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In re Harris

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

May 7, 2019

IN THE MATTER OF: WILLIE REGGIE HARRIS, Petitioner

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 9 April 2019.

          Appeal by respondent from order entered 25 April 2018 by Judge Louis A. Trosch in Mecklenburg County District Court No. 17 JRI 29.

          No brief for petitioner-appellee.

          Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services Senior Associate Attorney Kathleen Arundell Jackson, for respondent-appellant Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Youth and Family Services.

          TYSON, JUDGE.

         Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services ("Respondent") appeals from the trial court's order, which determined Respondent had failed to provide Petitioner with timely notice and prevented Petitioner's name from being included on the Responsible Individuals List. We affirm.

         I. Background

         Mecklenburg County Child Protective Services completed an investigative assessment and substantiated a report alleging abuse. Petitioner was identified as the individual responsible on 13 December 2013. Criminal charges arising from the incident were dismissed.

         Nearly four years later, Respondent mailed a letter to notify Petitioner of its intent to place him on the Responsible Individuals List ("RIL") on 18 August 2017. Petitioner filed a petition for judicial review on 7 September 2017.

         At the hearing on 27 February 2018, Respondent presented testimony of the purported incident, which had occurred between 10 December 2013 and 13 December 2013. A.D., the alleged victim, testified that Petitioner was a family friend, who was living with her and her mother when A.D. was thirteen years old. On the day in question, Petitioner took the trash outside and upon his return, called out to A.D. to come "warm him up." A.D. hugged him, and they went into her mother's bedroom. A.D. told Petitioner her shoulders were hurting. Petitioner gave her a massage.

         While lying together on the bed, Petitioner placed his hand on A.D.'s back, under her clothes, and placed her hand on his genitals and told her to "squeeze." He then requested she get on top of him. A.D. left the bedroom, went upstairs, and dressed for school. Petitioner told her not to tell her mother.

         A.D. called her mother once she returned home from school and told her what had happened. A.D.'s mother made Petitioner move out and obtained a domestic violence protective order. The incident was reported to the police and charges were taken out against Petitioner, but were ultimately dismissed.

         After the close of Respondent's evidence, Petitioner's counsel argued Respondent providing notice "[t]hree-and-a-half years later . . . is substantially too late for [Petitioner] to adequately prepare a defense . . . with the preponderance of the evidence standard. It makes it very difficult for him to present a defense at this late date."

         Respondent argued N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-320 contained no consequences for its failure to provide the statutorily required notice to an identified Responsible Individual within five days of the completion of the investigation. When questioned by the trial court to explain why it took so long for Petitioner to be noticed, Respondent acknowledged the State had "determined that Mecklenburg County did not properly handle a whole group of RIL cases, and they were all pulled at one time . . . the State of North Carolina ...


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