Crafton v. Gibson

Decision Date11 July 2001
Docket NumberNo. 40A04-0011-CV-490.,40A04-0011-CV-490.
PartiesNancy CRAFTON, Appellant-Respondent, v. Ada E. GIBSON, Appellee-Petitioner.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Karen A. Wyle, Bloomington, IN, Robert E. Marshall, Shelbyville, IN, Attorneys for Appellant.

OPINION

RILEY, Judge.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Appellant-Respondent, Nancy Crafton (Crafton), appeals the trial court's Order denying her Motion for Relief from Judgment filed pursuant to Ind.Trial Rule 60(B)(7) which requested relief from the trial court's judgment granting grandparent visitation to Appellee-Petitioner, Ada E. Gibson (Gibson).

We reverse and remand with instructions.

ISSUE

Crafton raises several issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as one issue: whether, under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49 (2000), the trial court erred in not granting Crafton's T.R. 60(B)(7) Motion for Relief from Judgment.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Crafton and Ronald A. Bowling (Bowling) are the biological parents of two daughters, P.L.B, born February 20, 1994, and D.J.B., born August 1, 1995. Crafton and Bowling were married after the children were born. Their marriage was subsequently dissolved in 1997 and Crafton was awarded custody of the children.

Gibson is Bowling's mother and P.L.B.'s and D.J.B.'s paternal grandmother. On September 30, 1997, Gibson filed a Petition for Grandparent Visitation. A hearing was held on Gibson's Petition on April 1, 1998, and on April 7, 1998, the trial court issued an Order granting Gibson's Petition. The trial court's Order found that although Bowling had not exercised his visitation, Gibson and Crafton had enjoyed a "fairly decent relationship" and that Gibson had a close relationship with her two granddaughters but had not had much contact with them since July 1997. (R. 47). The trial court noted that Gibson claimed that Crafton would not permit any meaningful contact between her and the girls. The trial court concluded that it would be in P.L.B.'s and D.J.B.'s best interest to have grandparent visitation with Gibson. The trial court ordered that Gibson be allowed the following visitation with her grandchildren:

a. One weekend per month from Saturday at 9:30 a.m. to Sunday at 6:00 p.m. This weekend shall be selected by [Gibson] with notice to [Crafton] by the third day of every month commencing April, 1998 (except for April, 1998, this notice shall be due by April 11, 1998).
b. From 9:30 a.m. on December 27 through December 30 at 9:30 a.m. commencing December 27, 1998.
c. The Saturday following each grandchild's birthday, if [Gibson's] work schedule allows, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If the grandchild's birthday is on Saturday, the visit shall occur on Sunday.
d. One week each summer from August 2 through August 9 commencing August 2, 1998, or any other week agreed upon by [Gibson] and [Crafton] in writing.

(R. 47 (emphasis in original)).

On April 22, 1999, the Shelby Circuit Court granted a petition to adopt P.L.B. and D.J.B. filed by their stepfather, Joseph Robert Crafton. The Decree of Adoption found that Bowling had failed to see, support or communicate with the children for a period of over one year prior to the filing of the adoption petition and as a result the Shelby Circuit Court terminated Bowling's parental rights. However, under Ind.Code § 31-17-5-9,1 Gibson's grandparent visitation rights survived the adoption of the children by their stepfather.

On June 5, 2000, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Troxel, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49. In a plurality decision, the Supreme Court concluded that the Washington State statute, Wash.Rev.Code § 26.10.160(3),2 under which the Troxels were granted visitation with their paternal grandchildren, was unconstitutional as applied because it violated the children's mother's (Granville) due process right to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of her children. Troxel, 530 U.S. at 75, 120 S.Ct. 2054. Based on this decision by the Supreme Court, on September 19, 2000, Crafton filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment pursuant to T.R. 60(B)(7). Crafton argued that under the Troxel decision, the trial court's Order granting Gibson grandparent visitation was no longer equitable. More specifically, Crafton argued that in reaching its decision granting Gibson grandparent visitation, the trial court failed to apply a presumption that Crafton's decision to limit or deny Gibson visitation was in her daughters' best interest.

A hearing was held on this Motion on October 11, 2000, and the trial court issued its Order denying this Motion on October 25, 2000. In its Order, the trial court distinguished Indiana's Grandparent Visitation statute, Ind.Code § 31-17-5-1,3 from the Washington statute discussed in the Troxel decision. The trial court concluded that Indiana's statute was much narrower in scope than the Washington statute which the Troxel court found to be "breathtakingly broad." Id.,530 U.S. at 67,120 S.Ct. 2054. Further, the trial court noted that the Troxel decision was based solely on the Washington statute and limited to the facts of that case. Moreover, the trial court concluded that even under a Troxel analysis, its previous decision granting Gibson grandparent visitation was well supported by the evidence.

