Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

In re Petition of M.A.S

Supreme Court of Mississippi

June 7, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION OF M.A.S FOR ADOPTION OF THE MINOR CHILD DESCRIBED HEREIN: M.A.S.
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES a/k/a DEPARTMENT OF CHILD PROTECTION SERVICES, A.B.G.P. AND C.P.

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/17/2017

          HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JAMES B. PERSONS

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: DIANNE HERMAN ELLIS KIMBERLY MICHELLE HENRY DALANEY LEE MECHAM

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: DIANNE HERMAN ELLIS

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: KIMBERLY MICHELLE HENRY DALANEY LEE MECHAM

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Prior to April 2016, a chancellor could, as part of a contested adoption, terminate the parents' rights, even when the termination issue was pending in youth court as part of a child-abuse proceeding.[1] But in April 2016, the adoption and termination-of-parental-rights statutes changed. Now, a chancellor cannot grant an adoption contested by the parents unless the parents' rights have been terminated under the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL).[2] And under the MTPRL, the Legislature has carved out an important exception to the chancery court's jurisdiction over termination proceedings, giving "a county court, when sitting as a youth court with jurisdiction of a child in an abuse or neglect proceeding, original exclusive jurisdiction to hear a petition for termination of parental rights against a parent of that child."[3]

         ¶2. In this contested adoption filed in January 2017, the chancellor applied the MTPRL and recognized the youth court had exclusive jurisdiction over the request to terminate parental rights because the youth court already had jurisdiction over the child as part of an abuse proceeding. And unless and until the youth court terminated the parents' rights, the chancery court could not grant the petition to adopt the child. For this reason, the chancellor dismissed the adoption so the termination could be pursued in youth court.

         ¶3. Because the chancellor correctly interpreted and applied the controlling law when he dismissed the adoption petition, we affirm.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4. When he was a months-old infant, D.C.G.P. was taken to the emergency room by his parents, A.B.G.P. and C.P.[4] Because the doctors suspected physical abuse, the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS)[5] removed the child from his parents and placed him in the foster care of M.A.S.

         ¶5. MDHS then filed a petition with the Harrison County Youth Court. After an initial adjudication hearing, the youth court ordered the child to remain under MDHS's protection. M.A.S. continued to foster the child for two years. Then, on November 8, 2016, the youth court held another adjudication hearing. The youth court determined reunification with his parents was in the best interest of the child. The youth court adopted a permanency plan to achieve reunification and ordered MDHS to make reasonable efforts to achieve the plan.

         ¶6. Despite the youth court's order to reunite the child with his parents, M.A.S. filed an adoption petition in Harrison County Chancery Court on January 30, 2017. She named MDHS and the child's parents, A.B.G.P. and C.P., as respondents. As part of her petition, she sought to terminate A.B.G.P. and C.P.'s parental rights.

         ¶7. On March 24, 2017, A.B.G.P. and C.P. moved to dismiss M.A.S.'s petition. They alerted the chancery court to the youth court's reunification order, asserting the youth court has original exclusive jurisdiction over whether to terminate their parental rights. And they accused M.A.S. of trying to circumvent the youth court's reunification decision by seeking a termination in chancery court.

         ¶8. On April 17, 2017, the chancellor granted A.B.G.P. and C.P.'s motion to dismiss. Based on the 2016 amendments to the termination-of-parental-rights law, the chancellor agreed with the parents that the youth court had exclusive jurisdiction over M.A.S.'s petition to terminate parental rights. And under the 2016 amendment to the adoption statute, unless and until parental rights were terminated, the chancellor could not grant a contested adoption. Thus, the chancellor dismissed M.A.S.'s petition "in order that the termination of the parental rights of the minor child's biological parents may be pursued in Harrison County Youth Court."

         ¶9. M.A.S. timely appealed, triggering this Court's de novo review. Schmidt v. Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, 18 So.3d 814, 821 (Miss. 2009) (reviewing de novo the grant of a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction).

         Discussion

         I. Governing Statutes

         ¶10. Central to this appeal is the chancellor's interpretation and application of the 2016 bill overhauling termination-of-parental-rights proceedings. 2016 Miss. Laws ch. 431 (H.B. 1240) (effective April 18, 2016). Though often connected to adoptions, terminations of parental rights are distinct proceedings, governed by separate chapters of the Mississippi Code. Mississippi Code Section 93-15-101 et seq.-now titled the Mississippi Termination of Parental Rights Law (MTPRL)-governs terminations of parental rights. And Mississippi Code Section 93-17-1 et seq. governs adoptions.

         A. Prior Statutes and Interpretation

         ¶11. Before April 2016, however, that distinction was less clear. While the termination statute, Section 93-15-103, [6] provided specific factors justifying termination, the adoption statute, Section 93-17-7, also had its own "expansive list of factors that may be considered as reasons to terminate parental rights in the course of a contested adoption." Miss. Dep't of Human Servs. v. Watts, 116 So.3d 1056, 1059 (Miss. 2012) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 93-17-7 (Rev. 2004)).

         ¶12. This statutory authority within Section 93-17-7 to terminate parental rights was key to this Court's holding in a prior case factually similar to this one. In Watts, the youth court had jurisdiction over two abused and neglected children and was working toward reunification with the boys' father, who had just been released from prison. When the foster parents filed in chancery court a petition to terminate parental rights and adopt the children, MDHS challenged the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.