Justia North Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating Mother's parental rights in her child, holding that N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1101.1(d) was not violated in this case.Section 7B-1101.1(d) establishes the right of a parent to appointed counsel and, in some circumstances, to a guardian ad litem (GAL) in a termination of parental rights proceeding. The statute further provides that counsel shall not be appointed to serve as the GAL and the GAL shall not act as the parent's attorney. On appeal, Mother argued that she was denied a fundamentally fair termination proceeding because her GAL examined some witnesses and presented legal arguments on her behalf, in violation of section 7B-1101.1(d). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that because Mother was afforded both an attorney and a GAL the statute was not violated when counsel acted as Mother's attorney and the GAL assisted counsel in the presentation of the case to ensure that Mother was effectively represented. View "In re J.E.B., II" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court terminating the parental rights of Father to his daughter, holding that the issues identified by counsel in Father's appeal were meritless.The trial court entered an order concluding that grounds existed to terminate Father's parental rights based on neglect, willfully leaving his child in foster care for more than twelve months without showing reasonable progress, and attempted murder of another child residing in the home. The trial court further determined that it was in the child's best interests to terminate Father's parental rights. On appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed issues identified by counsel in a no-merit brief in light of the entire record and concluded that the trial court properly found that grounds existed pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1) to terminate Father's parental rights and that termination was in the best interests of the child. View "In re S.F.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed in part and vacated and remanded in part the trial court's order terminating Respondent's parental rights to his child, holding that this case was, in large part, controlled by In re K.N., 837 S.E.2d 861 (N.C. 2020), necessitating reversal in part and vacatur in part.Petitioner, the child's mother, filed a motion to terminate Respondent's parental rights. The trial court determined that grounds existed to terminate Respondent's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1), (4), and (6) and that it was in the child's best interests that Petitioner's parental rights be terminated. The Supreme Court reversed the portions of the trial court's order concluding that Respondent's parental rights were subject to termination under sections 7B-1111(a)(1) and (6) and vacated the portions of the order adjudicating grounds for termination under section 7B-1111(a)(4), holding that the trial court erred by concluding that grounds existed pursuant to sections 7B-1111(a)(1) and (6) and that the court's findings of fact were insufficient to support termination based on section 7B-1111(a)(4). View "In re C.L.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court terminating the parental rights of Mother to her daughter, holding that the trial court properly adjudicated the existence of grounds to terminate Mother's parental rights based on her neglect of the child.After a hearing, the trial court adjudicated the existence of two statutory grounds for terminating Mother's parental rights: Mother's neglect of the child and Mother's willful failure to make reasonable progress to correct the conditions leading to the child's removal from the home. The court then concluded that it was in the child's best interests to terminate Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, although Mother identified some harmless inaccuracies in the trial court's adjudicatory findings of fact, the court's remaining findings of fact supported its conclusions of law that grounds existed to terminate Mother's parental rights for her neglect of the child under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1). View "In re S.R.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court held that the North Carolina Constitution does not limit the jurisdiction of the state's courts in the same manner as the standing requirements that U.S. Const. art III, section 2 imposes on federal courts, including the requirement that the complaining party must show she has suffered "injury in fact," even where N.C. Gen. Stat. 163-278.39A(f) (now repealed) expressly conferred standing to sue on a party.In 1999, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the "Disclosure Statute," section 163-278.38Z et seq., providing specific requirements for television and radio ads placed by political action committees. Plaintiff's complaint alleged two violations of the Disclosure Statute by the Employees Political Action Committee (EMPAC). The trial court granted summary judgment to EMPAC, concluding that Plaintiff had failed to allege actual demonstrable damages. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, holding that when a person alleges the infringement of a legal right directly under a cause of action at common law, a statute, or the North Carolina Constitution, the legal injury itself gives rise to standing. View "Committee to Elect Dan Forest v. Employees Political Action Committee" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the district court determining that termination of Father's parental rights was not in the child's best interests and dismissing Bethany Christian Services' petition to terminate parental rights, holding that a challenged portion of one of the trial court's findings of fact was erroneous.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) the trial court’s admission of the guardian ad litem’s report during the dispositional stage of the termination proceeding without allowing the child's guardian ad litem to be cross-examined about the report was not an abuse of discretion; and (2) the trial court’s written order contained a key finding of fact that lacked evidentiary support in the record and could be read as reflecting an inappropriate bias against adoption, and this inappropriate finding was prejudicial. View "In re R.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court erred by failing to conduct a competency hearing under the circumstances of this case.After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of felony embezzlement. At issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in declining to hold a competency hearing when Defendant attempted suicide one evening after her trial had recessed for the day and was thereafter involuntarily committed. The trial court concluded that Defendant had voluntarily waived her constitutional right to be present at her trial because of her suicide attempt and therefore proceeded with the trial without Defendant. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court was required to conduct a competency hearing before proceeding with the trial in her absence. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, holding that the trial court was presented with substantial information that cast doubt on Defendant's competency, and the trial court erred by failing to hold a competency hearing. View "State v. Sides" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme held that the trial court did not err in determining that Defendants were not afforded underinsured motorist and medical payments coverage under an insurance policy issued by Plaintiff, an insurance company, to a family member.Defendants argued that they were entitled to medical payments and underinsured motorist coverage under Plaintiff's policy because they were "residents" of the insured's "household." Plaintiff disputed coverage and filed a declaratory judgment action in superior court, arguing that Defendants were not residents of the insured's household at the time of the accident. The trial court entered summary judgment for Plaintiff, concluding as a matter of law that Defendants were not entitled to coverage under the policy. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals did not err in determining that Defendants are not entitled to coverage under the policy and that the trial court appropriately awarded summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. View "N.C. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., Inc. v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing Defendant's conviction, holding that the court of appeals correctly held that the trial court committed plain error when it admitted improper testimony by an investigator with the Department of Social Services (DSS) Child Protective Services who improperly vouched for the victim's testimony.Defendant was convicted of sexual offense with a child by an adult, child abuse by a sexual act, and indecent liberties with a child. On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court erred in allowing the DSS investigator's testimony. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court committed plain error requiring a new trial because the DSS investigator's testimony improperly bolstered or vouched for the victim's credibility. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court commits a fundamental error when it allows testimony which vouches for the complainant's credibility in a case where the verdict entirely depends upon the jurors' comparative assessment of the complainant's and the defendant's credibility. View "State v. Warden" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's denial of Defendant's motion for appropriately relief filed after he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, holding that certain undisclosed evidence was material and that it was reasonably probable that, had it been disclosed to Defendant prior to trial, the outcome would have been different.Defendant was convicted of first-degree burglary, first-degree rape, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. In postconviction proceedings, it became clear that the State failed to produce certain pieces of evidence to Defendant prior to his trial. Later that year, postconviction counsel uncovered additional evidence. Defendant then filed a motion for appropriate relief, arguing that the State failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in violation of his due process right pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The trial court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case with instruction to grant the motion and order a new trial, holding that the failure to disclose the exculpatory evidence prejudiced Defendant's ability to present a defense. View "State v. Best" on Justia Law