Justia North Carolina Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The case revolves around the custody of three children, Kelly, Amy, and Matt, who were taken into nonsecure custody by the Vance County Department of Social Services (DSS) due to their parents' issues with homelessness, mental health, and domestic violence. The children were initially placed in foster care and later with their paternal great aunt (Great Aunt). The trial court ordered an investigation into the possibility of placing the children with their maternal grandmother (Grandmother) who lived in Georgia. However, DSS did not initiate the out-of-state home study on Grandmother until November 2021, despite the court's order in February 2019.The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to grant guardianship to Great Aunt, concluding that there was no obligation under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) for a home study to be completed to rule out an out-of-state relative as a placement option. The Court of Appeals also vacated the order in part and remanded for reconsideration of the mother's visitation rights.The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The court held that trial courts are not necessarily required to wait on completion of a home study to rule out the placement with an out-of-state relative if the trial court concludes that an in-state relative is willing and able to provide proper care and supervision and the placement is in the best interest of the children. However, the court noted that in some scenarios, the best-interest determination may require the completion of an ICPC home study before the trial court can make a placement. The court also clarified that the ICPC does apply to an order granting guardianship to out-of-state grandparents. View "In re: K.B., A.M.H., M.S.H" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Supreme Court of North Carolina, the plaintiff, David Beavers, brought civil claims for alienation of affection and criminal conversation against his ex-wife’s alleged lover, John McMican. The main issues revolved around the interpretation of N.C.G.S. § 52-13 which specifies that post-separation conduct cannot give rise to liability, and whether the trial court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of McMican.The court determined that the Rodriguez v. Lemus decision, regarding what evidence is relevant to prove pre-separation conduct, was consistent with the legislative intent of N.C.G.S. § 52-13. The court held that evidence of post-separation conduct may be used to corroborate pre-separation conduct, as long as the pre-separation conduct gives rise to more than mere conjecture.However, the court found that the evidence of pre-separation conduct in this specific case did not rise above mere conjecture regarding the identity of Mrs. Beavers’ paramour. Consequently, the court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and held that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. McMican. No sufficient evidence was presented to support the essential elements of Beavers’s claims against McMican, namely the sexual intercourse element of the criminal conversation claim, or the malice prong of the alienation of affection claim. View "Beavers v. McMican" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court entering an order removing reunification with Parents from the permanent plan as to their two children, holding that competent evidence supported the trial court's findings of fact, and those findings sustained the trial court's conclusions of law.The Catawba County Department of Social Services filed a juvenile petition alleging that Parents' infant daughter had been abused and that both she and Parents' son were neglected. The court adjudicated the daughter as both abused and neglected and the son as neglected. An ensuing permanency planning order made reunification the primary plan. Given the severity of the daughter's injuries and that neither parent had acknowledged responsibility for the injuries, however, the court modified the permanent plan, eliminating reunification from the plan and specifying a primary plan of adoption. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the evidence on the record supported the trial court's findings of fact, which supported the conclusions of law in the permanency planning order; and (2) the court of appeals addressed a constitutional issue that was not preserved for appellate review. View "In re J.M." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals determining that provisions in the settlement agreement in this case were ambiguous, holding that the plain language of the settlement agreement was unambiguous.After Defendant and Melissa Galloway Snell executed a memorandum of mediated settlement agreement a judgment a divorce was granted to the parties. At issue was a life insurance policy on Melissa's life that listed the Melissa Galloway Snell Living Trust as the policy's beneficiary. The parties' four children were beneficiaries of the trust. When Defendant claimed that he was entitled to the proceeds from Melissa's policy the trust brought suit seeking a declaratory judgment. The trial court granted the trustee's motion for summary judgment. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the relevant language of the settlement agreement was ambiguous. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the court of appeals erred by concluding that the settlement agreement was ambiguous. View "Galloway v. Snell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court modified the decision of the court of appeals affirming the denial of a petition to terminate Father's parental rights and clarified the correct standard of review at the adjudication and dispositional stage, holding that there were no grounds to terminate Father's parental rights pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1), (4), or (7).Mother filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights, alleging that grounds for termination existed under section 7B-1111(a0(1), (4), and (7). In denying the petition, the trial court found that Father made an effort to have a relationship with his child but was blocked from doing so, that the child was not neglected, and that Father had not willfully abandoned the child. