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In re Guardianship of MKH

Supreme Court of Wyoming

October 27, 2016

IN THE MATTER OF THE GUARDIANSHIP OF MKH, Minor Child.
v.
AARON HUFFER, Appellee (Petitioner). BRENDA CLARK, Appellant (Respondent),

          Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Catherine R. Rogers, Judge.

          Representing Appellant: Rhonda S. Woodard of Wolf, Tiedeken & Woodard, PC; and Susan Feinman, Law Office of Susan L Feinman, Cheyenne, WY. Argument by Ms. Woodard.

          Representing Appellee: Bernard Q. Phelan, Cheyenne, WY.

          Before BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, JJ.

          HILL, Justice

         [¶1] Brenda Clark, the grandmother and court-appointed guardian of MKH, appeals a district court decision vacating her 2005 and 2006 guardianship appointments. The district court declared the guardianship orders void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the original order appointed Ms. Clark guardian of MKH before the child was born. We reverse.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] Ms. Clark states the issues on appeal as follows:

1. In March 2005, did the district court have subject matter jurisdiction to enter the Order Appointing Guardian for an unborn child who was due to be born within a few weeks?
2. If the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction when the Order Appointing Guardian was entered, is the 2006 Order Extending Guardianship, which was entered after the birth of MKH, in effect?

         FACTS

         [¶3] On February 23, 2005, Brenda Clark filed a Petition for Appointment of Guardian in the district court for Laramie County. The petition requested that the court appoint Ms. Clark to be the guardian of her unborn granddaughter "from the time the proposed ward is born until further order of the Court." In support of the request, the petition recited, in part:

1. The proposed ward, [Baby H], will be born sometime during the next six weeks and will be a minor under the laws of this State.
2. The proposed ward cannot reside with his or her natural mother, Stephanie L. Urbigkit, as she is incarcerated at Laramie County Detention Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Stephanie L. Urbigkit's consent to the appointment of the Petitioner as guardian of the proposed ward will be filed herein.
3. The proposed ward cannot reside with his or her natural father, Aaron J. Huffer, [home address omitted], as he is unable and unwilling to assume the responsibility of caring for a newborn child. Aaron J. Huffer's consent to the appointment of the Petitioner as guardian of the proposed ward will be filed herein.
4. The Petitioner is Stephanie L. Urbigkit's mother and will be the maternal grandmother of the proposed ward. The Petitioner resides at [street address omitted], Cheyenne, Wyoming.

         [¶4] On the same date the guardianship petition was filed, Aaron J. Huffer (hereinafter Father) and Stephanie L. Urbigkit (hereinafter Mother) each filed a Consent to Appointment of Guardian. Father's consent stated, "I hereby consent to the appointment of the baby's maternal grandmother, Brenda K. Clark, as guardian of the person of the proposed ward from the time he or she is born until further order of the Court." Mother's consent similarly stated, "I hereby consent to the appointment of my mother, Brenda K. Clark, as guardian of the person of the proposed ward from the time he or she is born until further order of the Court."

         [¶5] On March 2, 2005, the district court, the Hon. Dan Spangler presiding, entered an Order Appointing Guardian. The order recited the following findings:

1. [Baby H] will be born to Stephanie L. Urbigkit sometime during the next six weeks.
2. Stephanie L. Urbigkit is a resident of Laramie County, Wyoming and, at the time of his or her birth, [Baby H] will also be a resident of Laramie County, Wyoming.
3. At the time of his or her birth, [Baby H] will be a minor under the laws of this State.
4. [Baby H] has no legally appointed guardian or conservator.
5. A guardian of the person should be appointed for [Baby H].
6. [Baby H's] natural mother, Stephanie L. Urbigkit, is currently incarcerated at the Laramie County Detention Center, Cheyenne, Wyoming. She has consented to having Brenda K. Clark, the Petitioner herein, appointed as guardian of the person of [Baby H] from the time [of] his or her birth. Said consent has been filed herein.
7. [Baby H's] natural father, Aaron J. Huffer, has also consented to having Brenda K. Clark, the Petitioner herein, appointed as guardian of the person of [Baby H]. Said consent has been filed herein.
8. Brenda K. Clark is a fit and proper person to serve as guardian of the person of [Baby H].

          [¶6] Following the recitation of findings relating to the need for a guardian, the Order Appointing Guardian directed that: "Brenda K. Clark be, and she hereby is, appointed guardian of the person of [Baby H]." On the same day the Order Appointing Guardian was entered, the district court also entered a supplemental order detailing the guardian's reporting obligations and the types of duties assumed by the guardian with her appointment.

         [¶7] In 2005, Baby H was born and given the name MKH. On June 6, 2005, Father's aunt, Darlene Trejo-Caine, filed a motion to set aside the order appointing Ms. Clark as guardian of MKH. Ms. Trejo-Caine alleged that she had been appointed as temporary guardian of MKH's siblings and that she was the more suitable ...


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