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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today, re question of federal preemption of state's statute of limitations

In In Re: The Matter of D.J. and G.J., Children in Need of Services; Gr.J. (Mother) and J.J. (Father) v. Ind. Dept. of Child Services, a 9-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Slaughter writes:

We have previously held that a tardy notice of appeal forfeits the aggrieved party’s right to appeal, but does not deprive a reviewing court of jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Today, we hold that a premature notice of appeal likewise is not fatal to appellate jurisdiction. The two prerequisites for invoking appellate jurisdiction were both present here—an appealable trial-court order and entry of the notice of completion of clerk’s record in the chronological case summary.

The trial court found that Parents’ two minor children were “in need of services”—meaning they had been abused or neglected at home and were unlikely to receive the care or treatment they needed without a court’s coercive intervention. A child-in-need-of-services (CHINS) determination is not a final judgment. Finality does not occur until the court, after a dispositional hearing, resolves such questions as what specific services are warranted and whether the child should be placed in an alternative living arrangement, either provisionally or permanently. Although the CHINS determination was not final, Parents filed notices of appeal challenging only this interlocutory ruling and not the court’s later dispositional order. The Court of Appeals concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed Parents’ appeal. We do not take issue with the Court’s decision to dismiss the appeal; it is never error to dismiss a forfeited appeal. The Court’s only error was its stated reason for dismissal—lack of jurisdiction.

Despite Parents’ forfeited appeal, we exercise our discretion to decide their case on its merits. Having previously granted transfer in this CHINS matter, we reverse the trial court. The record does not support the court’s finding that Parents needed the court’s coercive intervention to provide for their Boys’ needs at the time of the dispositional hearing. * * *

Mother and Father filed separate notices of appeal (on December 11 and 14, respectively) challenging the CHINS determination after the court held the dispositional hearing but before it entered the dispositional order. After full briefing, the Court of Appeals dismissed Parents’ appeal with prejudice based on lack of jurisdiction. Parents then sought transfer, which we granted. * * *

We hold that Parents’ premature notices of appeal did not deprive the Court of Appeals of jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Given the importance of the family interest at issue here, we exercise our discretion to decide this case on its merits. Having previously granted transfer, we reverse the trial court’s CHINS determination, concluding that the Department failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Parents required the court’s coercive intervention to ensure the Boys were properly cared for.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 7, 2017 02:05 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions