Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (A269-01, A270-01, A26-03, A27-03, A483-01, A484-01) (Hon. Hiram Lugo-Puig and Hon. Arthur L. Burnett, Sr., Trial Judges).
Before WASHINGTON, Chief Judge,*fn1 WAGNER and SCHWELB, Senior Judges.*fn2
These consolidated appeals relate to the adoption of four children of appellant, C.B., their biological mother. The two older children, R.B. (born June 29, 1991) and G.B. (born February 23, 1993), were adopted by M.L.P. with whom they had been living since August 1998. The final decrees of adoption were docketed on August 26, 2003, and no appeals were filed. After these adoptions were finalized, C.B. filed a motion to set aside the adoptions pursuant to Super. Ct. Adopt. R. 60. Concluding that it was in the children's best interest for the decrees to stand, the trial court (Judge Puig Lugo) denied C.B.'s motion, and she appealed in In re M.L.P., Nos. 04-FS-366 and 04-FS-367. On appeal, C.B. argues that the trial court erred in denying her motion to invalidate the decrees.
The remaining appeals involve competing petitions of M.L.P. and S.M., the children's paternal aunt, to adopt C.B.'s two other children, P.B. (born June 20, 1999) and B.B. (born August 30, 2000). Both parents consented to the adoptions of P.B. and B.B. by S.M. Prior to trial, S.M. filed a motion to dismiss M.L.P.'s petitions on the ground that she had falsely represented that she was not married and had failed to join her husband in the petitions as required by law. After a hearing on the motion, the trial court (Judge Burnett) dismissed with prejudiced M.L.P.'s petitions. M.L.P. appealed in In re Petition of M.L.P., Nos. 04-FS-581 and 04-FS-582. In these appeals, she argues that the trial court erred in dismissing her petitions to adopt the children without holding a trial on the merits. M.L.P. also appeals from the final decrees of adoption of P.B. and B.B. by S.M., which were entered on May 25, 2004, in In re Petition of S.M., Nos. 04-FS-583 and 04-FS-584. However, she makes no argument for reversal in these cases aside from her challenge to the dismissal of her competing petitions. We affirm in all cases.
The trial court entered final decrees of adoption of G.B. and R.B. by M.L.P. on August 13, 2003 which were docketed on August 26, 2003, after a trial in which the court determined that the consent of the children's natural parents should be waived.*fn3 No appeal was taken from these adoption decrees by anyone. On November 11, 2003, C.B., the children's birth mother, filed a motion to vacate the decrees after learning that M.L.P. had falsely represented during the adoption proceedings that she was not married. While M.L.P. had indicated correctly in the petitions to adopt G.B. and R.B. that she was not married, she married thereafter and failed to amend the petition or join her husband as required by D.C. Code § 16-302 (2001). After a hearing, the trial court denied the motion, concluding that it was in the children's best interest that these adoption decrees stand. C.B. appealed.
B.B. and P.B., who were born to C.B. after G.B. and R.B. were removed from her care, were placed with M.L.P. on July 30, 2001.*fn4 In September 2001, S.M., the children's paternal aunt, filed petitions to adopt B.B. and P.B., and C.B. consented to the adoptions.*fn5 On January 12, 2003, M.L.P. filed competing petitions to adopt B.B. and P.B. in which she verified falsely that she was not married.*fn6 M.L.P.'s husband, J.M., did not join in the petitions. S.M. filed a motion to dismiss M.L.P's petitions, asserting that M.L.P. was married, had failed to join her husband, and had misrepresented her marital status to the court and the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). In her motion,
S.M. stated that M.L.P.'s marital status was revealed after she and her husband were involved in a domestic dispute on October 14, 2003. S.M. also alleged that the children had been removed from M.L.P.'s home by the Prince George's County Child Protective Services after M.L.P. struck R.B. and G.B. with a belt, although the children were returned shortly thereafter with special services. M.L.P. made an oral motion to withdraw her petitions without prejudice.
The court held a hearing on S.M.'s motion to dismiss M.L.P.'s petition at which a social worker for all four children testified that M.L.P. was aware of the significance of her marital status to the adoption proceedings and that M.L.P admitted withholding the information because she feared it would slow down the process. M.L.P stated at the hearing that she was then separated from her husband, who was incarcerated. M.L.P. also admitted that there was an investigation of abuse regarding G.B. and R.B. The trial court found that the evidence established clearly and convincingly that M.L.P. knowingly concealed her marriage from CFSA social workers and from the court during the adoption process. It considered the children's ages and the importance of establishing permanency, security, and stability in their lives, the children's bond with M.L.P., and the uncertainties in M.L.P.'s life resulting from her false statements under oath, pending divorce issues, the unresolved allegations of abuse against her in Maryland and their potential impact on the investigations and recommendations to be made under the Interstate Compact. The trial court then concluded that it was in the best interest of P.B. and B.B. that M.L.P.'s petitions to adopt them be dismissed with prejudice. It denied M.L.P.'s petition to amend the petition for adoption to include her husband, J.M., as moot.*fn7 M.L.P. appealed.
C.B.'s Appeals, Nos. 04-FS-366 and 04-FS-367
C.B., the birth mother of G.B. and R.B., appeals from an order of the trial court (Judge Puig-Lugo) denying her motions to set aside the decrees of adoption of G.B. and R.B. by M.L.P. She contends that the failure to amend the adoption petitions after her marriage to include her husband, J.M., constitutes a procedural defect warranting setting aside the adoptions. The government argues that the trial court did not err in denying as untimely appellant's motion to vacate the adoption decrees. It contends that C.B.'s arguments are based upon fraud, and therefore, she was required to raise them within thirty days of the entry of the decrees, and she did not. M.L.P. argues that C.B. lacks standing to move to revoke the decrees unless the basis for revocation is related to the termination of parental rights. M.L.P. contends that the mother would have to show that but for M.L.P.'s alleged fraud on the courts, her parental rights would not have been terminated.*fn8
"Upon motion filed no later than 30 days after the entry or denial of a decree [of adoption], and upon such terms as are just, the Court may enter or amend a decree based on fraud, misrepresentation, or newly discovered evidence." Super. Ct. Adopt. R. 60 (b). The court may also set aside final adoption decrees for jurisdictional or procedural defects. Super. Ct. Adopt. R. 60 (d). Such motions must be filed within one year of the date that the decree becomes final. Id. C.B. argued in the trial court that her motion to vacate the decrees should be granted because (1) the court lacked jurisdiction because M.L.P.'s husband had not been joined as a party; and (2) M.L.P. had perpetrated a fraud on the court by failing to disclose her true marital status or by misrepresenting that status affirmatively. The trial court rejected C.B.'s jurisdictional challenge, concluding that M.L.P.'s petition was accurate when filed and that her failure to amend the petition upon a change in her marital status did not deprive the court of jurisdiction. The trial court rejected the claim of fraud because a motion on that ground was untimely under Rule 60 (b). To the extent that C.B. alleged fraud as the basis for her motion, there was no error in the trial court's determination that the motion was untimely. See Rule 60 (b). Further, we find no ...