ILNews

Justices: Indiana OK to dismiss jurisdiction

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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In an Indiana custody case that started before a married couple's only child was born, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that either Indiana or the state where the child was born could have jurisdiction over proceedings. The Indiana trial court dismissed proceedings in favor of Washington State, where the child was born, as a more convenient forum, clearing the way for that state to take over jurisdiction.

The issue in Anthony N. Stewart v. Signe L. (Stewart) Vulliet, No. 12S02-0708-CV-331, is whether Indiana could dismiss the child custody proceedings between Anthony Stewart and Signe Vulliet and allow Washington to take over the proceedings.

Stewart and Vulliet were married and lived in Washington before moving to Indiana. While Vulliet was pregnant and still living in Indiana, she filed for divorce and moved back to Washington after living in Indiana for only six months. Their daughter, A.S., was born in Washington in 2004 and for nearly two years, the Indiana trial court issued several orders pertaining to the child's custody.

In April 2006, Vulliet asked the Indiana court to dismiss custody and visitation issues, arguing Indiana was an inconvenient forum. The court granted the motion, even though it ruled she had waived her right to claim forum inconvenience, and decided Washington was better suited to resolve the dispute because it was the child's home state and it had a closer connection with the child and witnesses concerning the child's welfare.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court decision, ruling Indiana is a more convenient forum and Vulliet had waived any claim that Washington was the daughter's home state.

The Indiana Supreme Court examined the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Law (UCCJL) to determine if Indiana ever had jurisdiction over the child. The provisions in the law dictate what happens only after a child is born, so the Supreme Court looked to other courts to determine what to do when cases are filed before a child is born.

The high court determined that both states could have jurisdiction over the child. Under Indiana Code, jurisdiction is conferred to Indiana if a child doesn't have a home state and it's in the best interest of the child for Indiana to assume jurisdiction. Before the child was born, she didn't have a home state, so it was justified for Indiana to have jurisdiction.

However, once the baby was born in Washington, that state became her home state and they had concurrent subject-matter jurisdiction to determine custody, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"Despite that A.S., being unborn, did not have a home state nor close connections with the state of Washington when the proceeding was commenced, the trial court can still properly consider these factors when determining whether to dismiss the action for forum inconvenience because the UCCJL authorizes a court to decline exercising jurisdiction 'any time before making a decree,'" wrote Chief Justice Shepard.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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