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In re Adoption of I.B.

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 11, 2015

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF MINOR CHILDREN: I.B. AND W.B.:
v.
B.C. AND J.L., Appellees (Adoptive Parents/Petitioners), AND INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES, Co-Appellee (Wardship of I.B. and W.B.) B.B., Appellant (Cross-Petitioner/Intervenor),

Appeal from the Vanderburgh Superior Court, Nos. 82D07-1302-AD-22 and 82D07-1302-AD-23. The Honorable René e Allen Ferguson, Magistrate, The Honorable Brett J. Niemeier, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 82A05-1402-AD-65.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Steven E. Ripstra, Melissa Jo Haley, Ripstra Law Office, Jasper, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Robert J. Henke, Christina D. Pace, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES B.C. AND J.L.: Julie Fox, Matthew W. Lutz, Fox & Lutz, LLC, Evansville, Indiana.

Rush, Chief Justice. Dickson, Rucker, David, and Massa, JJ., concur.

OPINION

Page 1165

Rush, Chief Justice.

After I.B. and W.B. were removed from their parents, both grandmothers petitioned to adopt them. The trial court permitted the maternal grandmother and her fiancé to adopt the children--even though the maternal grandmother has a prior felony conviction that statutorily disqualifies her from adopting--and the paternal grandmother appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding the statu-tory disqualification unconstitutional as applied because it created an " irrebuttable presumption" that blocked consideration of the children's best interests.

We disagree with that analysis. The United States Supreme Court has left its " irrebuttable presumption" cases lying dormant for several decades. And under its more recent " classification" analysis, the statute's regrettable consequences under the facts of this case establish no as-applied constitutional violation. We therefore reverse the trial court and remand to reconsider both adoption petitions to the extent they are statutorily permissible, receiving supplemental evidence if it chooses.

Facts and Procedural History

In May of 2011, toddler W.B. and newborn I.B.--and also their early adolescent half-brothers J.C. and G.C.--were removed from their home because I.B. tested positive at birth for marijuana and the mother tested positive for methamphetamine. I.B. also has extensive special medical needs, including cerebral palsy and a gastrostomy tube (" G-tube" ), and was hospitalized for the first six months of his life. All four were eventually adjudicated to be children in need of services (CHINS).

From May until October of 2011, the three oldest children were placed in the home of their maternal grandmother, B.C. (" Maternal Grandmother" ), and her fiancé, J.L. (" Fiancé " ), while I.B. stayed in the

Page 1166

hospital. But then Maternal Grandmother and Fiancé tested positive for marijuana and were initially uncooperative with services, so W.B. was briefly placed with his paternal grandmother, Appellant B.B. (" Paternal Grandmother" ). Around Thanksgiving 2011, I.B. was released from the hospital, and all four children were returned to their mother and W.T.B. (W.B. and I.B.'s father) for a trial home visit. But the trial home visit failed, and ...


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