STATE OF UTAH, IN THE INTEREST OF M.L., A PERSON UNDER EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE.
The Honorable Suchada P. Bazzelle, Respondent. State of Utah, Division of Child and Family Services, Petitioner,
Proceeding in this Court
D. Reyes, Carol L.C. Verdoia, and John M. Peterson, Attorneys
M. Johnson, Attorney for Respondent
Pierce and Dixie A. Jackson, Guardians ad Litem
Proulx, Attorney for J.V.
Kate A. Toomey authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory
K. Orme and David N. Mortensen concurred.
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.
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."
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."
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
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
During a January 2016 hearing scheduled for another purpose,
the juvenile court accepted Mother's voluntary
relinquishment of parental rights. J.V.'s counsel noted that J.V.
expected to be heard at a subsequent hearing, which had
already been set, and stated that ...