Nelson v. Evans, 49233

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtSTEGNER, JUSTICE
PartiesDENNIS NELSON and LINDA NELSON, Petitioners-Respondents, v. STEPHANIE EVANS and BRIAN EVANS, Respondents-Appellants.
Docket Number49233
Decision Date16 September 2022

DENNIS NELSON and LINDA NELSON, Petitioners-Respondents,

STEPHANIE EVANS and BRIAN EVANS, Respondents-Appellants.

No. 49233

Supreme Court of Idaho

September 16, 2022

Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. James Combo, Magistrate Judge.

The decision of the magistrate court is reversed, and the case dismissed.

Amendola Doty &Brumley, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for appellants Stephanie and Brian Evans. Thomas M. Knoebber argued.

Lake City Law Group, PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, for respondents Dennis and Linda Nelson. Erik P. Smith argued.


This case concerns the rights of grandparents to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren. In 2017, Dennis and Linda Nelson, the maternal grandparents of C.E., S.E., and A.E., filed a petition in Kootenai County magistrate court relying on Idaho Code section 32-719 to establish visitation rights after Stephanie and Brian Evans, the granddaughters' parents, terminated contact between the children and the grandparents. Although the magistrate court initially dismissed the petition in its entirety-a decision which was affirmed by the district court-this Court reversed the dismissal, concluding that "Idaho Code section 32-719 does not restrict when a grandparent may petition a court for visitation rights" and that "there [wa]s a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Evanses' decision to terminate all contact between the Nelsons and their children was in their children's best interests." Nelson v. Evans, 166 Idaho 815, 306, 308, 464 P.3d 301, 820, 822 (2020) ("Nelson I").

On remand to the magistrate court, the Evanses moved for a determination that Idaho Code section 32-719 unconstitutionally interfered with their fundamental parental rights. The magistrate


court denied the motion, and the matter proceeded to trial. After a three-day trial, the magistrate court found that, while the Evanses were fit parents, their decision to terminate all contact between the children and the grandparents was not in the best interests of the children. However, the magistrate court also found that Linda's actions on the whole had not been in the best interests of her granddaughters and that her actions had undermined the Evanses efforts to parent their children. The magistrate court nevertheless imposed a visitation schedule. The magistrate court ordered that the Nelsons attend counseling to address the issues it identified before the Nelsons could exercise their visitation award. This appeal followed. For the reasons discussed below, the magistrate court's visitation schedule is vacated, and the case is dismissed.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Factual Background

Stephanie and Brian Evans have three daughters: C.E., S.E., and A.E.[1] The family previously resided in Irvine, California until 2015, when they moved to Idaho. Stephanie's mother and adoptive father, Linda and Dennis Nelson, also resided in Irvine and still do.[2] C.E. was born in 2006, S.E. was born in 2008, and A.E. was born in 2011.

It is undisputed that the Nelson and Evans families were close and that the Nelsons once had a close relationship to their granddaughters. However, the nature of the relationship is heavily disputed by the families. When Stephanie and Brian announced their plans to marry, Linda did not approve of the relationship. Linda disapproved so strongly that she and Stephanie did not speak for an entire year leading up to the wedding. Just days before her daughter's wedding, Linda capitulated and agreed to attend. After the granddaughters were born, the Nelson and Evans families typically spent several days a week together while the girls were young, as Linda insisted on spending substantial time taking the girls on "playdates." The Nelsons and Evanses also frequently took vacations together to various Caribbean locations, which the Nelsons often paid for.

Stephanie, in particular, had reservations about the amount of time the Nelsons insisted on spending with the grandchildren. Stephanie testified that she and Linda have a "codependent" relationship, and that Linda manipulated Stephanie into getting what she, Linda, wanted. Stephanie attempted to establish boundaries with the Nelsons but would often face some form of


psychological punishment from Linda, such as emotional withholding, crying, and being made to feel guilty if Linda did not get her way. Stephanie admitted that she would give in to Linda to keep the peace. Any time the Evanses set boundaries for the girls' playdates, they would be ignored by Linda, in particular, who would consistently bring the girls home later than requested by the Evanses and would make statements such as "Wasn't it worth it, girls?" in the presence of the Evanses.

