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In re J.W.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 5, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF: J.W. and K.M

Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 February 2015.

Page 250

Hanna Honeycutt for petitioner-appellee Buncombe County Department of Social Services.

Sydney Batch for respondent-appellant mother.

Amanda Armstrong for guardian ad litem.

DIETZ, Judge. Judges BRYANT and CALABRIA concur.

OPINION

Page 251

Appeal by respondent from orders entered 8 and 22 May 2014 by Judge Susan Dotson-Smith in Buncombe County District Court, Nos. 13 JA 254-55.

DIETZ, Judge.

Respondent, the mother of J.W. and K.M., appeals from orders adjudicating her children neglected and placing them in the custody of the Department of Social Services.

Respondent's lead argument is one we see with increasing frequency in this Court: that the trial court's fact findings are infirm because they are " cut-and-pasted" directly from the juvenile petition. This argument stems from language in a series of this Court's decisions holding that fact findings " must be more than a recitation of allegations."

As explained below, we clarify today that it is not per se reversible error for a trial court's findings of fact to mirror the wording of a party's pleading. It is a long-standing tradition in this State for trial judges to " rely upon counsel to assist in order preparation." In re A.B., __ N.C.App. __, __, 768 S.E.2d 573, 579 (2015). It is no surprise that parties preparing proposed orders might borrow wording from their earlier submissions. We will not impose on our colleagues in the trial division an obligation to comb through those proposed orders to eliminate unoriginal prose.

Instead, as we previously have held on many occasions, when examining whether a trial court's fact findings are sufficient, we will examine whether the record of the proceedings demonstrates that the trial court, through processes of logical reasoning, based on the evidentiary facts before it, found the ultimate facts necessary to dispose of the case. If we are confident the trial court did so, it is irrelevant whether those findings appear cut-and-pasted from a party's earlier pleading or submission. We thus reject Respondent's argument that the trial court's order is infirm because it " regurgitated" the same wording used in the juvenile petition.

We also reject Respondent's remaining arguments concerning custody, visitation, and the denial of reunification, all of which are controlled by well-settled law from this Court. Accordingly, we affirm the trial

Page 252

court's orders adjudicating the juveniles neglected and the dispositional orders placing the juveniles in the custody of the Buncombe County Department of Social Services.

Facts and Procedural History

On 10 September 2013, Buncombe County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed petitions alleging that J.W. and K.M. were neglected juveniles. DSS recounted Respondent's history with Child Protective Services which dated back to 2004, and which included issues with drug abuse and domestic violence. DSS's latest involvement with Respondent stemmed from a report by Child Protective Services in February 2013. The report stated that Respondent had been raped and assaulted by K.M.'s father. Respondent took out a Domestic Violence Protective Order against the father, but failed to prosecute the case ...


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