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In re J.A.M.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

June 5, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF: J.A.M.

          Originally heard in the Court of Appeals 5 December 2016.

          On remand by order of Supreme Court in Matter of J.A.M., __ N.C. __, 809 S.E.2d 579 (2018), reversing and remanding the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals in Matter of J.A.M., __ N.C.App. __, 795 S.E.2d 262 (2016). Originally appealed by respondent from order entered 30 March 2016 by Judge Louis A. Trosch in Mecklenburg County District Court, No. 16 JA 89

          Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services, by Christopher C. Peace, for petitioner-appellee.

          Richard Croutharmel for respondent-appellant.

          Poyner Spruill LLP, by Caroline P. Mackie, for guardian ad litem.

          ARROWOOD, JUDGE.

         This case comes before us on remand from the North Carolina Supreme Court for reconsideration and for proper application of the appellate standard of review to the trial court's findings and conclusions of law. On remand, we consider respondent-mother's appeal from an order adjudicating her daughter, juvenile J.A.M., neglected and ceasing all future reunification efforts with respondent-mother. After careful review, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Respondent-mother has a long history of involvement with Mecklenburg Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services ("YFS") that began in 2007 due to allegations of domestic violence. Since then, YFS' involvement with respondent-mother has been primarily related to her history of violent relationships with the fathers of her previous six children, in which the children witnessed domestic violence, and also were caught in the middle of physical altercations. During this time, respondent-mother repeatedly declined YFS services and continued to deny, minimize, and avoid talking about the violence. The most serious incident of violence occurred in June 2012 when "following another domestic violence incident between herself and" one of her children's father, respondent-mother placed one of her children "in an incredibly unsafe situation sleeping on the sofa with [his father] for the night, which resulted in [the child] suffering severe, life-threatening injuries, including multiple skull fractures, at the hands of [the father.]" Matter of J.A.M., __ N.C. at __, 809 S.E.2d at 580. After observing the severity of the injuries the following morning, respondent-mother "did not dial 911 for over two hours[, ]" and, "[a]fterwards, she refused to acknowledge [the child's] 'significant special needs' that resulted from his injuries, claiming 'there is nothing wrong with him, ' and proceeded to have another child with [the same father] in 2013 when he was out on bond for charges of felony child abuse." Id. at__, 809 S.E.2d at 580. Subsequently, on 21 April 2014, respondent-mother's parental rights were terminated to her six children, largely because she failed "to take any steps to change the pattern of domestic violence and lack of stability for the children since 2007." Id. at__, 809 S.E.2d at 580 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         YFS received a report on 25 February 2016 that respondent-mother had given birth to J.A.M. On 29 February 2016, DSS filed a juvenile petition alleging neglect of J.A.M. The trial court conducted a contested adjudication hearing on 30 March 2016. The trial court received the adjudication and termination of parental rights orders for respondent-mother and J.A.M.'s father's other children into evidence. J.A.M.'s father's criminal record was also admitted into evidence.

         Respondent-mother testified at the hearing, vaguely acknowledging that she made " 'bad decisions' and 'bad choices' in the past, without offering specific examples except for 'giv[ing] men benefits of the doubts.' " Matter of J.A.M., __ N.C. at __, 809 S.E.2d at 580. She also testified:

Q. Why were your rights terminated?
A1. Because when my child came back into -- my kids came back into custody, due to my child being physical injury [sic] by his father [ ]. That's --
Q. So your understanding is that your rights to your six other children was -- were terminated because of one child being physically abused?
A. Oh, yes, ma'am. . . .
Q. And what role do you think you played in your child getting hurt by that father?
A. I was upstairs sleeping.
Q. Okay.
A. I didn't have -- I didn't have a role into what my child being hurt [sic]. I didn't play a role in that.
Q. And so basically, do you feel that your rights to the six other children, your rights were unjustly terminated?
A. Yes, ma'am. I do feel that way.

         On 30 March 2016, the trial court entered an order finding that J.A.M.'s parents had failed to make any substantive progress in their prior cases, and both parents declined to work with YFS and ...


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