IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF JOHN DOE AND JOHN DOE I. JANE (2013-25) DOE, Petitioner-Appellant
2014 Opinion No. 12
Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Cathleen MacGregor-Irby, Magistrate Judge.
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
Mauk & Burgoyne, Boise, Nate Peterson Law PLLC, Boise, and Lisa Shultz, Boise, attorneys for appellant.
J. JONES, Justice. Chief Justice BURDICK, and Justices EISMANN and W. JONES CONCUR. HORTON, J., specially concurring.
[156 Idaho 346] J. JONES, Justice.
This appeal arises from the dismissal of a petition for adoption filed by Jane Doe, the long-time domestic partner of Jane Doe I. Jane Doe I is the legally recognized parent of the two children subject to the adoption: John Doe and John Doe I. The magistrate court dismissed Jane Doe's petition for adoption when there was no opposition to the petition, without inviting legal briefing, without notice to the affected parties, and without holding a hearing. Jane Doe filed a motion for reconsideration, but before a ruling on that motion was made, I.A.R. 12.2 compelled her to file a Notice of Appeal to this Court.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On August 30, 2013, Jane Doe filed a petition for adoption. She sought to adopt her long-time partner's two children, John Doe and John Doe I, as a second parent. Jane Doe and Jane Doe I have been in a committed relationship since 1995. They have demonstrated their commitment to one another repeatedly--through participating in a Declaration of Commitment Ceremony in Boise on May 3, 1997, by obtaining a Civil Union from the state of Vermont on June 19, 2002, and by getting married in California on July 26, 2013. Together, Jane Doe and Jane Doe I planned and prepared for the birth of John Doe, and later, the adoption of John Doe I. John Doe was born to Jane Doe I in 1998,
[156 Idaho 347] conceived by artificial insemination. In 2002, Jane Doe I adopted John Doe I, who was born in 2001 and placed with Jane Doe and Jane Doe I two days after being born. Thus, Jane Doe has, along with Jane Doe I, raised these two children since their births, for fifteen and twelve years, respectively.
In conjunction with her petition for adoption, Jane Doe submitted a Pre-Placement Home Study (" Home Study" ) performed by Certified Adoption Professional Elizabeth Tate. The Home Study indicates that Jane Doe has traditionally been the children's primary caregiver, while Jane Doe I has been the family's primary source of income. Currently though, Jane Doe works as a playground supervisor and volunteers as a football coach. She has coached both John Doe and John Doe I's soccer and basketball teams, and has served on the Liberty Elementary PTA board for over six years, three of which she served as PTA president. When Ms. Tate asked the children their thoughts regarding the adoption, John Doe stated that Jane Doe " is my mom, she's been here my whole life, and I don't know anything different." Similarly, John Doe I indicated that Jane Doe " has been with me all my life[,]" that he likes adoption because " different people can be together as a family[,]" and that he wants Jane Doe to adopt him because she " loves me and wants to be with me forever." In the Home Study, Ms. Tate approved of and recommended that Jane Doe be permitted to adopt John Doe and John Doe I, stating:
[Jane Doe] is emotionally, culturally, physically, and financially prepared to adopt [the boys]. [Jane Doe and Jane Doe I] appear to have a strong and stable marriage and relationship. [Jane Doe] has met the requirements mandated by the State of Idaho, in regard to age, health and physical fitness, criminal clearance, education, employment, income, and the ability to parent adopted children; additionally, she has the full support of extended family members and friends.
On September 19, 2013, however, the magistrate court entered an Order of Dismissal on the grounds that " the petitioner must be in a lawfully recognized union, i.e. married to the prospective adoptee's parent, to have legal standing to file a petition to adopt that person's biological or adopted child." The magistrate dismissed the petition " sua sponte, without any motion or opposition to the Petition, without prior notice to any of the affected parties, without inviting legal briefing, without any apparent consideration of the Pre-Adoptive Home Study and without hearing." A Final Judgment was entered the same day.
On September 30, 2013, Jane Doe filed a Motion to Alter and Amend Judgment and/or Motion for Reconsideration (" Motion for Reconsideration" ). In that motion, Jane Doe argued that the magistrate court erred (1) in denying her " petition for adoption without a hearing to determine the best interests of the prospective adoptees because Petitioner meets all the statutory requirements for adoption" and (2) in its interpretation of the applicable adoption statutes. In conjunction with its Motion for Reconsideration, Jane Doe filed the affidavit of her legal counsel, which advised the magistrate of the approval of various adoptions by unmarried individuals. On October 3, 2013, and before the magistrate ruled on the Motion for Reconsideration, Jane Doe filed a Notice of Appeal to this Court, as required by I.A.R. 12.2. A letter from Deputy Attorney General Steven L. Olsen was filed on October 23, 2013, in which he indicated that the State will not be appearing in this case.
ISSUES ON APPEAL
I. Did the magistrate court err in dismissing the petition for adoption without holding a hearing?
II. Do Idaho's adoption statutes unambiguously allow a ...