COA reverses transfer of venue in adoption case

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(IL file photo)

A trial court improperly transferred venue in an adoption case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in a Thursday reversal.

According to court records, on April 19, 2023, mother H.M.B. and stepfather J.T.J. filed a verified petition for the stepfather’s adoption of E.S.J. Marion County. Their attorney kept an office in Marion County, but they lived in Johnson County.

In their adoption petition, the appellants alleged that father B.J.’s consent to the adoption was not necessary because he had abandoned or deserted E.S.J. for at least six months immediately preceding the date of the filing of the adoption petition and had, without just cause, failed to have any meaningful communication with and provide support for the child for more than one year.

B.J. objected to the petition and filed a petition to transfer venue to Johnson County. He noted a Johnson County court had previously determined his consent was necessary, and the Court of Appeals had affirmed. 

He also alleged the appellants were forum shopping and argued that Johnson County is the preferred venue under Trial Rule 75(A).

The trial court ultimately granted B.J.’s petition, but this time the Court of Appeals reversed, finding H.M.B. and J.T.J. had made a prima facie showing that the trial court abused its discretion.

Judge Terry Crone wrote the opinion for the appellate court.

“We conclude that Section 31-19-2-2 is a special venue statute to which Trial Rule 75(A)(8) applies. Thus, preferred venue lies in any county where the petition is to be filed under Section 31-19-2-2,” Crone wrote. “Appellants filed their adoption petition in the county where their attorney maintains an office in compliance with Section 31-19-2-2. As that is a county of preferred venue pursuant to Trial Rule 75(A)(8), change of venue may not be granted.”

Judges Elaine Brown and Paul Felix concurred.

The case is In re the Adoption of E.S.J. (Minor Child) H.M.B. and J.T.J v. B.J., 23A-AD-1161.

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