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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides a third case today

In In Re the Custody of M.B. B/N/F S.C. and D.C. v. S.B. and S.W., a 10-page opinion, Justice David writes:

Indiana Code § 31-17-2-3(2) allows any person other than a parent to commence a custody action over a child, which is not incidental to a marital dissolution, legal separation, or child support action. In the present case, the paternal aunt and uncle of minor child, M.B., filed an independent action seeking custody of M.B. However, this action was dismissed by the trial court, finding that Aunt and Uncle did not have standing to bring an independent custody action, and the circuit court had no jurisdiction to hear a conflicting action, because a child in need of services (CHINS) proceeding involving M.B. was already pending in the Posey County Juvenile Court. We now grant transfer and reverse the circuit court. Aunt and Uncle had standing to bring the independent custody action, and the circuit court had subject matter jurisdiction over the custody action. However, where the juvenile court was already exercising exclusive jurisdiction over the CHINS proceeding, and Aunt and Uncle’s independent custody action did not arise under one of the enumerated exceptions to that exclusive jurisdiction, the circuit court should stay any proceedings and abstain from exercising its jurisdiction until the CHINS case has concluded. Accordingly, dismissal on the grounds of lack of standing and subject matter jurisdiction was error. We reverse and remand to the circuit court. * * *

[T]he trial court determined that Aunt and Uncle did not have standing to bring an independent custody action, and the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the independent custody matter while a CHINS case was pending.

Aunt and Uncle appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. In re the Custody of M.B., 40 N.E.3d 930 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), vacated. We now grant transfer thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We reverse the trial court, as dismissal for lack of standing and jurisdiction was error. We hold that Aunt and Uncle had standing to bring the independent custody action. We also hold that the Posey Circuit Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the independent custody action, but should have stayed the proceedings and abstained from exercising its jurisdiction until the CHINS action concluded. The juvenile court’s exercise of exclusive jurisdiction over the CHINS proceeding did not divest the circuit court of subject matter jurisdiction over an independent custody action, but it did require the circuit court to postpone its exercise of jurisdiction. We advise that the term “jurisdiction” should not be used too broadly. * * *

We hold that a third-party, who seeks to commence an independent child custody action under Indiana Code § 31-17-2-3(2), may properly do so in circuit court, but if a CHINS case is pending when the custody action is filed and no exception to the juvenile court’s exclusive jurisdiction is applicable, the circuit court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction and stay any proceedings on the custody action until final disposition of the CHINS proceeding. We reverse the trial court’s dismissal of Aunt and Uncle’s independent custody action and remand for further proceedings.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 12, 2016 04:32 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions