IN THE MATTER OF THE PETITION OF M.A.S FOR ADOPTION OF THE MINOR CHILD DESCRIBED HEREIN: M.A.S.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES a/k/a DEPARTMENT OF CHILD PROTECTION SERVICES, A.B.G.P. AND C.P.
OF JUDGMENT: 04/17/2017
HARRISON COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. JAMES B. PERSONS
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
WALLER, C.J., COLEMAN AND MAXWELL, JJ.
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. 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). 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
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
Because the chancellor correctly interpreted and applied the
controlling law when he dismissed the adoption petition, we
Facts and Procedural History
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
Because the doctors suspected physical abuse, the Mississippi
Department of Human Services (MDHS) removed the child from his
parents and placed him in the foster care of M.A.S.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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).
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
Prior Statutes and Interpretation
Before April 2016, however, that distinction was less clear.
While the termination statute, Section 93-15-103,
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)).
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 ...