CB ex rel. RRM v. Com.

Citation786 A.2d 176,567 Pa. 141
PartiesC.B. and J.B., on Behalf of R.R.M, Appellees, v. COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, Appellant, City of Philadelphia, Department of Human Services, Appellant.
Decision Date18 December 2001
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Richard Gerson Feder, Philadelphia, for City of Philadelphia, Department of Human Services.

Sheila Oliver, Elkins Park, for C.B. and J.B., on behalf of R.R.M.

Myra Werrin Sacks, Harrisburg, for Department of Public Welfare, appellee.

Frank P. Cervone, Philadelphia, for Support Center for Child Advocates.

Daniel M. Fellin, Myra Werrin Sacks, John A. Kane, Howard C. Ulan, Harrisburg, for Department of Public Welfare, appellant.

Jonathan Jay Houlon, Philadelphia, for Solicitor-City.



CASTILLE, Justice.

The Commonwealth Court held that the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. §§ 670-76, conflicts with and, therefore, preempts Pennsylvania's Adoption Opportunities Act, 62 P.S. §§ 771-74, to the extent the Pennsylvania Act and accompanying regulations require, where the federal act does not, that a child be in agency custody in order to qualify for an adoption assistance subsidy. This Court granted allocatur to review the Commonwealth Court's invalidation of the Pennsylvania agency custody requirement. Although we find that the Adoption Opportunities Act does not conflict with and is not preempted by the corresponding federal Act, and disapprove of the Commonwealth Court's holding to the contrary, we affirm the court's mandate on the alternative grounds we discuss below.1

R.R.M. was prematurely born on May 26, 1989. Due to medical problems, he remained in the hospital for a period of time and, having been abandoned by his mother, was committed to the care and custody of appellant City of Philadelphia, Department of Human Services (DHS). Upon release from the hospital, R.R.M. was immediately placed in foster care with a family which is unidentified in the record. At this time, DHS's stated goal was to reunite R.R.M. with his biological mother. DHS's efforts at reunification failed, however, and DHS changed its goal for the child to adoption.

On August 6, 1989, DHS placed R.R.M. in the foster care of appellees under the supervision of DHS's Counseling and Care Services. Shortly after placement, R.R.M. had an episode where he stopped breathing and, as a result, he was hospitalized for nine days. R.R.M. returned to appellees' home on an apnea monitor for which appellees received training. After approximately one month with appellees, DHS returned R.R.M. to the original foster parents but then, in May of 1990, returned the child to appellees' care. At that time, R.R.M. was two weeks shy of his first birthday but could not walk, crawl, hold a bottle or feed himself, and he lacked muscle tone.

In August or September of 1990, DHS began the process of terminating the parental rights of R.R.M.'s biological mother and father. In the course of its investigation. DHS's adoption division located R.R.M.'s biological father who expressed an interest in caring for the child. Consequently, DHS again changed its goal to reunification. Ultimately, the efforts to reunite R.R.M. with his biological father failed.

In the early part of 1992, R.R.M. experienced myriad medical problems including febrile seizures, hypergag reflex, asthma and nosebleeds. Appellees were concerned that DHS might move R.R.M. from one foster home to another, which might compromise his health and development in light of his special medical needs. Accordingly, appellees notified DHS that they were interested in adopting R.R.M. DHS informed appellees that the child was ineligible for adoption because his biological father was involved in his life.

DHS and appellees then explored the possibility of DHS awarding legal custody or temporary legal custody to appellees in lieu of adoption. The benefit of some form of legal custody, according to DHS, was that appellees would no longer need the approval of DHS and R.R.M.'s biological father to make needed medical decisions. Appellees did not have legal counsel at this point in the proceedings, and DHS did not inform appellees of the availability of adoption assistance subsidies or that accepting legal custody of R.R.M. would end any entitlement they might have to such subsidies. Furthermore, at the time appellees accepted temporary legal custody of R.R.M., they understood that he was not eligible for adoption because his biological father still maintained parental rights. DHS's stated goal for R.R.M. at the time of the discussions about legal custody was reunification with the biological father. Meanwhile, DHS has admitted that awarding temporary legal custody of a child to foster parents makes reunification less likely.

