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In re Guardianship of B. C. L.-J.

Court of Appeals of Wisconsin, District III

February 23, 2016

In the matter of the Guardianship of B. C. L.-J.
v.
Oneida County Department of Social Services, Respondent. M. L.-F., Appellant, In the matter of the guardianship of B. N. L.-J. M. L.-F., Appellant,
v.
Oneida County Department of Social Services, Respondent.

APPEALS from orders of the circuit court Nos. 2014GN38 2014GN39 for Oneida County: MICHAEL H. BLOOM, Judge.

Before Stark, P.J., Hruz and Seidl, JJ.

STARK, P.J.

¶1 M. L.-F. appeals orders dismissing her Wis.Stat. ch. 54[1] petitions for guardianship of her twin grandsons. The central issue on appeal is whether an order under Wis.Stat. § 48.427 that terminated the children's parents' parental rights and ordered guardianship with the State of Wisconsin required dismissal of M. L.-F.'s previously filed, but stayed, ch. 54 guardianship petitions. M. L.-F. argues Wis.Stat. § 48.977(8)(b) expressly allowed her to file the ch. 54 petitions. We agree with M. L.-F.'s interpretation of that statute. Nevertheless, we conclude that, under the specific circumstances of these cases, Wis.Stat. § 48.15 precluded the circuit court from granting M. L.-F.'s ch. 54 petitions. We therefore affirm.

BACKGROUND

¶2 M. L.-F.'s grandsons were born in April 2011. They lived with their mother from their birth until July 25, 2012, when they were removed from her home by the Oneida County Department of Social Services (the Department) and placed in the A.K. foster home.[2] The Department filed petitions for protection or services regarding the children the following day.

¶3 Based on the admissions of both parents, the children were found to be in need of protection or services (CHIPS) under Wis.Stat. § 48.13(8) and (10). A dispositional hearing was held on September 5, 2012. Following the hearing, the circuit court entered orders continuing placement in the A.K. foster home for one year. As relevant to these appeals, each dispositional order contained a permanency plan with a primary goal of reunification with the parents and a concurrent goal of placement with a fit and willing relative.

¶4 The Department subsequently sought approval, pursuant to the interstate compact for the placement of children, to have the children placed with M. L.-F. and her husband, C. F., in Minnesota.[3] See Wis . Stat . § 48.99. Before the children were removed from their mother's home, they had had regular contact with the grandparents. About once per month, the grandparents would drive six hours to Oneida County to pick up the children and would take them to Minnesota for three to seven days before driving them home. After the children were removed from their mother's home, the grandparents were initially limited to visiting the children in Oneida County. However, in the fall of 2012, the Department gave the grandparents permission to resume taking the children to Minnesota for visits.

¶5 Pursuant to the interstate compact, the Meeker County, Minnesota social services department performed a home study regarding the grandparents. In January 2013, it issued a report recommending that the children not be placed in the grandparents' home. The Department adopted that recommendation. M. L.-F. later testified that the Department never contacted her to discuss the contents of Meeker County's report. She did not receive a copy of the report until March or April 2013, when she obtained a copy from her son's attorney. M. L.-F. asserts she did not understand that the report recommended the children not be placed with her.

¶6 On July 23, 2013, the circuit court held a hearing to extend and revise the CHIPS dispositional orders and review the children's permanency plans. Neither parent was present at the hearing. M. L.-F. asserts, and the Department does not dispute, that she received no notice of the July 23 hearing and therefore did not attend. At the hearing, placement of the children was continued in the K.s' foster home. In addition, the children's permanency plan goals were changed to a primary goal of placement with a fit and willing relative and a concurrent goal of adoption.

¶7 On January 14, 2014, another hearing was held to review the children's permanency plans. At that time, the circuit court changed the primary goal of each permanency plan to adoption, with no concurrent goals. The children's father appeared by telephone at the January 14 hearing and objected to the change in permanency plan goals. Again, it is undisputed that M. L.-F. did not receive notice of the January 14 hearing.

¶8 On March 26, 2014, the Department filed petitions to terminate both parents' parental rights to the children. As grounds, the petitions alleged failure to assume parental responsibility, abandonment, and continuing CHIPS. Both parents ultimately admitted that grounds existed to terminate their parental rights. A dispositional hearing was scheduled for December 3, 2014.

¶9 Meanwhile, on November 12, 2014, M. L.-F. filed the Wis.Stat. ch. 54 petitions for guardianship of the children that are at issue in these appeals.[4]On November 25, 2014, the circuit court stayed proceedings on M. L.-F.'s petitions, pending the conclusion of the termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings.[5]

¶10 M. L.-F. then moved to "participate" in the TPR proceedings. The circuit court denied that motion at the beginning of the December 3, 2014 dispositional hearing. See David S. v. Laura S., 179 Wis.2d 114, 133-47, 507 N.W.2d 94 (1993) (grandparents not entitled to participate as parties in TPR proceedings). ...


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