Consider the situation where a grandparent or other nonparent files a custody action against a parent. The complaint includes allegations regarding the relationship between the nonparent and the child and includes allegations that the parent has waived their constitutional right to exclusive care, custody and control of the child. In response, the parent files an answer and a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b), arguing that the nonparent does not have standing to seek custody of the child. To determine whether the complaint should be dismissed for plaintiff’s lack of standing, does the court need to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the parent has waived their constitutional right to custody or is the standing determination made on a review of the complaint alone?Continue Reading
Last year, the Court of Appeals held that only a director (or authorized representative) of a county department of social services (DSS) where the child resided or was found at the time a petition alleging abuse, neglect, or dependency (A/N/D) was filed in court had standing to do so. In re A.P., 800 S.E.2d 77 (2017). Because standing is jurisdictional, when a county DSS without standing commences an A/N/D action, the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to act. Id.; see my earlier blog post discussing this holding here. This holding had an immediate impact on A/N/D cases throughout the state. Because subject matter jurisdiction can be raised at any time, both new and old cases were dismissed either through a voluntary dismissal by DSS or a motion to dismiss filed by another party in the action. After dismissal, new petitions for these same children were filed, sometimes after a child was transported to a county for the purpose of giving the county DSS director standing to commence the action. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) notified county DSS’s that the holding in In re A.P. superseded DHHS policy on conflict of interest cases, recognizing that contrary to the policy, a county DSS with a conflict may be the only county DSS with standing to file an A/N/D action after a partner DSS determines there is a need to file a petition because of abuse, neglect, or dependency. See CWS-28-2017.
Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals holding, stating the statutory interpretation was too restrictive and contrary to children’s best interests. In re A.P., 812 S.E.2d 840 (2018). Continue Reading
*SINCE THIS POST WAS PUBLISHED, THE N.C. SUPREME COURT REVERSED AND REMANDED THE COURT OF APPEALS DECISION DISCUSSED BELOW. A new blog post discussing the NC Supreme Court decision can be read here.
Earlier this year, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published In re A.P., 800 S.E.2d 77 (2017), which held that the county DSS that had an open child protective case did not have standing to file a neglect and dependency petition. As a result, the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the action, and the adjudication and disposition orders were vacated. Since In re A.P. was decided, there are lots of questions about when a county DSS has standing to file an abuse, neglect, or dependency (A/N/D) petition and what happens in conflict of interest cases requiring a case to be transferred to a different county DSS. Continue Reading