In re L.T.

Decision Date05 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. 274A19,274A19
Parties In the MATTER OF: L.T.
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Keith T. Roberson, for petitioner-appellee Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services.

Matthew D. Wunsche, GAL Appellate Counsel, for appellee Guardian ad Litem.

J. Thomas Diepenbrock, Asheville, for respondent-appellant father.

BEASLEY, Chief Justice.

Respondent-father appeals from the trial court's order terminating his parental rights to his daughter, Laurie.1 After careful consideration of respondent-father's challenge to the trial court's jurisdiction, we affirm the termination order.

On 17 March 2017, the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a petition alleging that Laurie was a neglected and dependent juvenile. The petition also alleged that Laurie's mother lived in Ohio and that Laurie lived with respondent-father in Charlotte, North Carolina. DSS believed Laurie was at a substantial risk of injury if she remained in respondent-father's care.

On 12 June 2017, the trial court entered a continuance order. It found that prior to the scheduled adjudication hearing on 23 May 2017, respondent-father's attorney and the guardian ad litem (GAL) attorney advocate informed the court that Laurie had not lived in North Carolina for six months before the juvenile petition was filed and that there appeared to be a valid custody order from Delaware in effect that granted sole custody to respondent-father. The trial court also found that neither Laurie's mother nor respondent-father was still living in Delaware. The court continued the case in order to investigate whether it had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA or the Act).

The matter came on for adjudication and disposition on 26 July and 3 August 2017. On 21 September 2017, the trial court entered an order concluding that Laurie was a neglected and dependent juvenile. In the order, the court also found that Laurie and respondent-father had resided in Charlotte since September 2016 and concluded that it had jurisdiction over the case.

On 19 September 2018, DSS filed a motion in the cause to terminate respondent-father's parental rights on the grounds of neglect and willfully leaving Laurie in foster care for more than twelve months without making adequate progress to correct the removal conditions. See N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(1)(2) (2019). On 22 March 2019, the trial court entered an order terminating respondent-father's rights pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 7B-1111(a)(2). The court also concluded that termination was in Laurie's best interest. Respondent-father appealed.

Respondent-father argues that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to enter its termination order. He contends that the trial court failed to comply with the requirements of the UCCJEA when it learned of the Delaware custody order at the beginning of this case and that all the proceedings involving Laurie in North Carolina are therefore void. We disagree.

Because a court must have subject matter jurisdiction in order to adjudicate the case before it, "a court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable and can be raised at any time." In re K.J.L. , 363 N.C. 343, 346, 677 S.E.2d 835, 837 (2009) (citations omitted). This Court presumes the trial court has properly exercised jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction meets its burden of showing otherwise. In re S.E. , 373 N.C. 360, 838 S.E.2d 328, 331 (2020).

The trial court must comply with the UCCJEA in order to have subject matter jurisdiction over juvenile abuse, neglect, and dependency cases and termination of parental rights cases. Id. ; see also N.C.G.S. § 7B-1101 (2019). The trial court is not required to make specific findings of fact demonstrating its jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, but the record must reflect that the jurisdictional prerequisites in the Act were satisfied when the court exercised jurisdiction. See In re T.J.D.W. , 182 N.C. App. 394, 397, 642 S.E.2d 471, 473, aff'd per curiam , 362 N.C. 84, 653 S.E.2d 143 (2007).

The parties agree that Laurie was the subject of a valid Delaware child custody order when DSS filed the initial neglect and dependency petition on 17 March 2017. Their dispute is whether the trial court had jurisdiction to modify the Delaware order. Respondent-father contends that the record shows the trial court lacked modification authority under the Act.

Section 50A-203 of the North Carolina General Statutes governs when the trial court has jurisdiction to modify an out-of-state custody order under the UCCJEA. It sets out a two-part test for establishing modification jurisdiction: first, the trial court must have jurisdiction to make an initial custody determination under N.C.G.S. § 50A-201(a)(1) or (2), and second, one of the following must have occurred:

(1) The court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under G.S. 50A-202 or that a court of this State would be a more convenient forum under G.S. 50A-207 ; or
(2) A court of this State or a court of the other state determines that the child, the child's parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the other state.

N.C.G.S. § 50A-203 (2019). Here, it is undisputed that the second part of this test was met when the trial court made unchallenged findings that Laurie's mother, respondent-father, and Laurie no longer resided in Delaware when DSS filed the juvenile petition. However, respondent-father argues that the trial court did not satisfy the first part of the test because it did not have jurisdiction to make an...

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27 cases
  • In re E.D.H.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2022
    ...has properly exercised jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction meets its burden of showing otherwise." In re L.T. , 374 N.C. 567, 569, 843 S.E.2d 199 (2020). ¶ 51 In some cases, this Court has applied both types of presumptions of regularity. For instance, in In re C.N.R. , w......
  • In re Z.G.J.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • August 27, 2021
    ...has properly exercised jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction meets its burden of showing otherwise." In re L.T. , 374 N.C. 567, 569, 843 S.E.2d 199 (2020). ¶ 13 To have standing to file a termination of parental rights case, a petitioner or movant must fall within one of th......
  • In re J.M.
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • April 23, 2021
    ...the case before it, ‘a court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable and can be raised at any time.’ " In re L.T. , 374 N.C. 567, 569, 843 S.E.2d 199 (2020) (quoting In re K.J.L. , 363 N.C. 343, 346, 677 S.E.2d 835 (2009) ). ¶ 15 "In matters arising under the Juvenile Code, th......
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    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • August 19, 2022
    ...has properly exercised jurisdiction unless the party challenging jurisdiction meets its burden of showing otherwise." In re L.T. , 374 N.C. 567, 569, 843 S.E.2d 199 (2020).¶ 30 The legislature has established the subject matter jurisdiction of clerks of superior court and of the superior co......
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