Pierce, Matter of

Citation312 S.E.2d 900,67 N.C.App. 257
Decision Date20 March 1984
Docket NumberNo. 8312DC410,8312DC410
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
PartiesIn the Matter of Cassandra Denice PIERCE.

Jennie Dorsett, Fayetteville, for petitioner-appellee.

Chandler, Cooke, Jackson & Glendening, P.A. by Dale D. Glendening, Jr., Fayetteville, for respondents-appellants.

VAUGHN, Chief Judge.

We note preliminarily that respondents failed to make proper objections to the trial court's findings of fact. Ordinarily, when counsel fails to except to findings of fact, they are deemed supported by competent evidence and are conclusive on appeal. Ply-Marts, Inc. v. Phileman, 40 N.C.App. 767, 768, 253 S.E.2d 494, 495 (1979). Put otherwise, where no exceptions are taken to the findings of fact, the only question present for review is whether the findings support the conclusions of law, and it is not incumbent upon this Court to search the record in order to determine whether the findings of fact are supported by competent evidence. Because of the serious consequences of a proceeding to terminate parental rights, we will nonetheless consider whether the trial court's findings of fact are supported by competent evidence.

Respondents make a number of assignments of error relating to the admissibility of evidence, namely, that two home study reports, three letters of assessment of the respondents' home situation, and a voluntary support agreement were hearsay and therefore improperly admitted into evidence.

As to the 23 May 1980 voluntary support agreement signed by respondent father, respondent admitted in his testimony that he had entered into such an agreement with petitioner. Such testimony cures any defects associated with the wrongful admission of the agreement. The assignment of error relating to this support agreement is therefore overruled.

As to the other documents, the letters of assessment and home studies, we hold that there was sufficient "clear, cogent, and convincing evidence," see G.S. 7A-289.30(e), to support the judgment terminating parental rights exclusive of these documents, and that any error related to the admission of such documents into evidence was therefore not prejudicial to respondents. We do not pass on the merits of the parties' arguments, whether the documents were inadmissible hearsay, as respondents contend, or whether they fell within the scope of the business records exception or official records exception to the hearsay rule, as contended by petitioner.

Respondents additionally contend that one of petitioner's witnesses, a social worker who worked on Cassandra's case, was not properly qualified as an expert witness and therefore not qualified to give her opinion as to whether respondents were capable of providing a stable home environment for their child. A similar situation was presented in In re Peirce, 53 N.C.App. 373, 281 S.E.2d 198 (1981). Allowing that "the better practice is for the party offering an expert witness formally to tender him or her as an expert witness," this Court, relying on Dickens v. Everhart, 284 N.C. 95, 199 S.E.2d 440 (1973), concluded that

where the witness's qualifications as an expert are shown, the intent to offer the witness as an expert is clear, and the ruling of the court on the admission of the witness's testimony is expressly stated, the appellate court will consider the validity of the trial court's ruling on the admissibility of expert testimony.

53 N.C.App. at 385, 281 S.E.2d at 205. This governs the assignment of error concerned with the social worker's opinion testimony, and that assignment is overruled.

We now turn to the central issue of this appeal: whether the judgment terminating parental rights is adequately supported by competent evidence. We hold that the judgment is so supported and therefore affirm.

Respondents appropriately group together their assignments of error relating to the trial court's refusal to grant their motion to dismiss at the close of all the evidence, motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and motion for a new trial. Each of these motions is essentially based on the proposition that the evidence was insufficient to support the judgment, i.e., that the statutory standard necessary to terminate parental rights was not satisfied. We shall therefore consider these assignments of error together.

Article 24B of Chapter 7A of the General Statutes, entitled Termination of Parental Rights, provides: "All findings of fact shall be based on clear, cogent, and convincing evidence." G.S. 7A-289.30(e). Respondents argue that if the trial judge had excluded the evidence respondents contend is inadmissible hearsay, the remaining evidence does not support findings upon which the trial judge could properly base a judgment for petitioner. We disagree.

G.S. 7A-289.32 sets out the statutory grounds for terminating parental rights. A finding of any one of the seven separately enumerated grounds is sufficient to support a termination. The trial court expressly based its judgment on three of the enumerated grounds, G.S. 7A-289.32(2), (3), and (4):

(2) The parent has ... neglected the child ... within the meaning of G.S. 7A-517(21), [which defines a neglected child as a "juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from his (or her) parent ... or who is not provided necessary medical care or other remedial care recognized under State law, or who lives in an environment injurious to his (or her) welfare ...."]

(3) The parent has willfully left the child in foster care for more than two consecutive years without showing to the satisfaction of the court that substantial progress has been made within two years in correcting those conditions which led to the removal of the child or without showing positive response within two years to the diligent efforts of a county Department of Social Services ... to encourage the parent to strengthen the parental relationship to the child or to make and follow through with constructive planning for the future of the child.

(4) The child has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services ... and the parent, for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition, has failed to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the child.

Even without considering the evidence respondents contend is inadmissible hearsay, there remains adequate "clear, cogent, and convincing evidence" to support a termination of parental rights on any one of the three grounds.

At the hearing, the evidence showed that the child has been in foster care continuously since she was five months old, when she was placed in the custody of petitioner Cumberland County Department of Social Services pursuant to an order of neglect. Dr. Rita Gunther, a pediatrician for the Cumberland County Health Department, testified that she had diagnosed fetal alcohol syndrome in Cassandra. Dr. Gunther testified that due to FAS, Cassandra is moderately retarded and significantly delayed in all developmental aspects, and that special physical, mental and medical needs arising from FAS would persist throughout Cassandra's lifetime. She further testified that Cassandra is a "failure to thrive" child, testifying to the delicate nutritional status and problematic nature of infection in such children. The doctor testified that respondents did not seem to grasp the realities in regard to their...

To continue reading

Request your trial
107 cases
  • In re A.D.L., COA03-1333.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
    • April 19, 2005
    ...S.E.2d at 173-74. A finding of one statutory ground is sufficient to support the termination of parental rights. In re Pierce, 67 N.C.App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984). Upon a finding that at least one statutory ground for termination exists, the district court proceeds to the dispo......
  • In re W.L.C.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • March 17, 2015
    ...that led to her removal from the home.]” In re Humphrey,156 N.C.App. 533, 540, 577 S.E.2d 421, 426 (2003) (citing In re Pierce,67 N.C.App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984) ). We conclude that this finding was supported by the trial court's unchallenged findings of fact.A trial court may......
  • In re, COA14-950
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • March 17, 2015
    ...that led to her removal from the home.]" In re Humphrey, 156 N.C. App. 533, 540, 577 S.E.2d 421, 426 (2003) (citing In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984)). We conclude that this finding was supported by the trial court's unchallenged findings of fact.Page 8 A trial......
  • In the Matter of A.A.H., No. COA05-1433 (N.C. App. 9/5/2006), COA05-1433
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of North Carolina (US)
    • September 5, 2006
    ...to support a termination." In re Humphrey, 156 N.C. App. 533, 540, 577 S.E.2d 421, 426-27 (2003) (citing In re Pierce, 67 N.C. App. 257, 261, 312 S.E.2d 900, 903 (1984)). In this case, even without the trial court's conclusion that Respondent failed to support his children, there remain suf......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT