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In re Adoption of L-MHB

Supreme Court of Wyoming

December 7, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF L-MHB, a minor child:
v.
STATE OF WYOMING, DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, Appellee (Respondent). TC and GC, Appellants (Petitioners),

          Appeal from the District Court of Laramie County The Honorable Thomas T.C. Campbell, Judge

          Representing Appellants: Sean W. Scoggin, McKellar, Tiedeken & Scoggin, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

          Representing Appellee: Peter K. Michael, Wyoming Attorney General; Misha Westby, Deputy Attorney General; Jill E. Kucera, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Wendy S. Ross, Senior Assistant Attorney General. Argument by Ms. Ross.

          Before DAVIS, C.J., and BURKE [*] , FOX, KAUTZ, and BOOMGAARDEN, JJ.

          FOX, JUSTICE.

         [¶1] TC and GC, husband and wife, are the former foster parents of L-MHB. The district court dismissed their petition to adopt L-MHB because it did not comply with the adoption statutes. We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶2] We rephrase the dispositive issues as:

1. Does the court lack jurisdiction over the adoption petition because:
A. Petitioners filed the adoption petition without the consents and relinquishments required by statute?
B. The child did not reside in the petitioners' home at the time they filed the petition for adoption?

         2. Does the failure to comply with the adoption statutes warrant dismissal of an adoption petition for failure to state a claim because:

A. Petitioners filed the adoption petition without the consents and relinquishments required by statute?
B. The child did not reside in the petitioners' home at the time they filed the petition for adoption?

         FACTS

         [¶3] DFS filed a neglect petition against L-MHB's mother soon after L-MHB's birth, took legal custody of the child, and placed her with TC and GC, who remained her foster parents from April 18, 2014 to September 25, 2015. Almost a year after L-MHB had been removed from their home, TC and GC filed a petition in district court to adopt her. Of the five categories of documents which "shall be filed with every petition to adopt a child," Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-22-104(c) (LexisNexis 2018 Supp.), TC and GC filed only their affidavits, stating that neither of them suffered from mental disorders, had a criminal history, or were on probation or parole. They did not file a written consent from the mother, a proof of relinquishment from DFS, a medical report for L-MHB, or an affidavit regarding persons awarded visitation rights.

         [¶4] DFS filed an answer and motion to dismiss the petition. DFS argued that the district court could not grant the petition because DFS did not relinquish custody of L-MHB, L-MHB did not live with TC and GC when they filed the petition, and TC and GC did not file the required medical report for L-MHB. Soon after, the mother filed her answer to the petition. She asserted that she was willing to sign a consent to the adoption, but only if TC and GC were the "adoptive family." TC and GC argued that they only needed the mother's consent to the adoption because her parental rights had not been terminated, and thus, she retained the right to consent to the adoption pursuant to her residual parental rights under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 14-3-402.

         [¶5] The district court granted DFS's motion to dismiss, agreeing with DFS that without its relinquishment TC and GC could not adopt L-MHB, and that TC and GC lacked standing because L-MHB did not reside with TC and GC when they filed their petition. Finally, the court agreed that the petition was not in "substantial compliance with the statute" because TC and GC failed to file a medical report for L-MHB with their petition. This appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         [¶6] We review whether a court has jurisdiction over a case de novo. Essex Holding, LLC v. Basic Properties, Inc., 2018 WY 111, ¶ 28, 427 P.3d 708, 716 (Wyo. 2018). We also review a district court's decision to grant a motion to dismiss de novo. Tuttle v. Lee, 2018 WY 104, ¶ 8, 425 P.3d 998, 1000 (Wyo. 2018). We accept all facts alleged in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. We will affirm "when the complaint shows on its face that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Id. (citation omitted). Finally, this case requires that we interpret the adoption statutes. Issues of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. Kite v. State, 2018 WY 94, ¶ 20, 424 P.3d 255, 262 (Wyo. 2018).

         DISCUSSION

         [¶7] DFS contends that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the petition, and thus, this Court also lacks jurisdiction. Alternatively, DFS asserts that, even if the district court had jurisdiction to hear the petition, it still correctly dismissed the petition because TC and GC failed to substantially comply with the adoption statutes. Although TC and GC's failure to comply with the statutory requirements is fatal to their adoption petition, it does not defeat jurisdiction.

         I. The district court had jurisdiction over the adoption petition

         [¶8] DFS contends that the district court lacked jurisdiction because of TC and GC's failure to file the required consents and relinquishments with their petition, and because of TC and GC's lack of standing under the adoption statutes.

         A.Petitioners' failure to attach the consents and relinquishments required bystatute did not deprive ...


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