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In re Adoption of J.B.H.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

May 3, 2017

IN RE THE ADOPTION OF J.B.H., Minor child, P.B., Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Woodbury County, Steven J. Andreasen, Judge.

         A maternal grandmother appeals the denial of her petition to vacate an adoption decree.

          Craig H. Lane of Craig H. Lane, P.C., Sioux City, for appellant.

          Zachary S. Hindman and James N. Daane of Mayne, Arneson, Hindman, Hisey & Daane, Sioux City, for appellees.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Vaitheswaran, JJ.

          VOGEL, Judge.

         A grandmother appeals the district court's ruling on her petition to vacate the adoption decree relating to her grandchild, J.B.H. The grandmother claims the court erred in finding she had failed to show grounds for vacating the decree. The adoptive parents assert the grandmother lacks standing to seek vacation of the decree. We agree with the adoptive parents and, therefore, affirm the district court's denial of the grandmother's petition to vacate.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         The grandmother is the maternal grandmother of J.B.H., born July 2011. In December 2011, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) became involved with J.B.H. upon reports J.B.H.'s mother was failing to provide critical care to J.B.H. and a half-brother. The reports were not confirmed, but in January 2012, the mother agreed to voluntarily accept services through the DHS. Later in 2012, the mother began living in the grandmother's home with her two children.

         In October 2012, the mother moved out of the grandmother's house, taking the children with her, and was temporarily homeless. Also in October 2012, the mother provided a drug screen, which was positive for methamphetamine and marijuana. The children were removed from the mother's care and later adjudicated children in need of assistance (CINA). At the time of removal, the mother requested the grandmother not be considered for placement. J.B.H. was initially placed at a children's shelter, then placed in family foster care; in January 2013, J.B.H. was moved to family foster care with the eventual adoptive parents and has remained there throughout the pendency of the juvenile and district court proceedings.[1]

         Following the CINA adjudication, the mother was resistant to services offered through the DHS. She failed to secure permanent housing, did not participate in mental-health or substance-abuse treatment, did not cooperate with drug screens, maintained a sometimes violent romantic relationship, and was inconsistent in cooperating with the DHS regarding visits with J.B.H. The grandmother intervened in the juvenile proceedings. On July 16, 2013, following an earlier hearing, the juvenile court ordered the mother's parental rights terminated. Custody and guardianship of J.B.H. was ordered to remain with the DHS and adoption was the ultimate goal for permanency. The order informed the parties that a notice of appeal by an aggrieved must be filed within fifteen days of the entry of the order. See Iowa R. App. P. 6.101(1)(a). Following a posttermination permanency review hearing, on August 30, the court issued an order noting the termination had not been appealed and J.B.H. was ready for adoption. The order also stated:

The foster home wishes to adopt [J.B.H.] . . . A great aunt and uncle have been approved for a relative home study. The case manager will be meeting with the guardian ad !item/attorney for [J.B.H.], the previous case manager for the Iowa Department of Human Services and the adoption team for purposes of selecting an adoptive home for [J.B.H.] . . . The court specifically finds that reasonable efforts have continued to be made toward the permanency goal of adoption for J.B.H.

         The juvenile court confirmed "that the custody and guardianship of [J.B.H.] remain with the Iowa Department of Human Services for purposes of adoption." The grandmother was present and represented by counsel at both the termination and the posttermination hearing, and both the grandmother and the grandmother's sister asked to be considered as options for placement of J.B.H. The DHS performed home studies of both the grandmother's and the grandmother's sister's homes, as well as the foster parents' home.

         On approximately October 28, 2013, the DHS informed the grandmother she had not been chosen to adopt J.B.H. In response, the grandmother filed a motion for custody and placement of J.B.H. in juvenile court.[2] On November 14, the adoptive parents, who had not intervened in the CINA or TPR proceedings, filed a petition for adoption in district court, seeking to adopt J.B.H. The DHS consented to the adoption, and on November 23, the district court granted the adoptive parents' petition to adopt J.B.H. The State filed a motion in juvenile court to dismiss the grandmother's motion for custody and placement because an adoption decree had been entered in district court, which the juvenile court granted. On February 14, 2014, the grandmother filed a petition to vacate the adoption, claiming irregularity or fraud in obtaining the adoption decree and the grandmother had been prevented from defending herself by unavoidable casualty or misfortune. On July 13, 2015, following trial, the district court entered an order that concluded the grandmother had failed to demonstrate fraud, irregularity, or casualty or misfortune preventing her from defending her rights and consequently, ...

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