IN THE MATTER OF: H.H. and R.H
Heard in the Court of Appeals: October 27, 2014.
Appeal by Respondent-mother from order entered 25 February 2014 by Judge Mack Brittain
in Polk County District Court, Nos. 13 JA 31-32.
Feagan Law Firm, PLLC, by Phillip R. Feagan, for Petitioner Polk County Department of Social Services.
Michael E. Casterline for Respondent-mother.
The Opoku-Mensah Law Firm, PLLC, by Gertrude Opoku-Mensah, for Guardian ad Litem.
STEPHENS, Judge. Judges GEER and MCCULLOUGH concur.
Facts and Procedural Background
Respondent-mother, the mother of the juveniles H.H. and R.H., appeals from an order adjudicating: (1) H.H. a neglected and dependent juvenile; and (2) R.H. an abused, neglected, and dependent juvenile. After careful review, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and vacate in part.
On 3 December 2013, the Polk County Department of Social Services (" DSS" ) filed petitions alleging that H.H., then age 10, was a neglected and dependent juvenile, and that R.H., then age 8, was an abused, neglected, and dependent juvenile. DSS stated that it received a child protective services report on 14 November 2013 alleging that R.H. had bruising on his legs due to physical discipline imposed by Respondent-mother. Respondent-mother admitted to causing the bruises and stated that she intended to continue to use physical discipline on the children as she deemed necessary. Respondent-mother was charged with misdemeanor child abuse as a result of the incident.
DSS further stated that, upon information and belief, Respondent-mother had contacted 911 on the evening of 21 November 2013 and requested that someone pick up the juveniles because she was unable to provide for their care. Rather than wait for a response, Respondent-mother called the juveniles' father who agreed to take them. Respondent-mother, having told the juveniles that " she is going to jail because she abused them and that the juveniles would not see her anymore[,]" drove them to a dark parking lot and made them stand crying outside her car while she waited inside. Respondent-mother drove away once the father arrived, without waiting for him to get out of his car. Respondent-mother's behavior and statements left the juveniles " upset and scared."
On 2 December 2013, Respondent-mother attempted to remove the juveniles from their father's care by seeking an emergency custody order. DSS claimed that the father was unable to take any legal measures, such as obtaining an emergency custody order, because he could not afford legal representation. Accordingly, DSS sought a nonsecure custody order to ensure the safety of the juveniles. The juveniles remained in their father's care. Respondent-mother was granted visitation rights but declined to exercise them.
Adjudicatory and dispositional hearings were held in Polk County District Court on 14 January 2014. By order filed 25 February 2014, the juveniles were both adjudicated neglected and dependent, and R.H. was also adjudicated abused. Custody and placement authority was granted to DSS, the court ordered that the juveniles remain placed with their father, and Respondent-mother was granted supervised visitation. Respondent-mother appeals.
Standard of Review
" The role of this Court in reviewing a trial court's adjudication of neglect and abuse [and dependency] is to determine (1) whether the findings of fact are supported by clear and convincing evidence, and (2) whether the legal conclusions are supported by the findings of fact." In re T.H.T., 185 N.C.App. 337, 343, 648 S.E.2d 519, 523 (2007) (citation, internal quotation marks, and brackets omitted), affirmed as modified , 362 N.C. 446, 665 S.E.2d 54 (2008). " If such evidence exists, the findings of the trial court are binding on appeal, even if the evidence would support a finding to the contrary." Id. (citation omitted). " The trial court's conclusions of law are reviewable de novo on appeal." In re D.H., 177 N.C.App. 700, 703, 629 S.E.2d 920, 922 (2006) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
I. Adjudication of R.H. as an abused ...