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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Ind. Decisions - A third opinion today from the Supreme Court

In In the Matter of the Adoption of Minor Children: J.T.D. and J.S.: Ind. Dept. of Child Services v. N.E., a 10-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

Local rules cannot confer, revoke, or override subject matter jurisdiction, but they may properly prescribe venue—the particular location among courts that have jurisdiction for cases to be heard. Here, the Lake Superior Court has four divisions, “civil (including probate), criminal, county, and juvenile,” Ind. Code §§ 33-33-45-3, -21(a) (2008), none of which is a “separate probate court” that would have exclusive adoption jurisdiction, see I.C. § 31-19-1-2(a). N.E. filed two adoption petitions in one of the Civil Division courts, violating a local rule that all adoptions (a type of probate case) must be filed in the Juvenile Division. The trial court, in turn, declined to transfer the cases to the Juvenile Division, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Largely in an effort to adhere to dicta in one of our previous cases, it held the local rule impermissibly impinged on the jurisdiction of the Superior Court’s “civil (including probate)” division. We disagree. The local rule does not impermissibly expand jurisdiction beyond statutory bounds, but simply prescribes venue—and like all local rules, it is binding on the courts and litigants. The trial court erred in refusing to transfer these adoptions to the Juvenile Division, and we reverse and remand accordingly. * * *

The parties and both of the previous courts were all partly correct in their analyses. The trial court was correct that it did have subject matter jurisdiction over adoptions and that the Caseload Allocation Plan was a matter of venue and not jurisdiction. Yet DCS was correct that the trial court was bound by the Caseload Allocation Plan and therefore obligated to transfer the adoption to the Juvenile Division. Because nothing in Indiana Code chapter 33-33-45 restricts the probate jurisdic-tion of any of the Lake Superior Court’s divisions, each division—including the Juvenile Division—is imbued with the same jurisdiction as the court at-large. Therefore, even though the Caseload Allocation Plan’s provisions establish only venue and not jurisdiction, they are binding on the court and litigants. Lake County was free to adopt a Caseload Allocation Plan establishing exclusive venue for adoptions in the Juvenile Division as a matter of administrative convenience and efficiency, and that Rule is binding on the court and litigants.

Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s denial of DCS’s motion to transfer and order these adoptions transferred to the Juvenile Division consistent with the Lake County Caseload Allocation Plan that was in effect at the time N.E. filed these adoptions.

ILB: An earlier news story about this case was headed "Fate of 3,800 Lake adoptions hangs on Indiana Supreme Court."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 4, 2014 02:54 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions