Appeal by respondents from order entered 9 May 2007 by Judge
Carlton Terry in Alexander County District Court. Heard in the
Court of Appeals 13 November 2007.
Thomas R. Young, for petitioner-appellee Alexander County
Department of Social Services.
Mary McCullers Reece, for respondent-appellant-father.
Richard Croutharmel, for respondent-appellant-mother.
Sam Winthrop, for respondent-appellee-mother.
Melanie Cranford, for guardian ad litem.
Respondent-father and respondent-mother appeal the trial court
order requiring, inter alia, respondents to undergo a psychological
evaluation. The dispositive questions before this Court are (1)
whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction and (2)
whether the trial court abused its discretion in ordering
respondent-father to undergo psychological evaluation. For the
following reasons, we affirm.
On 12 February 2007, the Alexander County Department of Social
Services (DSS) filed a petition alleging that W.G. and E.G. wereneglected juveniles. Respondent-father is the father of both
children; respondent-mother is W.G.'s biological mother and the
step-mother of E.G. DSS claimed that the children did not receive
proper care, supervision, or discipline, and lived in an
environment injurious to their welfare.
On 26 April 2007, the children were adjudicated to be
in that they have received inappropriate care
and have been forced to live in an injurious
environment where the parents and third
parties used crack cocaine and engage[d] in
multiple sex acts between unmarried persons in
the home occupied by the children and where
the children were exposed to the fumes of the
crack cocaine when it was being smoked.
On 9 May 2007, the trial court entered its disposition order.
The court noted that the guardian ad litem
had recommended that
respondents undergo psychological evaluation for the purpose of
diagnosing long term issues and ensuring that the underlying
maladies that gave rise to the substance abuse and sexual behavior
in the [respondents'] household are properly addressed. The trial
court concurred, stating that it does not know why [respondents]
engaged in the significant and disturbing behavior and it was
essential that answers be found and an appropriate treatment
plan be implemented in order to reunite the children with
respondents. The court further stated that until it received the
psychological evaluations it could not develop a visitation plan
that would be in the children's best interests. Accordingly, the
trial court, inter alia
, suspended visitation and ordered
respondents to have psychological evaluations. Respondents appeal.
II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Respondent-mother argues that the trial court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction. We disagree. [W]hether a trial court has
subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, which is
reviewable on appeal de novo
. Ales v. T.A. Loving Co.
, 163 N.C.
App. 350, 352, 593 S.E.2d 453, 455 (2004).
The court has exclusive, original jurisdiction over any case
involving a juvenile who is alleged to be abused, neglected, or
dependent. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-200(a) (2005). The court shall
have jurisdiction over the parent or guardian of a juvenile who has
been adjudicated abused, neglected, or dependent, as provided by
G.S. 7B-904, provided the parent or guardian has been properly
served with summons pursuant to G.S. 7B-406. N.C. Gen. Stat. §
7B-200(b) (2005). In juvenile proceedings, verified pleadings are
necessary to invoke the jurisdiction of the court over the subject
matter. In re A.J.H-R
., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 645 S.E.2d 791,
In the present case, respondent-mother does not dispute that
she was properly served with summons or that the petition was
properly signed and verified. Respondent-mother argues that DSS
lacked standing, and thus the trial court lacked jurisdiction.
Specifically, respondent-mother claims that DSS forced her to place
W.G. with the maternal grandmother. Therefore, respondent-mother
contends that because the placement was involuntary, DSS was
required to obtain a non-secure custody order in order to have
standing to bring the action. We are not persuaded. There is no evidence in the record to support respondent-
mother's claim that W.G.'s placement was involuntary. Furthermore,
there is no statutory requirement that DSS obtain custody, non-
secure or otherwise, in order to file a petition alleging neglect,
abuse or dependency. Cf.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1103(a)(3) (2005)
(requiring DSS to have custody in order to have standing to file
petition to terminate parental rights). Moreover, there is no
statutory authority divesting the trial court of its exclusive,
original jurisdiction where DSS fails to obtain a non-secure
custody order. See
N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 7B-200(a), -201(a) (2005)
(providing for continuing jurisdiction over the juvenile until
terminated by court order or until juvenile reaches age 18 or is
emancipated). Accordingly, respondent-mother's assignment of error
III. Psychological Evaluation
Respondent-father argues that the trial court erred by
ordering him to submit to a psychological evaluation. Respondent-
father asserts that the trial court is limited to ordering
treatment that is directed toward remediating or remedying
behaviors or conditions that led to or contributed to the
juvenile's adjudication or to the court's decision to remove
custody of the juvenile from the parent . . . . N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 7B-904(c) (2005). Respondent-father contends that the issues
here included drug abuse, domestic violence, and anger management.
He claims he was addressing those issues by attending counseling,
undergoing drug screens, and attending Narcotics Anonymous.Respondent-father argues the trial court exceeded its authority
granted by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-904(c) because he was already
enrolled in adequate treatment aimed at remedying his behavior, and
the psychological evaluation would not likely result in any further
corrective action not already being taken. After careful review of
the record and contentions of respondent-father, we disagree. We
review the trial court's order requiring respondent-father to
undergo psychological evaluation under an abuse of discretion
standard. In re A.S.
, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 640 S.E.2d 817, 821
, No. 140A07, 2007 WL 3313176 (N.C. Nov. 9, 2007).
Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. §7B-904(c), the trial court in its
[a]t the dispositional hearing or a subsequent
hearing . . . may determine whether the best
interests of the juvenile require that the
parent . . . undergo psychiatric,
psychological, or other treatment or
counseling directed toward remediating or
remedying behaviors or conditions that led to
or contributed to the juvenile's adjudication
or the court's decision to remove custody of
the juvenile from the parent . . . . If the
court finds that the best interests of the
juvenile require the parent . . . [to] undergo
treatment, it may order that individual to
comply with a plan of treatment approved by
the court or condition legal custody or
physical placement of the juvenile with the
parent . . . upon [the parent's] compliance
with the plan of treatment.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-904(c); see also In re A.S.
at ___, 640 S.E.2d
In adjudicating the children to be neglected by respondents,
the trial court made findings of fact, to which respondents did not
assign error, that respondents abused crack cocaine while thechildren were in the home, exposing them to the fumes, and
exchanged money or crack cocaine with third parties in
consideration for sexual favors with the third party, said favors
being performed on the third party by [respondent-mother].
Respondents were concerned that the children would walk in on
persons using crack or having sex in the living room of their home
and tied the doors to the children's rooms shut.
In the dispositional order, the trial court found as fact that
both children exhibited behaviors which caused concern. Based on
these findings, the trial court determined that a psychological
evaluation would help diagnose long term issues that led to
respondents' acts necessitating the removal of the children from
the home. Additionally, the trial court indicated that an
evaluation was necessary to develop a visitation plan and ensure
the children's safety. Thus, in the children's best interests
the trial court ordered respondents to undergo psychological
evaluation. We hold that the trial court's findings support its
order for evaluation and treatment as being in the best interests
of the juveniles and were remedial in nature. We discern no abuse
of discretion in the trial court ordering respondent-father to
undergo psychological evaluation. Accordingly, this assignment of
error is overruled.
We conclude that DSS did have standing to bring this action
and the trial court did have the necessary subject matter
jurisdiction. On the merits, we conclude that the trial court didnot abuse its discretion in requiring respondents to undergo
psychological evaluation. Therefore, we affirm the order of the
Judges WYNN and ELMORE concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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