In spring 1975, after a hearing in district court, Abby Gail Lassiter’s (plaintiff) son, William, was adjudicated a neglected child and removed from her care and placed with the Durham County Department of Social Services (Department) (defendant). One year later, Lassiter was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison. In 1978, the Department petitioned to remove Lassiter’s parental rights. The evidence presented at trial suggested that Lassiter was not fit to raise the child, and that Lassiter’s mother, Lucille, was unable to take on the additional responsibility of parenting him. The court held that Lassiter’s parental rights should be terminated, and she appealed, arguing that her Due Process rights had been violated, because she was indigent and the judge had not appointed counsel to represent her at the hearing. The North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed, arguing that deprivation was not so great that appointment of counsel for indigents would be constitutionally required. The Supreme Court of North Carolina also affirmed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.