the face as he stood in the hallway waiting for school to begin. The juvenile fell to the floor and unsuccessfully tried to stand as the other student kept punching him but threw one or two punches at his attacker before school officials broke up the fight. A behavioral specialist, who witnessed the entire incident, escorted the juvenile to his office and heard him utter “profanity” as they walked down the hallway. When he instructed the juvenile to stop “cursing,” he stopped. The adjudication of delinquency was based entirely on this use of “profanity.” However, there is no evidence that anyone other than the behavioral specialist heard the profanity or of the particular words the juvenile used. Disorderly conduct at school under G.S. 14-288.4(a)(6) requires both an intent to cause a disturbance and an actual disturbance of school instruction. Here, the juvenile’s “profanity” was a response to an attack by another student, not an intent to disturb the educational process, and no actual disturbance occurred. Moreover, both the adjudication and disposition orders failed to contain the necessary findings required by the Juvenile Code.

Juvenile Petitions
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