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In re Doe Children

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 21, 2017

In the Matter of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
v.
JANE DOE II, Respondent. JANE DOE I (2017-13), Petitioner-Appellant,

         2017 Opinion No. 102

         Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the First Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. James Combo, Magistrate Judge.

         The judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed

          James, Vernon & Weeks, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, for appellant. Monica Flood Brennan argued.

          Jane Doe II, respondent pro se argued.

          BRODY, JUSTICE.

         This case involves a petition for co-adoption of two children. The Court addresses the following issues: (1) whether there is a basis for claiming legal error where a magistrate judge expresses a likely outcome of a motion, but does not actually hear the matter or enter an order; (2) whether an order vacating a final judgment is appealable under Idaho Appellate Rule 11(a); and (3) whether a guardian gave sufficient legal consent to an adoption.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Jane Doe II ("Grandmother") has been raising her two young granddaughters, VG and CG, since they were born. Grandmother met Jane Doe I ("Former Girlfriend") soon after CG's birth. Grandmother and Former Girlfriend were involved in a romantic relationship and moved to Idaho with the girls in July 2010, where they all lived together for several months. Soon after arriving, Grandmother ended the relationship with Former Girlfriend. Former Girlfriend moved out of the home, but continued to care for the girls.

         In June 2011, Grandmother became legal guardian of both girls. In March 2013, Grandmother filed a petition to make Former Girlfriend a co-guardian because she thought it would ensure that the girls would remain together if something happened to her. About a year later, Grandmother and Former Girlfriend filed a joint petition to terminate the biological parents' rights and co-adopt the girls.

         About a year after the parties' joint petition was filed, their attorney noticed the matter for hearing. A few minutes before the hearing was scheduled to take place, the parties' attorney spoke with Judge Peterson who was assigned to hear the matter. During the conversation, Judge Peterson expressed that he likely would not grant the petition for co-adoption because "the parties aren't married and that they apparently don't have an intention to be together as a couple." Judge Peterson made it clear he was not refusing to hold a hearing. The parties' attorney confirmed that the parties were making the decision to call down the hearing.

         After their attorney spoke with Judge Peterson, the lawyer met with Grandmother and Former Girlfriend in the hall to discuss their options. The option agreed upon was for each party to adopt one child while maintaining a guardianship over the other child. The parties then went into the courtroom and, under oath, agreed to the conditions before Judge Wayman, another magistrate judge in the courthouse. The written agreements to adopt that were prepared prior to the hearing were changed to reflect that Former Girlfriend would adopt CG and Grandmother would adopt VG. The parties each signed their own adoption agreement in front of Judge Wayman. During the hearing on the matter, Judge Wayman granted the petition to terminate the biological parents' rights and granted the separate adoptions. No written orders or judgments were entered at that time.

         Less than two months after the termination/adoption hearing with Judge Wayman, Grandmother told Former Girlfriend that she would not drop off the girls at Former Girlfriend's home as she had traditionally done under their childcare arrangement unless they were able to agree upon a custody plan. This was apparently due to a new romantic relationship between Former Girlfriend and another woman that had created some tension between the parties. The next day, Judge Wayman entered a written judgment terminating the biological parents' rights and granting Former Girlfriend's adoption of CG. Once that judgment was entered, Former Girlfriend sent the police to Grandmother's house to remove CG from Grandmother's home. The child was not at home. The police made two other efforts to remove the child from Grandmother which were not successful. Ultimately, Former Girlfriend went to Grandmother's home and physically removed CG.

         On August 18, 2015, Former Girlfriend filed a motion in the pre-adoption guardianship case to obtain temporary physical custody of CG and to terminate the guardianship of Grandmother. The record for the pre-adoption guardianship case was not made part of this appeal, but Grandmother testified that the court handling the guardianship proceeding granted Former Girlfriend physical custody of CG around August 20, 2015. Grandmother also testified that the magistrate handling the guardianship proceeding told her that once an adoption is entered a guardianship is automatically terminated. Grandmother testified that she agreed to the termination of the guardianship for each child based on that understanding and because she did not have the resources to challenge the decision.

         On September 11, 2015, Grandmother filed a motion to set aside the adoption judgment entered in favor of Former Girlfriend, alleging that Former Girlfriend committed fraud because she had no intention of allowing Grandmother to have continued guardianship over CG. Judge Combo presided over the motion to set aside the judgment. He held an evidentiary hearing on Grandmother's motion in late November 2015. In December 2015, Judge Combo issued a decision from the bench. He vacated both adoptions because the court found clear and convincing evidence of fraud. In January 2016, Former Girlfriend appealed the decision to set aside the adoption to the district court. The district court dismissed the appeal, ruling that there was no final judgment entered by Judge Combo. Former Girlfriend did not appeal the district court's dismissal of the appeal.

         In August 2016, Former Girlfriend filed a separate proceeding to have herself appointed as co-guardian of CG. Grandmother also filed a separate proceeding, and the two cases were consolidated. In December 2016, Grandmother was granted sole guardianship of both children. It does not appear that Former Girlfriend appealed that determination nor is that case part of the record on appeal.

         In late December 2016, Former Girlfriend filed a motion for summary judgment in this case seeking co-adoption of both girls and orders of guardianship or visitation based on the parties' original petition for co-adoption. In response, Grandmother filed a motion to dismiss the petition, stating that she no longer wished to have the co-adoption go forward. Judge Combo denied Former Girlfriend's motion for summary judgment because Grandmother (the sole guardian) must give consent to the adoption and Grandmother did not consent. Judge Combo granted Grandmother's motion to dismiss and entered a judgment of dismissal. Former Girlfriend now appeals what she alleges was Judge Peterson's decision to deny the petition for co-adoption, Judge Combo's decision on the motion to set aside the adoption judgments based on fraud, and the judgment of dismissal in favor of Grandmother based on lack of consent to the co-adoption.

         II. ...


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