Storm v. Mullins, 199 S.W.3d 156 (Ky., 2006)

Storm v. Mullins, 199 S.W.3d 156 (Ky., 2006)

Issues and Holdings:
1. Whether the consent to custody form, signed by the mother, was sufficient to establish the mother’s consent to the paternal grandparents’ adoption of the children. The Supreme Court held that such form was not sufficient.
2. Whether the one-year statute of limitations period for challenging an adoption, set out in KRS 199.540(2), applied to the mother’s motion to set aside the adoption based on lack of consent and notice. The Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations barred the mother’s challenge based on lack of consent. However, the Court found the record inconclusive as to whether the notice requirement had been met, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Facts:
The mother, Appellant, of B.L.M. and A.R.M. signed a consent to custody form authorizing Appellees, the paternal grandparents, as the primary custodians of the children on March 27, 2002. This form does not mention anything about adoption. Appellant maintained that she never intended the form to operate as consent to adoption and was never provided with a copy of the adoption petition. However, Appellees claimed that a copy of the adoption petition was given to the Appellant when she signed the consent to custody. The Court noted that there is little in the record to support the Appellees’ claim.
On May 17, 2002, the Appellees filed a Petition for Adoption in the Floyd County Family Court. Nothing in the record indicated that the Appellant was served with a copy of the petition. The subsequent GAL report, which was filed with the court, did not include any reference to Appellant or her former husband. A three-minute hearing on the matter was held on June 20, 2002; however, this hearing was not certified as part of the record on appeal. The family court’s videotape recording log does not indicate whether Appellant or any other representative attended the hearing.
On June 21, 2002 the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children filed a report with the family court. The report included 1) a letter stating that the parents had consented to the adoption, but lacked affidavits of consent to the adoption, 2) a DSS-191 form, unsigned but allegedly completed by the parents, which detailed the health history of the parents for use by adoptive parents in parenting the child, and 3) a DSS-192 form, signed by Appellant, which allows the biological parent to consent to future contact with the children who are being given up for adoption.
On July 1, 2002 the family court entered a judgment of adoption. A copy of the judgment was never served on the Appellant.
On December 14, 2004 Appellant filed a petition to review the adoption proceedings. Her request was granted, and on January 13, 2005 she filed a CR 60.02 motion to set aside the judgment of adoption and to grant her custody of the children. The family court denied Appellant’s motion, relying solely on KRS 199.540(2). The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court then granted discretionary review.

Analysis:
The Appellant’s primary claim was that the judgment of adoption was void ab initio because the procedural requirements of consent and notice were not met. She also argued that since the adoption was never valid, KRS 199.540(2) cannot bar her challenge to the adoption.
First, the Court found that the consent to custody form signed by Appellant was not sufficient as proof of Appellant’s consent to adoption. The consent to custody form did not mention adoption and does not meet the requirements of KRS 199.011(14).
Second, the Court found that KRS 199.540(2) barred the Appellant’s challenge to the adoption based on the parties’ failure to comply with the consent requirement. KRS 199.540(2) has a one-year statute of limitations that applies to challenging adoptions. The only exception to the one-year limitation, recognized by case law, is when the adoption is alleged to have been obtained through fraud. No allegation of fraud was made in the instant case. Therefore, despite the Court’s finding that an irregularity in the proceedings had occurred, the Court adhered to a strict interpretation of the statute and held that Appellant’s failure to challenge the adoption within one year barred her current challenge based on lack of consent.
Third, the Court noted that if the Appellant can show that she was denied due process in the adoption proceedings, then the judgment of adoption must be set aside. However, the Court found the record inconclusive on this issue. Therefore, the Court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine whether the Appellant was given proper notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding the adoption. The Court also noted that if Appellant was denied notice of the proceedings, a strict application of the statute of limitations could violate her right to due process.