Linda would often take the girls on extravagant playdates to places like Disneyland, Legoland, SeaWorld, outdoor malls, and other theme parks in southern California. The girls typically returned home with items the Nelsons had purchased for them during the playdate. Stephanie and Brian asked the Nelsons to refrain from spending so much money and to instead go on more simple playdates such as to parks; however, these requests were frequently ignored. The Nelsons seemed intent on spoiling the grandchildren contrary to the expressed wishes of the Evanses.

Stephanie consistently stated that she had a difficult time saying no to Linda because of Linda's emotional manipulation and pressuring tactics. Stephanie also clarified that the level of involvement the Nelsons had in the Evanses' lives was because the Nelsons would often invite themselves or simply assume they had been invited when they had not. Stephanie and Brian did not want to "see their children go through the same emotional roller coaster that Stephanie" had experienced. The stated goal of the Evanses was to "protect their children from anyone, even family members, who use manipulation, control, and bribery as a way of influencing people around them." (Emphasis in original.)

Before the first child, C.E., was born, the Evanses resided in a rental property but were interested in buying a home. The housing market in California exceeded what the Evanses could afford, so the Nelsons offered to help the Evanses purchase a home by splitting the cost. A home was eventually purchased in the Nelsons' name only, even though the families agreed that each shared a one-half interest in the home. After a few years, the Evanses were able to transfer the mortgage to their names, but agreed that the Nelsons were still one-half owners. In 2015, the Evanses made the decision to sell the home and move to Idaho because they did not want to raise their family in southern California. The Nelsons did not receive this news well, to say the least; Linda began sobbing and shouting and told Stephanie that she would do everything in her power


to prevent them from moving out of California. Dennis, for his part, was shocked at the news. However, he was mostly concerned about recouping his investment in the house.

The Nelsons spent several weeks attempting to dissuade the Evanses from selling the home and moving to Idaho, as they thought they would be unable to recover their investment and would be forced to sell the property at a loss. The Evanses insisted on selling and secured a buyer for the home without informing the Nelsons. In response, the Nelsons filed a lis pendens on the home and a complaint to quiet title to the home in order to prevent its sale. Eventually, the families reached an agreement by which the house would be sold and the Nelsons and Evanses would equally split the loss on the property. The Nelsons then dismissed their quiet title action as a result.[3]

The Evanses then moved to Idaho and informed the Nelsons that they were terminating all contact between the Nelsons and the Evanses' children. The Nelsons attempted to make contact through several means over the course of the next year, without success. After hiring an attorney to contact the Evanses on their behalf, the Nelsons decided to initiate a formal legal action by filing a petition for visitation.

B. Procedural History

In April of 2017, the Nelsons filed a petition in Idaho magistrate court seeking grandparent visitation. The Nelsons extensively outlined their relationship with the Evanses in their petition. The Nelsons cast their relationship with their granddaughters in a positive light. They maintained that the Evanses "unreasonably and without cause denied the grandchildren access to their grandparents." The Nelsons asserted a common law cause of action and a cause of action on behalf of the granddaughters,[4] in addition to claiming that Idaho Code section 32-719 entitled them to continue their relationships with the granddaughters.

The following month, the Evanses filed their answer and counterclaim. The Evanses disputed the Nelsons' version of events, alleging that Linda in particular was emotionally manipulative of Stephanie and pressured Stephanie into allowing the Nelsons' extensive involvement in the girls' lives that was unwanted by the Evanses. The Evanses counterclaimed for attorney fees. In October of 2017, the Evanses filed a motion to dismiss or in the alternative a


motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Nelsons lacked standing, failed to state a claim for relief, and that Idaho Code section 32-719 was unconstitutional. The Nelsons opposed this motion, and filed an affidavit of Dr. Mary Dietzen, a psychologist, and an affidavit of counsel, which had attached to it copies of both Brian's and Stephanie's deposition testimony.

At the hearing on summary judgment, the magistrate court first concluded that there was "no authority to allow for a common law cause of action for grandparents seeking visitation from an intact marital parental relationship where there are no allegations that the children have been...

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