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COA: Adoption petition should remain in Superior Court

March 12, 2014

The Lake Superior Court was not required under the county’s case allocation plan to transfer an adoption petition to juvenile court where termination of parental rights proceedings are pending involving the same children, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

“Here, we are presented with exactly the same issue the Pera Court addressed: whether Lake County’s local rule, i.e. the Caseload Allocation Plan, trumps a statute, i.e. Indiana Code section 31-19-1-2, which provides that probate courts have exclusive jurisdiction over adoption matters,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote.

N.E. sought to adopt J.T.D. and J.S., who are her cousin’s children. She attempted to intervene in the termination of parental rights proceedings pending in juvenile court, but was denied. She then filed her petition to adopt in Lake Superior Court, which holds probate jurisdiction in its civil division.

The Department of Child Services, which had custody of the children, wanted N.E.’s petition transferred to juvenile court pursuant to the Lake County Case Allocation Plan. Lake Superior Court denied the motions, leading to this interlocutory appeal.

In State ex re. Commons v. Pera, 987 N.E.2d 1074, 1078 (Ind. 2013), the Indiana Supreme Court blocked Judge Nicholas Schiralli’s transfer to Lake Superior Juvenile Court after Mary Beth Bonaventura left to head DCS. His reassignment was in accord with a local court rule promulgated in the caseload allocation plan at issue in this appeal.

“The DCS places undue emphasis on the fact that our supreme court approved the Caseload Allocation Plan. The Pera Court rejected this same argument and observed that the Caseload Allocation Plan is not a rule promulgated by the supreme court,” Mathias pointed out.

“Our General Assembly has statutorily conferred jurisdiction of adoption proceedings exclusively to probate courts. In Lake County, the Civil Division has probate jurisdiction, and therefore, exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over adoption proceedings. DCS may not rely on local court rule, i.e. the Caseload Allocation Plan, to circumvent the Lake County Civil Division’s exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over adoption proceedings,” Mathias wrote.

The case is In re the Adoption of: J.T.D. & J.S. (Minor Children), Children to be Adopted, and N.E. (Prospective Adoptive Parent) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 45A03-1308-AD-310.


 

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