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State ex rel. M.L.

Court of Appeals of Utah

March 30, 2017

STATE OF UTAH, IN THE INTEREST OF M.L., A PERSON UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE.
v.
The Honorable Suchada P. Bazzelle, Respondent. State of Utah, Division of Child and Family Services, Petitioner,

         Original Proceeding in this Court

          Sean D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys for Petitioner

          Brent M. Johnson, Attorney for Respondent

          Martha Pierce and Dixie A. Jackson, Guardians ad Litem

          Caleb Proulx, Attorney for J.V.

          Judge Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.

          OPINION

          TOOMEY, Judge

         ¶1 This matter originated in a child neglect proceeding in the course of which M.L.'s putative father petitioned to establish paternity. The paternity issue had not been resolved when the juvenile court terminated the parental rights of M.L.'s mother, and the court continued with adjudicating the putative father's petition. The State of Utah, through the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS), petitions this court for extraordinary relief, arguing the juvenile court exceeded its subject matter jurisdiction when it granted the putative father's petition, and asking us to vacate its adjudication of parentage. We deny the State's petition.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 On May 13, 2015, the State filed a petition in juvenile court seeking custody of M.L., who was born in July 2014, and a determination that she was a neglected child. The State's petition identified J.V. as M.L.'s putative father. The next day, the court held a shelter hearing in which it approved the removal of M.L. from the house of her mother (Mother) and her placement in the temporary custody of DCFS. J.V. was present for this hearing. The Court invited J.V. to the counsel table and advised him that he would need to establish paternity. The court added that it "[would] not make a finding as to the alleged Father at this time until he establishes paternity."

         ¶3 Mother stipulated that M.L. was a neglected child, and the juvenile court conducted a disposition hearing in June 2015. It ordered reunification services for Mother and set reunification with M.L. as a goal, but with a concurrent plan for her adoption. J.V. was again present. The hearing minutes reflect that he "has tried to establish paternity" and "wants to request DNA testing" by the Office of Recovery Services. The juvenile court informed J.V. that "he needs to file a declaration of paternity, " and "[a]s soon as [he] establishes paternity, we can get him an attorney and start services."

         ¶4 At a permanency hearing in December 2015, the juvenile court changed M.L.'s permanency goal from reunification to adoption and directed the State to file a petition for termination of Mother's parental rights. Mother informed the court that she wanted to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights. J.V. attended this hearing and told the court he was working to establish paternity but had not yet done so.

         ¶5 On December 31, 2015, before Mother's parental rights were terminated, J.V., having obtained counsel, petitioned the juvenile court for custody of M.L. and an adjudication of paternity. He also filed a motion to intervene in the child welfare case.

         ¶6 During a January 2016 hearing scheduled for another purpose, the juvenile court accepted Mother's voluntary relinquishment of parental rights.[1] J.V.'s counsel noted that J.V. expected to be heard at a subsequent hearing, which had already been set, and stated that ...


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