Family Court Made Sufficient Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law by Incorporating Oral Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law by Reference into Written Order – Published Opinion from Supreme Court of Ky.

Signature

Smith v. McCoy

Warren Circuit Court

Questions Presented: Domestic Violence. Protective Orders. Findings of Fact. Trial court made sufficient findings of fact in support of a domestic violence protective order where the judge made findings in writing on the order form and explicitly incorporated their clear oral factual findings.

After a hearing in a domestic violence proceeding, Family Court made oral factual findings and legal conclusions on the record. Concurrently, Family Court completed AOC Form 275.3, Order of Protection. It also completed a pre-typed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law form that it had made itself, which included blank spaces for the judge to write in the case number, parties’ names, and the date of the hearing. On the AOC form, under “Additional Findings,” Family Court checked a box indicating it also found “[f]or the Petitioner against the Respondent in that it was established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that an act(s) of sexual assault has occurred and may again occur.” The pre-typed form stated, in full:

“The matter came before the Court on May 19, 2020 for a hearing on Petitioner’s Petition for a Domestic Violence Order. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court announced its findings of fact and conclusions of law, which form the factual and legal basis of the Court’s Order. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the findings of fact and conclusions of law announced on the record as set forth hereinabove are expressly and specifically incorporated by reference herein as if written in full. Boone v. Boone, 463 S.W.3d 767, 768 (Ky. App. 2015); Kindred Nursing Centers, Ltd. Partnership v. Sloan, 329 S.W.3d 347, 349 (Ky. App. 2010). The Court shall set forth its decision in a separately entered Domestic Violence Order.”

The Court of Appeals held this did not meet the mandates of CR 52.01 requiring a trial court to make written factual findings. The Supreme Court disagreed. CR 52.01 requires the trial court to finds the facts specifically and state separately its conclusions of law thereon and render an appropriate judgment. Previously, the Court of Appeals has held that findings of fact and conclusions of law must be specifically incorporated into a written and properly entered order. Here, Family Court  made findings of fact and conclusions of law orally at the end of the hearing. It also fully and accurately completed AOC Form 275.3, finding, by a preponderance of the evidence, that acts of sexual abuse had occurred and may occur again. Finally, it entered a written order expressly and specifically incorporating its oral findings and conclusions into the written order. This was sufficient to engage in at least a good faith effort at fact-finding and that the found founds be included in a written order. The only “essential facts” the trial court is required to find are (1) whether an act of domestic violence and abuse, dating violence and abuse, stalking, or sexual assault has occurred, and (2) whether it may occur again. Family Court made both of these findings in writing on AOC Form 275.3. Any additional factual findings the trial court makes in issuing a protective order are merely supporting those ultimate factual findings and are not “essential.”

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon

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