IN THE INTEREST OF B. G., a child (two cases).
McFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.
McFadden, Presiding Judge.
related appeals arise from a dependency proceeding involving
B. G., who is now 15 years old. His aunt and uncle are his
legal custodians. In 2015, B. G. was removed from their
custody and adjudicated dependent based on allegations that
the aunt had physically abused him. In these related cases,
the uncle (in Case No. A17A1737) and the aunt (in Case No.
A17A1738) appeal from the juvenile court's order granting
a motion for nonreunification filed by the Gwinnett County
Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS). They both
argue that the evidence was insufficient to support the
juvenile court's ruling that reunification would be
detrimental to B. G. The nonreunification order, however,
does not set forth the juvenile court's findings of
facts, separate from the conclusions of law, in a manner that
would permit us to make an intelligent review of the merits
of the challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence.
Moreover, the order contains some factual misstatements and
it reflects that some of the grounds for the juvenile
court's decision are legally erroneous. We therefore
vacate the reunification order and remand both cases for
further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Inadequacy of findings of fact.
order entered following a hearing in a dependency proceeding
"[s]hall include findings of fact[.]" OCGA §
15-11-111 (b) (2). Such findings of fact "should be made
in accordance with OCGA § 9-11-52 (a), " In the
Interest of D. L. G., 212 Ga.App. 353 (1) (442 S.E.2d
11) (1994) (citations and punctuation omitted) (regarding
order in deprivation proceeding under former juvenile code),
which provides that a court must "find the facts
specially and . . . state separately its conclusions
of law." OCGA § 9-11-52 (a) (emphasis supplied).
Thus, "the facts must be found specially; and the
conclusions of law must be stated separately, regardless of
whether the order otherwise is sufficient for purposes of
review." Coley v. Coley, 169 Ga.App. 426, 428
(2) (313 S.E.2d 129) (1984) (citation and punctuation
omitted); see In the Interest of D. S., 212
Ga.App. 203, 204 (441 S.E.2d 412) (1994), overruled in part
on other grounds, In the Interest of J. P., 267 Ga.
492, 493 (480 S.E.2d 8) (1997).
juvenile court's nonreunification order does not comply
with these requirements. The first 18 pages of the order
amount to a recitation of what happened at the hearing on the
nonreunification hearing - the juvenile court states who was
present, identifies prior rulings that are incorporated into
the order, describes the exhibits admitted into evidence, and
then sets forth in detail the testimony of each hearing
witness. The juvenile court, however, does not indicate what
findings of fact he made from this hearing evidence, so these
first 18 pages of the order cannot be construed as the
juvenile court's findings of fact. The findings of fact
"are not intended to amount to a brief of the evidence,
" Coley, 169 Ga.App. at 428 (2), and "[a]
mere recitation of the events that took place at the trial
does not satisfy the requirements of OCGA § 9-11-52
(a)." In the Interest of J. B., 241 Ga.App.
679, 680 (1) (527 S.E.2d 275) (1999) (citation omitted);
In the Interest of D. L. G., 212 Ga.App. at 353 (1)
(citation and punctuation omitted).
the above-described recitation, the nonreunification order
states a ruling in which the juvenile court, among other
things, grants DFCS's nonreunification motion. The
juvenile court then proceeds to describe in the order the
reasoning for his ruling, but in doing so he intermingles
findings of fact and conclusions of law rather than stating
them separately as required by OCGA § 9-11-52 (a).
failure of the juvenile court to "find the facts
specially and . . . state separately its conclusions of law,
" OCGA § 9-11-52 (a), prevents us, in this case,
from making an intelligent review of the aunt's and
uncle's challenges to the sufficiency of the hearing
evidence. See generally In the Interest of D. S.,
212 Ga.App. at 204 ("The findings of fact required to be
recited in [dependency] cases . . . enable an appellate court
to more adequately and promptly review the judgment.")