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) the trial court did not err in concluding that the grounds necessary to terminate Defendant's parental rights did not exist; and (2) the court of appeals' decision is modified to the extent it could be read to be applying an abuse of discretion, rather than a clear, cogent, and convincing evidence, standard of review at the adjudicatory stage of the proceeding. View "In re S.R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals vacating the orders of the trial court dismissing Mother's terminating MOther's parental rights, holding that the trial court did not err.After a hearing, the trial court terminated Mother's parental rights. The court of appeals remanded the case for a new hearing, citing its concerns about the fundamental fairness offered to Mother before the trial court dismissed her provisional counsel. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding (1) the trial court complied with the legislature's enactments concerning provisional counsel under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1108.1(a)(1) and properly considered at the pretrial hearings the issues listed in N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1101.1(a)(1); and (2) therefore, the court of appeals erred by reversing the judgment of the trial court. View "In re R.A.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court modified and affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court in this termination of parental rights case, holding that any error was harmless.The trial court in this case referenced a timeline introduced into evidence and expressly relied on that timeline, which the court found to be "credible and reliable," in determining that grounds existed to terminate Respondent's parental rights for willful failure to make reasonable progress under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, holding (1) the trial court's findings of fact were proper because the trial court did not merely accept and rely upon the timeline but expressly evaluated whether the timeline was credible and reliable; (2) there was no error in the trial court's disposition order; and (3) if the trial court erred by permitting an amendment that added an additional ground for termination, the error was harmless. View "In re H.B." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals determining that the trial court's findings of fact did not support its conclusion adjudicating Glenda a neglected juvenile, holding that the court of appeals erred by requiring findings of fact from the trial court to adjudicate a juvenile neglected that are not required by statute or Supreme Court precedent.After Glenda's sibling died, the Department of Social Services filed a petition alleging that Glenda was a neglected juvenile. After the trial court concluded as a matter of law that Glenda was a neglected juvenile within the meaning of N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-101(15) Respondent appealed. The court of appeals vacated the adjudication and disposition order, concluding that the trial court's written findings of fact did not support its conclusion that Glenda was a neglected juvenile. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the findings of fact supported the trial court's adjudication and conclusion of law that Glenda was a neglected juvenile. View "In re G.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the trial court's adjudications of nine-year-old Margaret as an abused and neglected juvenile and her two younger siblings as neglected juveniles, holding that the trial court's order contained sufficient findings, supported by clear cogent, and convincing evidence, supporting the court's adjudications of Margaret and her siblings.In reversing the trial court's adjudications, the court of appeals held that the trial court improperly admitted some hearsay evidence and that the trial court's reasoning was so "reliant and intertwined with" the hearsay evidence that the proper remedy was to vacate the trial court's order. The Supreme Court reversed after reaffirming the proper role of an appellate court in reviewing a trial court's adjudication and disposition in a juvenile proceeding, holding that the court of appeals erred by vacating or reversing the trial court's adjudications because the court properly adjudicated Margaret as an abused and neglected juvenile and properly adjudicated her siblings as neglected juveniles. View "In re A.J.L.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed portions of the court of appeals' opinion that found error in certain portions of the trial court's order eliminating reunification as a permanent plan and ceasing further review hearings in a neglect and dependency case concerning Mother's child, holding the trial court did not err.The trial court entered the order eliminating reunification as a permanent plan only after it found that an alternate permanent plan of custody with a court-approved caretaker had been achieved and after the court had received evidence showing that the court-approved caretakers understood the legal significance of the child's placement in their home. The court of appeals vacated the order and remanded the case. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals erred in determining that the trial court erred in ceasing reunification efforts and in failing to fulfill its statutory obligations concerning verification. View "In re K.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law