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In re J.S.C.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 2, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF: J.S.C.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 17 April 2017.

          Appeal by respondent-mother from orders entered 8 August 2016 and 6 September 2016 by Judge J.H. Corpening, II in New Hanover County District Court No. 15 JA 248

          Regina Floyd-Davis for petitioner-appellee New Hanover County Department of Social Services.

          Marie H. Mobley for guardian ad litem.

          Richard Croutharmel for respondent-appellant mother.

          ZACHARY, Judge.

         Respondent-mother appeals from a consent order adjudicating her son "Jonah"[1] an abused and neglected juvenile, together with the resulting dispositional order that maintained the child in the custody of New Hanover Department of Social Services ("DSS") and directed DSS to cease efforts toward reunification. Respondent-father has withdrawn his appeal by filing notice in the trial court pursuant to N.C. R. App. P. 37(e).

          On 23 September 2015, DSS filed a juvenile petition claiming that seven-month-old Jonah was abused and neglected. The petition alleged that respondents brought Jonah to the hospital for "leg and arm spasms . . . similar to seizures." The spasms had been occurring for a period of two to three weeks. An initial examination revealed that Jonah had experienced two "brain bleeds, one appearing old in nature, the other appearing of a more recent nature." X-rays also showed a possible skull fracture. Jonah was transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill Medical Center, where doctors found injuries consistent with

significant high impact trauma to the head. There is an old injury to the right side of the head manifested by the appearance of old blood and dead tissue with shrinkage of the brain noted. This is demonstrative of an injury which occurred weeks to months earlier. There is a very large amount of fluid on the brain, representative of an injury which occurred days to weeks earlier. The MRI revealed evidence of possible shearing injuries.

A doctor described Jonah's injuries to DSS as "very significant for non-accidental trauma." According to the petition, respondents were unable to account for "the severity of the injuries that [Jonah] has sustained." They cited several instances of Jonah falling from his bed, changing table, or stroller, as well as one occasion when a recoiling screen door had struck the child in the head.

         Both respondents were charged with felonious child abuse. In July 2016, respondent-mother pleaded guilty to child abuse by grossly negligent omission resulting in serious bodily injury to the child. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-318.4(a4) (2015). She was sentenced to an active prison term of twenty-five to forty-two months.

         On 8 August 2016, respondents appeared in court and tendered a "Consent Order on Adjudication" signed by all parties and their counsel.[2] The order provides that the parties "have stipulated and agreed to the entry of this Order which provides for the following facts, conclusions of law and order" adjudicating Jonah as neglected and abused. Among the parties' stipulated facts are the following:

4. [Jonah] is a neglected and abused juvenile in that a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker has inflicted or allowed to be inflicted a serious physical injury by other than accidental means, in that on or about September 22, 2015, [Jonah] was diagnosed with a possible skull fracture and two brain bleeds and ...

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