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In re Adoption of B.H.

Court of Appeals of Utah

June 13, 2019

In the matter of the adoption of B.H., a person under eighteen years of age.
v.
C.S., Appellant. P.H. and A.D., Appellees,

          Third District Court, Salt Lake Department The Honorable Robert P. Faust No. 162900039

          Julie J. Nelson, Alexandra Mareschal, and Lisa Lokken, Attorneys for Appellant

          Jessica S. Couser and Benjamin K. Lusty, Attorneys for Appellees

          Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen Forster and Kate Appleby concurred.

          MORTENSEN, JUDGE

         ¶1 Although M.S. (Mother) and C.S. (Father) had been married since 2008, Mother claimed that a man other than Father (Purported Father) was the biological parent of B.H. (Child), who was born in Montana in early 2016. Within one week of Child's birth, Mother voluntarily relinquished her parental rights and Child was placed into the custody of P.H. and A.D (Adoptive Parents), who resided in Utah. Adoptive Parents filed a petition for adoption in the State of Utah. Father was served notice of the adoption proceedings and he intervened in the action. After a bench trial, the district court terminated Father's parental rights and finalized the adoption. On appeal, Father argues that (1) the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to terminate his parental rights and (2) the district court erred in finalizing the adoption because the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)[1] request form, filled out by Mother, was materially deficient in that it listed Purported Father, rather than Father, as the parent of Child. We conclude that the district court had jurisdiction, but set aside the adoption decree and remand for additional findings and conclusions on compliance with the ICPC.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 Child was born in Montana on January 30, 2016. Less than one week after Child's birth, Mother and Purported Father voluntarily relinquished their parental rights and consented to place Child for adoption with Adoptive Parents, who resided in Utah. Child was discharged from the hospital and placed into the custody of Adoptive Parents on February 5, 2016. Adoptive Parents remained in Montana until an ICPC request form 100A, listing Mother and Purported Father as Child's parents, was approved by all the required ICPC administrators on February 9, 2016.[2] The record indicates that Adoptive Parents transported Child to Utah the next day, on February 10, 2016.

         ¶3 Adoptive Parents initiated adoption proceedings by filing a petition (Adoption Petition) on January 26, 2016. On February 10, 2016, Adoptive Parents filed a Motion for Temporary Custody of Child and indicated that they had "recently learned that [Mother] is still technically married to [Father]" and Adoptive Parents were "working on determining paternity and/or providing notice to address any legal interests [of Father]." The district court granted temporary custody of Child to Adoptive Parents the next day (Temporary Custody Order).

         ¶4 On February 22, 2016, Adoptive Parents sent notice of the adoption proceedings to Father. Father intervened two weeks later.

         ¶5 Meanwhile, Father filed for divorce from Mother in Montana on March 14, 2016. As part of the divorce, the Montana court ordered genetic testing of Father and Child, which determined that Father was Child's biological parent.

         ¶6 On June 29, 2016, Adoptive Parents petitioned the district court-in the adoption proceedings-to terminate Father's parental rights (Termination Petition). The district court held a bench trial on the Termination Petition on July 31, 2017. After the trial, but before ruling on Father's parental rights, the district court ordered the parties to file a memorandum addressing whether the court had jurisdiction to terminate Father's parental rights. The district court concluded that it had jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78B-6-105, terminated Father's parental rights, and finalized the adoption.

         ¶7 Father appeals.

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶8 Father raises two issues. First, he contends that the district court erred in concluding that it had jurisdiction to terminate his parental rights. Issues concerning jurisdiction are reviewed for correctness and we grant no deference to the district court's conclusion. State v. Wynn, 2017 UT App 211, ¶ 11, 407 P.3d 1113; see also State v. Nicholls, 2006 UT 76, ¶ 3, 148 P.3d 990; In re A.J.B., 2017 UT App 237, ¶ 12, 414 P.3d 552.

         ¶9 Second, Father contends that the district court erred in finalizing the adoption, because the ICPC was not complied with. "'The proper interpretation and application of a statute is a question of law which we review for correctness . . . .'" In re P.F.B., 2008 UT App 271, ¶ 10, 191 P.3d 49 (omission in ...


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