Despite DHS's seemingly contradictory aims regarding R.R.M., the agency, appellees, and R.R.M.'s biological father reached an agreement regarding temporary legal custody. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas issued a Dependency Review Order on September 2, 1992, memorializing the agreement and discharging the child's formal commitment to DHS. The order stated that appellees were awarded "temporary legal custody" and that the matter could be relisted "upon application." However, no further review of the child's status was conducted.2

Over the next five years, appellees had no further contact with DHS. In 1994 or 1995, upon appellees' request, R.R.M.'s biological father consented to appellees' adopting the child. On November 10, 1997, appellees applied to DHS for an adoption assistance subsidy.3 DHS promptly denied the request three days later, on November 13, 1997, on the grounds that R.R.M. was not in the legal custody of a county agency or other state-approved agency, as required under its strict reading of the Adoption Opportunities Act, 62 P.S. § 772 ("`Eligible child' means a child in the legal custody of local authorities where parental rights have been terminated") and corresponding regulations, 55 Pa.Code § 3140.202(b) (to be certified for adoption assistance, child must, inter alia, be in legal custody of county agency or another agency approved by the Department of Public Welfare). Accordingly, DHS apparently considered appellees' proposed adoption of R.R.M. to be the equivalent of a private adoption, notwithstanding that R.R.M. was initially placed in the care and custody of DHS, that he was then placed with appellees as a foster family under the auspices of DHS, and that appellees sought temporary legal custody, thus changing R.R.M.'s status, precisely because DHS had informed them that R.R.M. was not at that time eligible to be adopted.

Appellees filed a timely appeal of the denial with appellant Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW). On April 29, 1998, DPW denied the appeal and appellees appealed further to the Commonwealth Court. In the meantime, appellees had filed an adoption petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on December 29, 1997. That court terminated the parental rights of R.R.M.'s biological parents on January 23, 1998, and ordered that R.R.M. remain in appellees' custody pending adoption.

A divided panel of the Commonwealth Court reversed the DPW on the question of appellees' entitlement to adoption assistance funds. The panel majority issued a sweeping decision striking down the Adoption Opportunities Act to the extent it requires that a child be in the legal custody of local authorities to be eligible for adoption assistance payments. The panel majority found that the Pennsylvania statute conflicts with the federal Act to the extent it requires agency custody and, therefore, invalidated the state act on federal preemption grounds:

Congress stated that its purpose in enacting the Federal Law was to enable each state "to provide ... adoption assistance for children with special needs." 42 U.S.C. § 670. This statement of purpose does not limit adoption assistance to special needs children in the legal custody of a county agency or other state-approved agency. Moreover, the provision of the Federal Law dealing specifically with the adoption assistance program states: "Each State having a plan approved under this part shall enter into adoption assistance agreements... with the adoptive parents of children with special needs." 42 U.S.C. § 673(a)(1)(A). The state is not directed to enter into adoption assistance agreements only with adoptive parents of special needs children in the legal custody of a county agency or other state-approved agency. Therefore, we conclude that our state adoption assistance law conflicts with the Federal Law to the extent that it withholds adoption assistance payments from special needs children who are not in the legal custody of a county agency or other state-approved agency.

Barczynski v. Department of Public Welfare, 727 A.2d 1222, 1225 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1999).

Then-President Judge Colins dissented. Judge Colins acknowledged that appellees had unselfishly assumed legal custody of R.R.M. "in an effort to ensure his best interests and to provide him with a stable home life." He nevertheless opined that Pennsylvania law simply made no provision for adoption subsidies where the child has been removed from the custody of local authorities. The dissent further concluded that the state legislative requirement of agency custody did not conflict with the federal law because, even though the federal act did not explicitly set forth a requirement of agency custody, it certainly suggested, both by its terms and its legislative history, that assistance should be provided only to children in agency custody.

This Court granted review to DHS and DPW to consider the Commonwealth Court's determination that the Pennsylvania agency custody requirement was preempted by the federal law, and to consider...

To continue reading

Request your trial
35 cases
  • In re C.M.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • July 21, 2021
    ...swayed in the balance for over a third of her lifetime, weighs heavily in favor of a final resolution without further delay.11 See R.R.M , 786 A.2d at 185. We therefore turn to the merits of Father's insufficiency claim.B. Sufficiency of the Evidence A petitioner seeking to prove grounds fo......
  • Com. v. Edwards
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 21, 2006
    ...record. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 576 Pa. 258, 839 A.2d 202, 215 n. 11 (2003); C.B. ex rel. R.R.M. v. Commonwealth, Dept. of Public Welfare, 567 Pa. 141, 786 A.2d 176, 178 n. 1 (2001); Commonwealth v. Meyer, 488 Pa. 297, 412 A.2d 517, 522 n. 12 20. The Pennsylvania Rules of Evide......
  • Krentz v. Consolidated Rail Corp.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • November 21, 2006
    ...90 L.Ed.2d 369 (1986); Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, 463 U.S. 85, 95, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 77 L.Ed.2d 490 (1983); C.B. ex rel. R.R.M. v. Commonwealth, 567 Pa. 141, 786 A.2d 176, 182 (2001). If a federal statute contains an express preemption provision, then the focus of the preemption inquiry must be......
  • Com. v. Bavusa
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • September 29, 2003
    ...construction of a statute, which is a question of law. Hence, our review is plenary. See C.B. ex rel. R.R.M. v. Commonwealth, Dept. of Public Welfare, 567 Pa. 141, 786 A.2d 176, 180 (2001). The Statutory Construction Act directs that, "[t]he object of all interpretation and construction of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT