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State ex rel. R.M. v. State

Court of Appeals of Utah

July 7, 2017

State of Utah, in the interest of R.M. and S.R., persons under eighteen years of age.
State of Utah, Appellee. A.R., Appellant,

         Third District Juvenile Court, West Jordan Department The Honorable Tupakk A.G. Renteria No. 1130889

          W. Andrew McCullough, Attorney for Appellant

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

          Martha Pierce, Guardian ad Litem

          Larry S. Jenkins and Lance D. Rich, Attorneys for Intervenors M.M. and A.M.

          Before Judges Gregory K. Orme, J. Frederic Voros Jr., and David N. Mortensen.


          PER CURIAM.

         ¶1 A.R. (Maternal Grandmother) appeals the juvenile court's May 29, 2017 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order that dismissed her petition for adoption of R.M. and S.R. We affirm.

         ¶2 Maternal Grandmother raises two issues on appeal. First, she claims that the juvenile court erred in finding that she did not indicate her interest in being considered as an adoptive placement within 120 days of the shelter hearing. As a result of this finding, Maternal Grandmother was not entitled to a rebuttable presumption that it would be in the best interest of the children to allow her to adopt them. Second, she claims that it was not in the best interest of S.R. to remove the child from Maternal Grandmother's home and place her in another prospective adoptive home. In support, Maternal Grandmother states that she had a significant relationship with both children and was their primary caregiver "for long periods of time."

         ¶3 "[T]o overturn the juvenile court's decision, the result must be against the clear weight of the evidence or leave the appellate court with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made." In re B.R., 2007 UT 82, ¶ 12, 171 P.3d 435 (brackets, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted). "When a foundation for the court's decision exists in the evidence, an appellate court may not engage in a reweighing of the evidence." Id. When an appellant seeks to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a juvenile court's finding or conclusion, "the appellant must include in the record a transcript of all evidence relevant to" the challenged finding or conclusion. Utah R. App. P. 54(b). Absent an adequate record on appeal, this court cannot address the issues raised and must "assume the regularity of the proceedings below." In re K.L.S., 2015 UT App 51, ¶ 5, 345 P.3d 1281 (per curiam) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Because Maternal Grandmother did not provide a transcript to support her claims, this court "must assume that the findings and conclusions are supported by sufficient evidence." See id. We review questions of statutory interpretation for correctness. See In re C.C., 2013 UT 26, ¶ 12, 301 P.3d 1000.

         ¶4 The State commenced a child welfare case regarding S.R. and R.M. in June 2015. Around the time of the petition's filing, S.R. and her mother lived with Maternal Grandmother, and R.M. and her father lived with her paternal grandmother. Paternity has not been established for S.R. On July 15, 2015, the juvenile court held a shelter hearing, which resulted in the children being placed in the temporary custody and guardianship of the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). The children were allowed to remain in their respective homes. Following an August 26, 2015 adjudication of the children as neglected or abused children within juvenile court jurisdiction, the court set a permanency goal of reunification with the parents with a concurrent goal of adoption. On October 14, 2015, the juvenile court terminated reunification services and changed the permanency goal to adoption. With regard to that hearing, the juvenile court found, "The grandmothers were present in the courtroom and the court instructed both . . . grandmothers to complete the appropriate paperwork and home-study requirements if they desired to be considered as an option for adoptive placement for the children." On May 13, 2016, both parents relinquished their parental rights. The juvenile court received three competing adoption petitions, including Maternal Grandmother's June 2, 2016 petition. The juvenile court held a hearing on each petition before granting the adoption petition of M.M. and A.M., the paternal great aunt and great uncle of R.M., and dismissing the other petitions. The juvenile court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law on all three adoption petitions. We recite the findings and conclusions specifically relevant to the claims on appeal.[1]

         ¶5 The juvenile court found that it had not received a home study on Maternal Grandmother's home even though she "was instructed on October 14, 2015 to complete the appropriate paperwork and home study requirements if [she] wanted to be considered as an option for adoptive placement of the children." S.R. lived in Maternal Grandmother's home from the time of her birth in November 2012 until she was removed on February 1, 2016, and placed in the prospective adoptive home of M.M. and A.M. The other child, R.M., lived with Maternal Grandmother for some period of time, but the exact time was disputed. Only S.R. was removed from Maternal Grandmother's home on February 1, 2016. Maternal Grandmother was the only grandparent who had both children live with her and who was a caregiver for both children. The juvenile court found that Maternal Grandmother's claim that she had stated at the shelter hearing that she wanted to be considered as an adoptive placement was not supported by the audio recording of that hearing.

         ¶6 After the permanency goal changed to adoption in October 2015, R.M.'s maternal and paternal families each submitted the names of a couple from their side of the family. When the maternal and paternal families could not agree on one prospective placement, the names of both couples were submitted to the DCFS placement committee. The placement committee selected M.M. and A.M.-the couple proposed by the paternal family-as the prospective adoptive home supported for both R.M. and S.R. by DCFS. Only after DCFS decided to place both children with M.M. and A.M. did Maternal Grandmother advise DCFS that she wanted to be considered as an adoptive placement. Maternal Grandmother believed that since she was the only petitioner biologically related to both children, she was a better placement than M.M. and A.M. At the time of the hearing on her petition, the State had issued Maternal Grandmother a foster license for two children, effective August 25, 2016. Maternal Grandmother presented testimony from family, former coworkers, and friends attesting to her suitability as an adoptive parent and her desire to adopt the children.

         ¶7 The juvenile court noted that Utah Code section 78B-6-133(9)(c) required the court to weigh the best interest of the children uniformly between petitioners if more than one petitioner satisfied a rebuttable presumption condition. See Utah Code Ann. ...

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