(citations, punctuation, and emphasis omitted). Our Supreme
Court, in Hughes v. State, 296 Ga. 744, 746 (1) (770
S.E.2d 636) (2015), explained that where "the trial
court has made express findings of disputed facts . . . an
appellate court generally must limit its consideration of the
disputed facts to those expressly found by the trial
court." (citations and footnotes omitted). While
Hughes concerned a trial court ruling on a motion to
suppress, our Supreme Court has applied that decision's
rationale to other types of cases involving rulings made by
trial courts sitting as finders of fact, including a case
involving child custody. See Strickland v.
Strickland, 298 Ga. 630, 634 (1) n. 6 (783 S.E.2d 606)
(2016). But because the order in this case sets out all of
the evidence and then intermingles findings of facts and
conclusions of law, we cannot discern the scope of the
juvenile court's factual findings. It is not clear from
the order whether the juvenile court only found those facts
contained within the court's conclusions, or whether the
court's findings of fact include some or all of the facts
set forth in the detailed, 18-page synopsis of the evidence.
uncertain on this point, we must remand. See Hughes,
296 Ga. at 746 (1) n. 6 ("If the trial court has made
express findings of fact, but not with sufficient detail to
permit meaningful appellate review, an appellate court may
remand for further findings.") (citation omitted). See
also In the Interest of D. S., 212 Ga.App. at 205
("We have repeatedly said that we will not cull the
record to find error for an appellant; the same goes for
review of an order [in a dependency proceeding, ] which is
required by law to contain specific findings of
fact[.]"). We therefore vacate the nonreunification
ruling and remand these cases with direction that the
juvenile court prepare appropriate findings of fact and enter
a new judgment, after which another appeal may be made. See
In the Interest of J. B., 241 Ga.App. at 681 (1);
In the Interest of D. L. G., 212 Ga.App. at 353 (1).
Errors reflected in nonreunification order.
our decision to vacate the nonreunification order, we do not
examine the merits of the aunt's and uncle's
challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting that
order. See In the Interest of J. B., 241 Ga.App. at
681 (2); In the Interest of D. L. G., 212 Ga.App. at
354 (2). Nevertheless, we note that the order contains legal
errors and erroneous misstatements of fact that should be
corrected on remand, whether or not they would have amounted
to reversible error had the order otherwise complied with
OCGA § 9-11-52 (a). Compare In the Interest of A.
M., 306 Ga.App. 358, 364 (5) (702 S.E.2d 686) (2010)
(nonreunification ruling must be vacated where no evidence
supported one of juvenile court's findings and the
"erroneous finding was sufficient to have influenced the
[juvenile] court's decision to terminate reunification
efforts") with In the Interest of S. C. S., 336
Ga.App. 236, 246 (1) (b) (784 S.E.2d 83) (2016) (misstatement
in finding of fact in dependency order not reversible error
unless shown to be harmful). We address those errors below.
Procedural deficiencies pertaining to the uncle.
record reflects multiple procedural deficiencies in
connection with the initial adjudication of B. G. as
dependent as to the uncle. Although the state argues on
appeal that the uncle has not properly preserved his
arguments regarding these deficiencies, they affect the
juvenile court's nonreunification order in at least two
respects that we may address on appeal. First, and most
fundamentally, the order adjudicating B. G. dependent is void
as to the uncle because the uncle was denied his due process
right to counsel at the preliminary protective hearing that
resulted in that order. Second, given the procedural
deficiencies, the juvenile court erred in treating the
uncle's purported failure to timely assert his custodial
rights in B. G. as evidence supporting the nonreunification
Law and background pertaining to procedural deficiencies
in this case.
of B. G.'s legal custodians, the uncle was a party to the
dependency proceeding, see OCGA § 15-11-2 (52) (defining
"party" to include child's legal custodian),
and therefore had due process rights in connection with that
proceeding. As a party to a dependency proceeding, the uncle
also had "the right to an attorney at all stages of the
proceedings[, ]" OCGA § 15-11-103 (a), and he was
entitled to be "informed of his . . . right to an
attorney prior to any hearing." OCGA § 15-11-103
(g). He also had "the right to be present, to be heard,
to present evidence material to the proceedings, to
cross-examine witnesses, to examine pertinent court files and
records, and to appeal the orders of the court." OCGA