A. Elizabeth Burr-Jones, Burley, argued for appellant.
Lisa M. Schoettger, Nicholson Migliuri & Rodriguez PLLC, Twin Falls, argued for respondent.
This is an appeal from a judgment dismissing a petition filed by the maternal grandmother of a child born out of wedlock in which the grandmother sought to terminate the parental rights of the biological father and to adopt the child. After the magistrate court entered an order granting the petition, the biological father intervened and successfully moved to set aside the order. The grandmother's petition was ultimately dismissed, and she appealed. We affirm the judgment of the magistrate court.
In August 2012, a child was born out of wedlock to Mother and Father. Father was present at the child's birth, but he declined to sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity while at the hospital because he was not absolutely certain that he was the child's biological father. Shortly after the birth, he began working out of state for two months. During that time, he maintained contact with Mother, and they discussed custody and support of the child. Mother sent him pictures of the child, and upon his return to the state she allowed him to see the child. Father arranged for paternity testing, which established on November 6, 2012, that he was the child's father. He told Mother that he wanted to share custody of the child and offered to help pay for Mother's medical expenses related to the birth. During their communications, Father expressed his desire to spend more time with the child. Mother agreed to meet with him on December 12, 2012, to discuss his visitation with the child.
On December 10, 2012, the maternal grandmother (Grandmother) of the child filed a petition seeking to terminate Father's parental rights and to adopt the child. Grandmother knew the identity of Father, but did not name him in the petition. Grandmother also filed with the petition a consent to adoption signed by Mother and an agreement to adopt the child signed by Grandmother.
On December 11, 2012, Grandmother had a summons issued directed to Mother. On the same day, Grandmother filed a notice of hearing, setting the petition for hearing at 4:00 p.m. later that day. Prior to the hearing, Grandmother filed an acceptance of service signed by Mother. The hearing commenced at 4:08 p.m. During the hearing, Mother again signed a consent to the adoption, and Grandmother again signed an agreement to adopt the child. Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the magistrate court issued an order terminating Father's parental rights and granting Grandmother's petition for adoption. The order was filed with the clerk of the court four minutes after the hearing began. The next day, Mother informed Father by text message their meeting was cancelled, and later that day she informed him by text message that he could not visit the child.
On December 20, 2012, Mother informed Father by text message that she thought it best if he was absent from the child's life. Earlier on that same day, Father filed a paternity action against Mother seeking a judgment of filiation establishing that he is the father of the child, a determination of custody, and the establishment of child support. The following day, Father learned of the order terminating his parental rights. On January 9, 2013, he filed an affidavit with the state declaring that he was the child's father, and on January 11, 2013, he filed a motion to set aside the order granting the petition to terminate his parental rights and to have the child adopted by Grandmother.
After briefing and argument, the magistrate court on April 24, 2013, entered a decision and order granting Father's motion. A final judgment was ultimately entered on August 9, 2013, and Grandmother timely appealed from that judgment.
Did Father Lack Standing to Challenge the Order Granting Grandmother's Petition?
Grandmother contends that Father did not have standing to challenge the order granting Grandmother's petition to terminate Father's parental rights and to grant Grandmother's petition to adopt the child. Grandmother argues that Father lacked standing because he had lost his parental rights under Idaho Code section 16-1513. She also argues that he failed to establish his parental rights to the child.
" The doctrine of standing focuses on the party seeking relief and not on the issues the party wished to have adjudicated." Doe v. Roe, 142 Idaho 202, 204, 127 P.3d 105, 107 (2005). " When an issue of standing is raised, the focus is not on the merits of the issues raised, but upon the party who is seeking the relief." Scona, Inc. v. Green Willow Trust, 133 Idaho 283, 288, 985 P.2d 1145, 1150 (1999). " Indeed, a party can have standing to bring an action, but then lose on the merits." Bagley v. Thomason, 149 Idaho 806, 808, 241 P.3d 979, 981 (2010). Whether or not Father has lost his parental rights is irrelevant to the issue of his standing.
In her petition, Grandmother alleged that the child " was born to the Respondents, [Mother] and PUTATIVE FATHER." The relief she sought included " an Order terminating the parental rights of PUTATIVE FATHER." " The underlying premise in a parental rights termination action ... is that the defendant parent has some parental right to his or her child, which should be terminated." Doe, 142 Idaho at 204, 127 P.3d at 107. It is undisputed that Father was the putative father to whom Grandmother referred in her petition. Although she did not name Father in the petition or attempt to serve him, she knew who he was. He is in the position of a defendant because Grandmother was attempting to terminate his parental rights. A defendant obviously has standing to litigate ...