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High court rules on putative father adoption case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a putative father who files a paternity action in a court other than the court in which the adoption case is pending meets statutory requirements and doesn't imply his permanent consent to that adoption.

In a 4-1 decision June 26, justices decided the Bartholomew County case of In Re Adoption of Unborn Child of B.W., W.G. v. D.B. and J.B., No. 03S04-0810-CV-560, which is the first to come from the Indiana State Bar Association's pro bono appellate program. Four justices made up the majority, but the chief justice dissented while another justice concurred in result and wrote the debated statutes provide "multiple opportunities for confusion or even intentional obfuscation."

The adoption case revolves around the minor child T.B., who was born out of wedlock in late 2006. Since the biological father, W.G., was incarcerated at the time, the trial court granted temporary custody to the adoptive parents. The jailed father received notice of the pending adoption and filed a motion to establish paternity in Circuit Court, rather than in Superior Court where the adoption case was pending. He later filed a more expansive motion entitled, "Petition to Establish Paternity and Contest Adoption of Unknown Minor Child," in that same Circuit paternity action. The adoptive parents claim that his failure to file it in the proper court nullified the motion; Bartholomew Superior Judge Chris Monroe determined that W.G. had failed to follow the statutory requirements to contest that adoption in Superior Court in a timely fashion, and his consent was irrevocably implied because of that.

The father argued that Indiana Code Sections 31-19-4-5 and -9-12 are in conflict because they require the putative father to file a motion to contest the adoption or to initiate a paternity action within 30 days of being served with the petition for adoption and notice of named father. Also, that county's local court rules require all paternity cases be filed in Circuit Court.

In July 2008, the Court of Appeals ruled the statutes can be "harmonized and rationalized to give effect to both statutes, given the recognition of the named father's obligation" to consult Indiana's adoption statutes as is stated in the notice of pending adoption proceedings.

But a majority of justices disagreed, finding that the biological father's actions of filing a paternity action in a different county court didn't irrevocably imply his consent for an adoption despite his failure to file a motion to contest in adoption court.

"In sum, we hold that under Indiana Code § 31-19-9-12(1), to be deemed to have implied his irrevocable consent to an adoption, a putative father must fail to file both a paternity action and a motion to contest the adoption," Justice Brent Dickson wrote. "The appellant-father here undisputedly timely filed his paternity action. It is therefore unnecessary to decide whether his timely attempt to contest the adoption, filed in the Circuit Court rather than in the Superior Court where the adoption was pending, satisfied the adoption implied consent statute. The paternity action sufficed to preclude a finding of implied irrevocable consent to the adoption."

The majority reversed and remanded the Bartholomew Superior Court ruling, while Justice Ted Boehm concurred in result but has concerns about the statutes.

"The statutes should not permit a filing in another court to suspend the prompt resolution of an adoption," he wrote. "Dueling jurisdictions, or even the need for transfer and consolidation, are formulas for delay. Nor should there be any doubt what a putative father must do to preserve his rights. I hope the General Assembly will consider requiring that a putative father wishing to contest an adoption or declare paternity must file in the court in which an adoption action is pending or otherwise assure consolidation of these two proceedings to reduce the opportunity for delay and confusion, while still preserving all rights of the putative father."

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard dissented, finding the majority's ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the future.

He wrote. "... it will also provide a very simple roadmap for obstructionists, a tool to use in preventing what my colleagues call the 'expeditious placement of eligible children.' In this instance, it prevents the expeditious placement of a child who has known only these adoptive parents during the entire 32 months since his birth."

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  1. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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