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Matter of M.F.

July 21, 1994

IN THE MATTER OF M.F. & V.H., J.F., APPELLANT


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Luke C. Moore, Trial Judge)

Before Terry, Schwelb, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

SCHWELB, Associate Judge:

I.

On March 9, 1992, the trial court entered orders terminating the parental rights of J.F. (the mother) with regard to her daughter V.H. (now eleven years old) and her son M.F. (now nine). The orders were entered after the mother, who was involved with unlawful drugs, and who had previously stipulated to a finding that she had neglected the children, *fn1 failed to follow through on referrals for drug treatment and for other services designed to enable her to gain parenting skills sufficient to warrant reunification of the family. *fn2 The mother filed timely appeals from these orders. See Nos. 92-FS-429 and 92-FS-454.

On March 22, 1993, during the pendency of these appeals, the mother filed a motion in the trial court requesting that the orders terminating parental rights (TPR's) be vacated. She claimed that there had been a material change of circumstances since her parental rights were terminated in that it had become most improbable that either child would be adopted. The mother asked for an evidentiary hearing. On June 15, 1993, following a hearing at which the Judge entertained arguments of counsel but took no testimony, the Judge denied the motion. The mother again appealed. See Nos. 93-FS-846 and 93-FS-852. The two sets of appeals have been consolidated in this court.

II.

In her appellate brief, the mother has apparently abandoned her appeal from the original TPR's. Her single contention, as reflected in her sole argument heading, is that

the trial court should have set aside the order terminating mother's parental rights based on subsequent developments indicating virtually no chance of adoption for M.F. and substantially decreased likelihood of adoption of V.H.

In her brief, the mother has summarized these subsequent developments as follows:

The circumstances of both children changed considerably after [the mother's] parental rights were terminated. [The paternal grandmother] has withdrawn her adoption petition and has apparently decided against adoption of [the son] for religious and financial reasons. She cannot divorce her husband because she is a Seventh Day Adventist and divorce is forbidden by her religion. The law will not allow her to adopt without her husband's agreement. Moreover, she has also expressed some concern about the loss of services and financial help for [the son] if the neglect case is ended. Despite these problems, [the paternal grandmother] is willing to provide a home for [the son] until he becomes an adult. No one has ever suggested that he be moved from that home.

The [daughter's foster parents] decided once again that they wanted to adopt [the daughter] and filed an adoption petition to that effect. [The daughter's] behavioral problems caused them to change their minds again. They withdrew their petition and have no plans to adopt her at the present time.

The mother has failed to identify, either in this court or in the court below, any specific provision in the Superior Court's rules which would authorize that court to set aside a TPR more than a year after it was issued (or, indeed, at any time). In civil proceedings, the court may order a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence, see Super. Ct. Civ. R. 60 (b)(2), or for any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment, see Super. Ct. Civ. R. 60 (b)(6). Civil Rule 60, however, does not apply to neglect proceedings. See Super. Ct. Neglect R. 1 (b) (enumerating Civil Rules applicable in neglect cases and excluding Rule 60). Moreover, Rule 26 (c) of the Superior Court's Neglect Rules, which deals with neglect reviews following termination of parental rights, authorizes the court to take various steps to enhance the possibility of adoption, but contains no provision authorizing the vacation of a TPR.

Assuming, without deciding, that a person whose parental rights have been terminated, and who is legally a stranger to the child, has standing to move to vacate a TPR, and assuming further that the trial court has the authority to vacate a TPR after more than a year has elapsed following its issuance, the burden on the moving party seeking such relief is a considerable one. Even in civil cases, in which the court has explicit authority pursuant to Rule 60 (b) to grant a new trial, the dominant purpose of the Rule is to "buttress the finality of judgments." Railway Express Agency v. Hill, 250 A.2d 923, 925 (D.C. 1969). Since the rules of the ...


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