In the Matter of the DOE CHILDREN, Children Under Eighteen (18) Years of Age.
JANE DOE II, Respondent. JANE DOE I (2017-13), Petitioner-Appellant,
Opinion No. 102
from the Magistrate Court of the First Judicial District of
the State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Hon. James Combo,
judgment of the magistrate court is affirmed
Vernon & Weeks, P.A., Coeur d'Alene, for appellant.
Monica Flood Brennan argued.
Doe II, respondent pro se argued.
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.