This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION AND DECISION
Standard of Review

Initially, we note that Gibson did not file a response brief. When an appellee fails to file a response brief, we need not develop her arguments. Santana v. Santana, 708 N.E.2d 886, 887 (Ind.Ct.App. 1999). "However, this circumstance in no way relieves us of our obligation to decide the law as applied to the facts in the record in order to determine whether reversal is required." Blunt-Keene v. State, 708 N.E.2d 17, 19 (Ind.Ct.App.1999). Rather, we apply a less stringent standard of review in which we may reverse the trial court if the appellant makes a prima facie showing of reversible error. Id. "Prima facie in this context is defined as `at first sight, on first appearance, or on the face of it.' Where an appellant is unable to meet this burden, we will affirm." Id. (quoting Johnson County Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Burnell, 484 N.E.2d 989, 991 (Ind.App.1985)).

Crafton's Motion for Relief from Judgment was filed pursuant to T.R.60(B)(7). T.R. 60(B)(7) provides as follows:

On motion and upon such terms as are just the court may relieve a party or his legal representative from an entry of default, final order, or final judgment, including a judgment by default, for the following reasons:

* * *

(7) the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment should have prospective application; ...

This court has determined that T.R. 60(B)(7) is an appropriate procedural mechanism for seeking relief from judgments of prospective application when the law has subsequently changed. Saint Joseph's Hosp. of South Bend, Inc. v. Women's Pavilion of South Bend, Indiana, Inc., 451 N.E.2d 1126, 1130 (Ind.Ct.App. 1983); see also Kaminsky v. Medical Licensing Bd. of Indiana, 511 N.E.2d 492, 498 (Ind.Ct.App.1987)

. Here, the judgment at issue—the April 7, 1998 Order granting Gibson grandparent visitation—is a judgment of prospective application as it continues to order visitation into the future. The parties have the continuing obligation to comply with the Visitation Order and the trial court has the continuing jurisdiction to enforce and/or modify the Order, and to punish the parties for noncompliance with the Order. Thus, if the law with regard to this Order has subsequently changed, then T.R. 60(B)(7) is an appropriate procedural method to seek relief from the Order.

A trial court's ruling with regard to a T.R. 60(B) motion is addressed to the court's equitable discretion. Lake County Trust No. 3190 v. Highland Plan Com'n, 674 N.E.2d 626, 628 (Ind.Ct.App.1996),trans. denied. In making its decision, the trial court is required to "balance the alleged injustice suffered by the party moving for relief against the interests of the winning party and society in general in the finality of litigation." Chelovich v. Ruff & Silvian Agency, 551 N.E.2d 890, 892 (Ind. App.1990). We review a trial court's grant or denial of a T.R. 60(B) motion under an abuse of discretion standard of review. Indiana Ins. Co. v. Insurance Co. of North America, 734 N.E.2d 276, 278 (Ind.Ct.App. 2000),reh'g denied, trans. denied. "An abuse of discretion occurs where the trial court's judgment is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and inference supporting the judgment for relief." Weppler v. Stansbury, 694 N.E.2d 1173, 1176 (Ind.Ct.App.1998).

Here, Crafton asserts that the trial court erred in denying her Motion for Relief from Judgment filed pursuant to T.R. 60(B)(7). Specifically, Crafton contends that based on the Troxel decision, under T.R. 60(B)(7), the trial court was required to rescind its previous Order granting Gibson grandparent visitation as the Order was no longer equitable.

Troxel v. Granville

As we have mentioned, Crafton's argument is based upon the United States Supreme Court's decision in Troxel, 530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct. 2054, 147 L.Ed.2d 49. Thus, a thorough discussion of the Troxel decision is necessary before we proceed to our analysis of the case before us today. Troxel is a plurality decision in which Justice O'Connor wrote the Court's opinion. Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer joined in the plurality opinion. Justices Souter and Thomas filed concurring opinions while Justices Stevens, Scalia and Kennedy filed dissenting opinions. The facts of the Troxel case are relatively straightforward. Granville was in a relationship with the Troxel's son, Brad, that produced two children. Id. at 60 (O'Connor, J.,...

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