Jernigan-Leysath v. Leysath, F-02506-20

CourtNew York Family Court
Writing for the CourtHasa A. Kingo, J.
Citation2022 NY Slip Op 50396 (U)
PartiesIn the Matter of a Proceeding for Support Under Article 4 of the Family Court Act, Edward Jernigan-Leysath, Petitioner, v. Rhonda Leysath and Robbie Leysath, Respondents.
Decision Date16 May 2022
Docket NumberF-02506-20,F-09264-20

2022 NY Slip Op 50396(U)

In the Matter of a Proceeding for Support Under Article 4 of the Family Court Act, Edward Jernigan-Leysath, Petitioner,
v.

Rhonda Leysath and Robbie Leysath, Respondents.

Docket Nos. F-02506-20, F-09264-20

Family Court, New York County

May 16, 2022


Unpublished Opinion

For Petitioner: Kao Pin Lew

Respondents pro se: Rhonda Leysath and Robbie Leysath

Hasa A. Kingo, J.

On April 18, 2022, petitioner Edward Jernigan-Leysath ("Petitioner") timely filed an objection to an order entered by Support Magistrate Kevin Mahoney (the "Support Magistrate") on March 22, 2022 (the "March 22, 2022 Order"). Petitioner submitted proof of service of the objection upon the respondents Rhonda Leysath ("Rhonda") and Robbie Leysath ("Robbie") (collectively "Respondents"), who are unrepresented by counsel, with his objection papers. No rebuttal was submitted. Upon reviewing the record, including Petitioner's objection and exhibits thereto, the orders of dismissal and findings of fact issued by the Support Magistrate in both dockets, and the recordings of the hearing held on September 8, 2021, November 22, 2021, and March 22, the court finds that there is insufficient evidence to support the Support Magistrate's finding that Respondents met their burden of establishing constructive emancipation and the objection is granted and the matter is remanded to the Support Magistrate for additional fact finding.

Background

Petitioner was a foster child in Respondents' home and was subsequently adopted by them in 2016, at the age of fourteen or fifteen. [1] On March 4, 2020, Petitioner filed the instant petition seeking to establish support for himself (Docket No. F-02506-20 & F-09264-20). [2] Specifically, petitioner alleges that he no longer resides with Respondents, who "currently receive an adoption subsidy for [his] care since [he] was adopted at age 14 though I no longer reside with them." Petitioner cites to Barbara T. v. Acquinetta M., 164 A.D.3d 1 [1st Dept 2018]) in support of his request for an order of support directing Respondents to pay fair and reasonable support in the amount of the adoption subsidy that they receive and that they be required to exercise the option of additional coverage for health insurance in Petitioner's favor.

A hearing was held on September 8, 2021, November 22, 2021, and March 22, 2022 on the question of whether Petitioner had constructively emancipated himself. Petitioner was represented by counsel at the hearing and both Respondents waived their right to counsel and proceeded pro se. Petitioner testified and was cross-examined by each Respondent, and Robbie briefly testified regarding Petitioner's relationship with his counsel and various social workers during and after the adoption proceeding. Rhonda declined to testify on her own behalf. The Support Magistrate thereafter issued findings of fact and orders of dismissal on March 22, 2022. [3] The findings of fact indicate that "the basis of Petitioner's request for support is his claim that he had no other choice but to leave the Leysath's home when he was 18 years old, and is thus entitled to a support order paid directly to him by Respondent." The Support Magistrate determined the following:

The testimony of both parties made it clear to the Court that the Petitioner was being raised in a home as a teenager which required him to act accordingly and contribute in an age appropriate way through chores and other household responsibilities. The Court did not find Petitioner credible in his claim that he never felt truly loved by his adoptive family. The Court also notes that there has been no allegation of physical abuse of Petitioner made in this case
Similarly, Petitioner's complaints of nothing being "fair" in Respondent's home as far as he was concerned, as well as a claim that Respondent did not cook "anything" are found by the Court to be typical responses from a teenager faced with age appropriate discipline. The Court notes that no other witnesses were called by Petitioner to confirm any alleged "mistreatment" of Petitioner by Respondent, and there was no evidence that Petitioner had alerted any social workers of any issues within the home, despite the fact that he had contact with several

(Lew affirmation, exhibit A, Docket F-02506-20). The findings of fact for Robbie reiterate these points, with the addition that Petitioner's claim that Robbie's "didn't give him a chance to speak," was found to be a typical response from a teenager faced with age-appropriate discipline (Lew affirmation, exhibit A, Docket F-09264-20).

Upon these findings of fact, the Support Magistrate determined that Petitioner had constructively emancipated himself from the household and both petitions were dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. Petitioner thereafter filed his objections.

Standard of Review

Family Court Act § 439 (a) empowers Support Magistrates "to hear, determine and grant any relief within the powers of the Court," in proceedings properly before them. FCA § 439 (e) provides that the Support Magistrate's determination "shall include findings of fact and... a final order." The parties are permitted by statute to submit "specific written objection," to the order for "review" by a Family Court judge. The review of the Support Magistrate's order is essentially equivalent to an appellate review of such an order (see Matter of Cherrez v Lazo, 102 A.D.3d 781, 782 [2d Dept 2013]). The scope of that review, however, is narrow, and confined to whether the Support Magistrate, as the trier of fact, has made the necessary findings of fact and whether, upon review of the record, the findings of fact present a reasonable basis for that order. The determination of the Support Magistrate should not be disturbed unless no fair interpretation of the evidence can support the findings (see Matter of Stone v Stone, 236 A.D.2d 615, 615 [2d Dept 1997]; Matter of Reed v Reed, 240 A.D.2d 951, 952 [3d Dept 1997]). In applying these legal principles, the scope of the Family Court judge's review consists primarily of an inquiry as to whether the Support Magistrate has made the necessary findings of fact and conclusions of law, and whether upon review of the record, there was a reasonable basis for the Support Magistrate's order. In reviewing an objection to a decision of a Support Magistrate, the Court may remand one or more issues of fact to the Support Magistrate, make its own findings of fact and its own order, with or without an additional hearing, or deny the objection altogether (FCA § 439 [e]).

Discussion

Petitioner argues that the Support Magistrate "incorrectly and wrongly focused on whether the Petitioner emancipated himself by leaving the adoptive home when he turned 18 years old" (Lew affirmation ¶¶ 6-8). Instead, Petitioner relies...

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