COA: Court lacked personal jurisdiction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's denial of a biological mother's motion to set aside an adoption decree because the court lacked personal jurisdiction over her and her due process rights were violated.

In In the matter of the adoption of D.C.; H.R. v. R.C., No. 22A01-0709-CV-425, the appellate court ruled the adoptive mother, R.C., did not do everything she could to contact H.R., the biological mother, about R.C.'s petition to adopt D.C. R.C., who married D.C.'s biological father, argued that even though she hadn't complied with Indiana Trial Rules when sending H.R. notice of the adoption proceedings, H.R. is barred from challenging the adoption decree pursuant to Indiana Code Section 31-19-14-4.

The Court of Appeals found that Floyd Circuit Court lacked personal jurisdiction over H.R. in the case because R.C. didn't comply with Indiana Trial Rules, which require a service made to a person through the mail be accompanied by a return receipt showing receipt of the letter. H.R. never received R.C.'s certified mail regarding the adoption proceedings; she didn't find out about the adoption until nearly two years later.

The appellate court also ruled I.C. Section 31-19-14-4 creates an unconstitutional due process violation in this case because the biological mother had the right to make decisions regarding the custody of her child.

The court also questioned whether the Indiana General Assembly anticipated the scenario of this case when they enacted this section of the code because the plain language provides that a person whose parental rights are terminated may not file an untimely challenge to an adoption decree even if the putative father didn't receive notice or if the proceedings were in any other manner defective, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

The Court of Appeals remanded the matter for a hearing on the merits of R.C.'s adoption petition.

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