Indiana’s Supreme Court reversed a child’s adoption by paternal grandparents because they failed to provide legal notice to the biological mother as required by law. In Adoption of L.D.; A.B. and N.E. v. Jo.D. and Ja.D., No. 49S02-1006-CV-330, the Court determined that the paternal grandparents didn’t perform a diligent search for the child’s biological mother. The justices cited several cases to support their reversal of the adoption, explaining that service by publication is not adequate if other efforts could have easily located a party’s whereabouts.
The Supreme Court accepted review of the case based upon the biological mother’s appeal of the adoption of her son, L.D. When L.D was born, biological mother was incarcerated and consented to have her co-worker appointed his legal guardian. Mother had a close relationship with her co-worker and was actually adopted by her co-worker after the child was born, thus making the co-worker not only the child’s legal guardian, but his maternal grandmother as well.
Paternity of L.D. was subsequently established and the paternal grandparents took an interest in the child. They filed an adoption petition and asked the court to terminate parental rights as well as the maternal grandmother’s rights to parenting time. Neither biological mother nor the maternal grandmother was aware of the pending adoption petition. The adoption was granted and upon learning of the order, the mother filed a Trial Rule 60(B) request asserting that publication was insufficient notice. Mother asserted that notice placed in an Indianapolis newspaper geared toward the African-American community was not appropriate service given that none of the parties are African-American. However, the Trial Court denied mother’s request and allowed the adoption to stand.
Upon review, the Supreme Court’s decision on the case found that the paternal grandparents’ failure to perform a diligent search for mother violated the Due Process Clause. In the Opinion, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote, “…although Paternal Grandparents had successfully given notice to Mother at N.E.’s [maternal grandmother] address on previous occasions, they made no attempt to do so here,” he wrote. “Viewing the evidence most favorably to them, they made only the most obtuse and ambiguous attempt to ask N.E. about Mother’s whereabouts. They affirmatively concealed from N.E. the very fact that they were filing an adoption petition even though the most minimal diligence to find Mother would have involved N.E.”
The Supreme Court vacated the adoption and remanded the case to the Trial Court with directions to grant biological mother’s Trial Rule 60(B) motion.