Hede v. Gilstrap

Decision Date28 February 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-22.,04-22.
Citation107 P.3d 158,2005 WY 24
PartiesBrett HEDE and Judi Hede, Appellants (Plaintiffs), v. Carl GILSTRAP and Debbie Gilstrap, Appellees (Defendants).
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Representing Appellants: Keith R. Nachbar, Casper, Wyoming.

Representing Appellees: Gibson Sean Benham, Casper, Wyoming.

Before HILL, C.J., and GOLDEN, KITE, and VOIGT, JJ., and STEBNER, D.J. RET.

VOIGT, Justice.

[¶ 1] This case involves a conflict between visitation rights obtained by paternal grandparents under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-7-101 (LexisNexis 2003) and a subsequent adoption of the child by maternal grandparents under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-22-101 et. seq., (LexisNexis 2003). We affirm the summary judgment in favor of the maternal grandparents.


1. Does an existing visitation order issued in favor of a child's paternal grandparents survive the subsequent adoption of the grandchild by her maternal grandparents?

2. Were the paternal grandparents entitled to discovery of documents relating to the adoption?


[¶ 2] The appellants are the paternal grandparents of the minor child who is the focus of this action. In 1999, the appellants obtained a court order granting them visitation with the child. In 2002, the child was adopted by the appellees, who are her maternal grandparents. The appellees' refusal to allow visitation by the appellants after the adoption resulted in this declaratory judgment action.1


[¶ 3] § 20-7-101. Establishing grandparents' visitation rights.

(a) A grandparent may bring an original action against any person having custody of the grandparent's minor grandchild to establish reasonable visitation rights to the child. If the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation would be in the best interest of the child and that the rights of the child's parents are not substantially impaired, the court shall grant reasonable visitation rights to the grandparent. In any action under this section for which the court appoints a guardian ad litem, the grandparent shall be responsible for all fees and expenses associated with the appointment.
(i) to (iii) Repealed by Laws 1997, ch. 71, § 2 [effective July 1, 1997].
(b) Repealed by Laws 1997, ch. 71, § 2 [effective July 1, 1997].
(c) No action to establish visitation rights may be brought by a grandparent under subsection (a) of this section if the minor grandchild has been adopted and neither adopting parent is a natural parent of the child.
(d) In any action or proceeding in which visitation rights have been granted to a grandparent under this section, the court may for good cause upon petition of the person having custody or who is the guardian of the child, revoke or amend the visitation rights granted to the grandparent.


[¶ 4] § 1-22-104. Petition for adoption of minor....

(d) The petition and documents filed pursuant to this section, and the interlocutory decree, if entered, and the final decree of adoption shall constitute a confidential file and shall be available for inspection only to the judge, or, by order of court, to the parties to the proceedings or their attorneys....
§ 1-22-105. Hearings to be closed; attendance of parties.
(a) Unless the court orders a hearing in open court, all hearings in adoption proceedings shall be confidential and held in closed court or court chambers. No person shall be admitted except court officials, parties to the proceeding, counsel, nonconsenting parents, the nonconsenting putative father of the child and witnesses.
§ 1-22-107. Service of petition and order....
(a) Prior to the hearing a copy of the petition to adopt a child and all orders to show cause shall be served on any persons whose consent to adoption is required by W.S. 1-22-109 and whose consent has not been filed with the petition to adopt....
§ 1-22-108. Hearing on petition and objections....
(b) When any person whose consent is required objects to the petition to adopt, he shall at least five (5) days before the hearing file his objections and serve them on all parties to the proceedings, including any person whose consent has been filed.
§ 1-22-109. Consent to adoption.
(a) A written relinquishment of custody of the child to be adopted and written consent to adoption shall be filed with the petition to adopt and shall be signed by:
(i) Both parents, if living; or
(ii) The surviving parent; or
(iii) The mother and putative father of the child if the name of the putative father is known; or
(iv) The mother alone if she does not know the name of the putative father ...; or
(v) The legal guardian of the person of the child if neither parent is living or if parental rights have been judicially terminated; or
(vi) The executive head of the agency to whom the child has been relinquished for adoption; or
(vii) The person having exclusive legal custody of the child by court order; or
(viii) The legally appointed guardian of any parent or putative father who has been adjudged mentally incompetent.

