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In re Adoption of J.T.D.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 12, 2014

IN RE THE ADOPTION OF: J.T.D. & J.S. (MINOR CHILDREN), CHILDREN TO BE ADOPTED AND N.E. (PROSPECTIVE ADOPTIVE PARENT), Appellant-Respondent,
v.
INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES, Appellee-Petitioner

APPEAL FROM THE LAKE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Calvin D. Hawkins, Judge. Cause No. 45D02-1306-AD-1, Cause No. 45D02-1306-AD-2.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: GREGORY F. ZOELLER, Attorney General of Indiana, ROBERT J. HENKE, DAVID E. COREY, Deputies Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: LARRY D. STASSIN, Layer, Tanzillo, Stasson & Babcock, P.C., Dyer, Indiana.

MATHIAS, Judge. BRADFORD, J., and PYLE, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 787

MATHIAS, Judge.

This appeal involves a jurisdictional issue arising from the Lake County Courts. The minor children at issue are wards of the Department of Child Services (" DCS" ) and proceedings are pending in Lake County Juvenile Court for the involuntary termination of parental rights regarding the children. N.E., the children's former foster parent, attempted to intervene in those proceedings, but her petition was denied. Thereafter, N.E. filed a petition to adopt the children in Lake County Superior Court. DCS sought to intervene in the adoption proceedings, or in the alternative, requested that N.E.'s petition to adopt be transferred to the Juvenile Court. The Lake County Superior Court denied the DCS's motions. The DCS appeals and argues that the Lake County Superior Court was required to transfer N.E.'s adoption petition to the Juvenile Court pursuant to the Lake County Case Allocation Plan.

However, pursuant to statute, the Civil Division of the Lake County Court System, which includes the Lake Superior Court, has exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate adoption petitions and therefore, we affirm, concluding that the Lake Superior Court properly denied DCS's motion to transfer.

Facts and Procedural History

DCS removed J.T.D., born on March 21, 2011, and J.S., born on September 1, 2012, from their biological Mother at birth because they were born drug positive. The Lake County Juvenile Court determined that the children were Children In Need of Services (" CHINS" ). Biological Mother's and Father's parental rights to J.T.D. were terminated on November 8, 2012. And on or about April 26, 2013, the DCS filed a petition to terminate Mother's parental

Page 788

rights to J.S. The underlying CHINS adjudication remains in effect.

J.T.D. and J.S. were placed in foster care with N.E., their Mother's cousin, and N.E. desired to adopt the children. However, on March 25, 2013, the DCS filed in the Juvenile Court a request for change of placement because N.E. had created a website, which contained a picture of one of the two children and disclosed confidential information concerning the children. The purpose of the website was to assist N.E. in raising funds to supplement her income because there were periods of time she could not work due to one child's medical needs. The Juvenile Court granted the DCS's request for change of placement and the children were removed from N.E.'s care.

On April 25, 2013, N.E. filed in the Juvenile Court a motion to intervene, which stated that she intended to pursue adoption of the children. After a hearing was held, N.E.'s motion to intervene was denied.

Shortly thereafter, on June 3, 2013, N.E. filed in Lake Superior Court petitions to adopt J.T.D. and J.S. On June 12, 2013, in the Juvenile Court, N.E. filed a motion to reconsider the denial of her motion to intervene in the CHINS proceedings. The Juvenile Court denied the motion to reconsider and specifically found that the issue had already been addressed and the motion was not made in good faith because N.E. had filed petitions to adopt the children in Lake Superior Court.

On June 20, 2013, the DCS filed in Lake Superior Court motions to intervene in the adoption proceedings and motions to transfer the adoption proceedings to the Juvenile Court. The Court Appointed Special Advocate (" CASA" ) also filed similar motions. Both the DCS and the CASA argued that pursuant to the Lake County Caseload Allocation Plan approved by the Indiana Supreme Court, all adoptions of minors must be filed in the Juvenile Court. The DCS and the CASA also argued that N.E.'s petitions to adopt the children were an improper collateral attack on the Juvenile Court's decision that it was not in the children's best interests to be placed in N.E.'s care.

A hearing was held on the motions on July 11, 2013. At the hearing, N.E. argued that pursuant to statute, the Lake Superior Court has probate jurisdiction, which includes exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate adoption petitions, and the local rule does not supersede the statute. The Superior Court agreed with N.E. and denied the DCS's and the CASA's motions to intervene and transfer. The court ...


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