In re B.F.S., 20190933-CA

CourtCourt of Appeals of Utah
Citation478 P.3d 46
Docket NumberNo. 20190933-CA,20190933-CA
Parties In the MATTER OF the ADOPTION OF B.F.S., a Person Under Eighteen Years of Age. Heart to Heart Adoptions Inc., Appellant.
Decision Date05 November 2020

478 P.3d 46

In the MATTER OF the ADOPTION OF B.F.S., a Person Under Eighteen Years of Age.

Heart to Heart Adoptions Inc., Appellant.

No. 20190933-CA

Court of Appeals of Utah.

Filed November 5, 2020


Lonn Litchfield, South Jordan, Attorney for Appellant

Judge David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Kate Appleby concurred.

Opinion

MORTENSEN, Judge:

¶1 Heart to Heart Adoptions Inc. (the Agency) appeals the district court's denial and dismissal of its petition for a determination of rights and interests in B.F.S. (Child) and an order for temporary custody on the bases of improper venue and Child's best interests. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

¶2 Child was born in Michigan in March 2019. Shortly thereafter, Child's unwed mother executed a consent to Child's adoption and relinquished Child to the Agency, a

478 P.3d 48

licensed child-placing agency in Utah. The Agency sought to place Child with potential adoptive parents in Minnesota. The Agency filed a petition in Utah's Third District Court for a determination of rights, see Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-109 (LexisNexis 2018), and for an order of temporary custody, see id. § 78B-6-134 (2018), to facilitate Child's adoption.

¶3 Though the petition was unopposed, the court denied and dismissed it. Citing Utah Code section 78B-6-105(1), the court found that Utah was not a proper venue because Child was not born in Utah and the prospective adoptive parents did not reside in Utah. Citing Utah Code section 78B-6-102(1), the court also found that Child's best interests were not served by resolution of the petition by a Utah court "that has no interest in the placement of [Child]."

¶4 The Agency appealed.1 During oral argument, the Agency indicated the determination sought in the underlying action subsequently may have been adjudicated in another court. This court requested additional briefing on the issue of mootness. Following briefing, we conclude the public interest exception applies and proceed to resolve the issues appealed.2

ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

¶5 The Agency asserts that the district court erred in denying and dismissing the petition by arguing the court misinterpreted Utah Code section 78B-6-105(1). "We review questions of statutory interpretation for correctness, affording no deference to the district court's legal conclusions." In re adoption of B.N.A. , 2018 UT App 224, ¶ 8, 438 P.3d 10 (cleaned up).

¶6 The Agency also contends that the court erred in denying and dismissing the petition based on the court's determination of Child's best interests under Utah Code section 78B-6-102(1). When reviewing a decision regarding a prospective adoptee's best interests, we afford the district court's decision "a high degree of deference." In re J.M. , 2020 UT App 52, ¶ 24, 463 P.3d 66 (cleaned up). We will reverse only for clear error, "which we find when the result is against the clear weight of the evidence or leaves us with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made." Id. (cleaned up).

ANALYSIS

I.

¶7 The Agency argues that the district court erred in dismissing the petition based on the court's conclusion under Utah Code section 78B-6-105 that venue was improper in Utah. We agree.

¶8 To begin, the statute provides,

Adoption proceedings shall be commenced by filing a petition with the clerk of the district court either:
478 P.3d 49
(a) in the district where the prospective adoptive parent resides;

(b) if the prospective adoptive parent is not a resident of this state, in the district where:

(i) the adoptee was born;

(ii) the adoptee resides on the day on which the petition is filed; or

(iii) a parent of the proposed adoptee resides on the day on which the petition is filed; or

(c) with the juvenile court as provided in Subsection 78A-6-103(1).

Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-105(1) (LexisNexis 2018). In the case of In re adoption of B.N.A. , 2018 UT App 224, 438 P.3d 10, we recognized that section 78B-6-105(1) is the venue statute for adoption proceedings. Id. ¶ 24. Adoption proceedings seek judicial acts creating a parent-child relationship and terminating the parental rights of others with respect to the proposed adoptee. See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-103(2) (2018) ; In re adoption of B.H. , 2020 UT 64, ¶ 37, 474 P.3d 981. A determination of rights and interests in a child is not an adoption proceeding but is precursory to the adoption petition.3 See Utah Code Ann. § 78B-6-109 (2018) (determination of rights prior to adoption petition). Therefore, the venue provision in section 78B-6-105 does not apply to a petition for a...

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