§ 1-22-111. Decree; investigation; denial of adoption.

(a) After the petition to adopt has been filed and a hearing held the court acting in the best interest and welfare of the child may make any of the following orders:
(i) Enter an interlocutory decree of adoption giving the care and custody of the child to the petitioners pending further order of the court;
(ii) Defer entry of an interlocutory decree of adoption and order the department of family services or a private licensed agency to investigate and report to the court the background of the child and of the petitioners, and the medical, social and psychological background and status of the consenting parent and putative father....
(iii) Enter a final decree of adoption if the child has resided in the home of the petitioner for six (6) months; or
(iv) Deny the adoption if the court finds that the best interests and welfare of the child will be served by such denial.

§ 1-22-114. Effect of adoption.

(a) Upon the entry of a final decree of adoption the former parent, guardian or putative father of the child shall have no right to the control or custody of the child. The adopting persons shall have all of the rights and obligations respecting the child as if they were natural parents.
(b) Adopted persons may assume the surname of the adoptive parents. They are entitled to the same rights of person and property as children and heirs at law of the persons who adopted them.

[¶ 5] We recently set forth our standard of review of a summary judgment granted in a declaratory judgment action:

Summary judgment motions are governed generally by W.R.C.P. 56, and specifically by the following language found in subsection (c) of the rule:
"The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
W.R.C.P. 56(a) and (b) provide that summary judgment may be appropriate for either the plaintiff or the defendant in a declaratory judgment action. A summary judgment entered in a declaratory judgment action is subject to our usual standard for review of summary judgments. Wyoming Community College Com'n v. Casper Community College Dist., 2001 WY 86, ¶ 11, 31 P.3d 1242, 1247 (Wyo.2001); Fontaine v. Board of County Com'rs of Park County, 4 P.3d 890, 892 (Wyo.2000).
"This Court reviews a summary judgment in the same light as the district court, using the same materials and following the same standards." Markstein v. Countryside I, L.L.C., 2003 WY 122, ¶ 11, 77 P.3d 389, 393 (Wyo.2003). Where, as here, there are no contentions that genuine issues of material fact exist, our concern is strictly with application of the law. Wyoming Community College Com'n, 2001 WY 86, ¶ 11, 31 P.3d at 1247. We accord no deference to the district court's conclusions on questions of law. Yeager v. Forbes, 2003 WY 134, ¶ 12, 78 P.3d 241, 246 (Wyo.2003).

Board of County Com'rs of County of Laramie v. City of Cheyenne, 2004 WY 16, ¶¶ 7-8, 85 P.3d 999, 1002 (Wyo.2004).

[¶ 6] Because both adoption and grandparent visitation are purely statutory, our task will be one of statutory construction:

"This court interprets statutes by giving effect to the legislature's intent.... We begin by making an inquiry relating to the ordinary and obvious meaning of the words employed according to their arrangement and connection.... We give effect to every word, clause, and sentence and construe together all components of a statute in pari materia. ... Statutory interpretation is a question of law.... We review questions of law de novo without affording deference to the district court's decision."
Worcester v. State, 2001 WY 82, ¶ 13, 30 P.3d 47, 52 (Wyo.2001). If a statute is clear and unambiguous, we simply give effect to its plain meaning.... Only when we find a statute to be ambiguous do we resort to the general principles of statutory construction.... An ambiguous statute is one whose meaning is uncertain because it is susceptible to more than one interpretation....
"It is a basic rule of statutory construction that courts may try to determine legislative intent by considering the type of statute being interpreted and what the legislature intended by the language used, viewed in light of the objects and purposes to be accomplished.... Furthermore, when we are confronted with two possible but conflicting conclusions, we will choose the one most logically designed to cure the mischief or inequity that the legislature was attempting to accomplish."

In re Collicott, 2001 WY 35, ¶ 9, 20 P.3d 1077, 1080 (Wyo.2001). We presume that statutes are enacted by the legislature with full knowledge of existing law, so we construe statutes in harmony with existing law, particularly other statutes relating to the same subject...

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