An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA02-732


Filed: 15 July 2003

ZACHERY CLAYTON, MINOR CHILD            Wilkes County
                                No. 01 J 67

    Appeal by respondent mother from order dated 4 December 2001 by Judge Jeanie R. Houston in Wilkes County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 12 May 2003.

    Peter Wood for respondent-appellant.

    No brief filed for petitioner-appellee.

    BRYANT, Judge.

    Imogene Clayton (respondent) appeals from an order dated 4 December 2001 adjudicating Allen Robert Zachery Clayton (the juvenile) as neglected and abused.
    On 2 May 2001, a petition alleging that the juvenile was neglected and abused was filed by the Wilkes County Department of Social Services (DSS). On 30 May 2001, respondent submitted to DSS a total of four interrogatories and requests for production of documents asking DSS to provide: (1) names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any persons DSS believed to have knowledge of respondent's conduct or of the juvenile's condition; (2) names, addresses, and telephone numbers of anyone who was believed to possess documents or other items related to respondent's conduct or the condition of the juvenile; (3) copies of documents in thecustody or control of DSS that tended to prove or disprove factual issues in the case; and (4) copies of any of the juvenile's medical records. After receiving no response from DSS, respondent filed a motion to compel discovery on 2 July 2001. On 11 July 2001, DSS filed a motion seeking a protective order and denial of the motion to compel discovery. On that same day, DSS also submitted objections to the interrogatories and requests for production on grounds that “the information sought is confidential and cannot be provided.”
    The transcript from a 16 July 2001 hearing on the respective motions indicates that the audio recording of the proceedings was of very poor quality. All that survives of the trial court's ruling on the motions is the following:
        I imagine (inaudible), Mr. Freeman [attorney for DSS], (inaudible) we had this happen one time (inaudible) discovery in Yadkin County one time with DSS and I (inaudible) to answer [i]nterrogatories and discovery based on the confidentiality of the record. And I don't -- my guess is the General Assembly intended if anybody suffered from, for protecting the child, and that's the only reason I could see for, or that I had (inaudible). (inaudible) disclose any evidence. And I'll agree that I personally would (inaudible). And the person who keeps the confidentiality of the children and the medical professionals, the psychiatrists and social workers and everybody that they deal with could keep them protected in a way, I guess. But like you said, nobody would deal with them if they didn't so (inaudible). Are we ready to proceed on this?

It appears from the record that the trial court denied the motion to compel and allowed the protective order, as the adjudication hearing began immediately afterwards without any discovery takingplace. The trial court recessed at the end of the day, and the case was not resumed until 31 October 2001, more than three months later, and was not concluded until 9 November 2001. Respondent's motion to dismiss the petition, based on the lengthy delay, was denied.


    The issues are whether: (I) the trial court abused its discretion in denying respondent discovery without examining documents in camera or making findings of fact and (II) the delay in the hearing resulted in an improper continuance.

    The Rules of Civil Procedure generally govern juvenile proceedings. In re Bullabough, 89 N.C. App. 171, 179, 365 S.E.2d 642, 646 (1988); see Thrift v. Buncombe County DSS, 137 N.C. App. 559, 562, 528 S.E.2d 394, 396 (2000); N.C.G.S. § 7A-193 (2001). Rule 26 of the Rules of Civil Procedure allows for
        discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or to the claim or defense of any other party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition and location of any books, documents, or other tangible things and the identity and location of persons having knowledge of any discoverable matter.

N.C.G.S. § 1A-1, Rule 26(b)(1) (2001). Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-700 of the Juvenile Code, however, a trial court may, “upon written motion of a party and a finding of good cause . . . order that discovery be denied, restricted, or deferred.” N.C.G.S.§ 7B-700(a) (2001). The trial court may also allow the moving party to submit affidavits or statements for in camera review. N.C.G.S. § 7B-700(b) (2001). In this case, due to the trial court's failure to conduct an in camera review or make findings of fact, these areas of concern become a focal point in our analysis of this issue.
    Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2901(b), DSS is required to maintain confidential records of juveniles under its custody or under placement of the court, including: “family background information; reports of social, medical, psychiatric, or psychological information concerning a juvenile or the juvenile's family; interviews with the juvenile's family; or other information which the [trial] court finds should be protected.” N.C.G.S. § 7B-2901(b) (2001). These records may only be examined by a guardian ad litem or the juvenile, unless the trial court orders otherwise. See id. When another party seeks to gain discovery of records held under section 7B-2901, the trial judge is only “required to order an in camera inspection [of the records] and make findings of fact concerning the evidence at issue . . . if there is a possibility that such evidence might be material . . . and favorable to [that party].” In re Greene, 152 N.C. App. 410, 420, 568 S.E.2d 634, 640 (2002) (citation omitted) (emphasis added). A trial court's ruling on discovery matters is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Ritter v. Kimball, 67 N.C. App. 333, 335, 313 S.E.2d 1, 2 (1984).
    In this case, respondent broadly requested the names andcontact information of anyone possessing knowledge or documents and other items related to the juvenile's condition as well as other records maintained by DSS. The requested records, however, fall under the ambit of the confidentiality provisions of section 7B-2901(b), see N.C.G.S. § 7B-2901(b), and are also similar to the information this Court previously concluded was properly limited by a protective order in Ritter, 67 N.C. App. at 334-36, 313 S.E.2d at 1-3 (finding that the purpose of the confidentiality statute “to encourage reporting of abuse and neglect, provided ample basis for an exercise of judicial discretion to deny plaintiff access to names of . . . persons making reports”). Furthermore, respondent makes no contention that the requested records would otherwise be material and favorable to her position. Under these facts, we conclude the trial court was not required to conduct an in camera review or make findings of fact under either sections 7B-700(a) or 7B-2901(b). Although the better practice would be for the trial court to review the documents and make findings supporting its decision, failure to do so in this case did not constitute an abuse of discretion. Thus, the trial court did not err in denying respondent discovery.

    Respondent also contends the petition should be dismissed as the trial court improperly continued the case in the middle of the hearing for over three months. The record, however, does not reflect that an order of continuance under section 7B-803 was entered in this case. See N.C.G.S. § 7B-803 (2001). It insteadappears that the trial court simply adjourned court at the end of the day on 16 July 2001 and, due to apparent scheduling conflicts between the parties and the trial court, the hearing was not resumed until 31 October 2001. Even assuming arguendo that the delay in the hearing was a continuance within the meaning of section 7B-803, a trial court is permitted to continue a hearing, for good cause “as long as reasonably required to receive additional evidence.” N.C.G.S. § 7B-803; see In re Mitchell, 148 N.C. App. 483, 486, 559 S.E.2d 237, 240, rev'd on other grounds, 356 N.C. 288, 570 S.E.2d 212 (2002) (trial court may grant continuance for as long as reasonably necessary to receive additional information in the best interests of the juvenile). In this case, the trial court had heard only a portion of all of the evidence and none of respondent's evidence. In order to hear all the evidence and provide for the proper administration of justice, it was necessary for the trial court to resume the hearing at a time when all the parties could be present. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying respondent's motion to dismiss the petition.
    Chief Judge EAGLES concurs.
    Judge LEVINSON concurs in the result only.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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