Justices order adoption petitions moved to juvenile division based on local rule

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The Indiana Supreme Court noted Thursday that the parties and both of the previous courts involved in an adoption matter were partly correct in their analyses as to where the petitions needed to be filed. But the Lake Superior Court, Civil Division should have transferred the petitions from its court to the juvenile division, where a local rule requires adoption petitions to be filed.

N.E. sought to adopt her cousins, J.T.D. and J.S. She filed her petitions in 2013 in Lake Superior Court 2, part of the court’s civil division. Statute divides Lake Superior Court into four divisions and says that the civil division includes probate. But Lake County’s Caseload Allocation Plan indicates that the adoption of minors should be exclusively filed in the juvenile division.

The Department of Child Services moved to intervene and asked that the adoptions be transferred to the juvenile division. Lake Superior Judge Calvin D. Hawkins denied the motion, saying local rules do not trump statute. The judge believed the case could be filed in his court. He then certified the order for interlocutory appeal.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, but in In the Matter of the Adoption of Minor Children: J.T.D. and J.S.: Ind. Dept. of Child Services v. N.E., 45S03-1406-AD-387, the justices pointed out that the local rule doesn’t impermissibly expand jurisdiction beyond statutory bounds, it simply prescribes venue. Like all local rules, it is binding on the courts and litigants, Chief Justice Loretta Rush wrote.

“The parties and both of the previous courts were all partly correct in their analyses. The trial court was correct that it did have subject matter jurisdiction over adoptions and that the Caseload Allocation Plan was a matter of venue and not jurisdiction. Yet DCS was correct that the trial court was bound by the Caseload Allocation Plan and therefore obligated to transfer the adoption to the Juvenile Division,” Rush wrote. “Because nothing in Indiana Code chapter 33-33-45 restricts the probate jurisdiction of any of the Lake Superior Court’s divisions, each division — including the Juvenile Division — is imbued with the same jurisdiction as the court at-large. Therefore, even though the Caseload Allocation Plan’s provisions establish only venue and not jurisdiction, they are binding on the court and litigants. Lake County was free to adopt a Caseload Allocation Plan establishing exclusive venue for adoptions in the Juvenile Division as a matter of administrative convenience and efficiency, and that Rule is binding on the court and litigants.”


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