IN RE C.M.S.
884 A.2d 1284 (2005)
In re: C.M.S., a Minor.
Appeal of: D.E.H., Jr., Natural Father.
Appeal of: D.E.H., Jr., Natural Father.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
Submitted August 22, 2005.
Filed October 6, 2005.
Elizabeth A. Hoffman, Harrisburg, for appellant. Thomas M. Clark, Dillsburg, Guardian Ad Litem, for appellee. Mary S. Ramsden, Pittsburgh, for Petitioners.
BEFORE: TODD, MONTEMURO and BECK, JJ.
OPINION BY BECK, J.:
¶ 1 Father appeals the termination of his parental rights, contending that termination does not best serve the needs and welfare of the child and that petitioners/appellees lacked standing to bring the termination petition. We affirm.
¶ 2 The child C.M.S. was born on June 4, 2001 to a twenty-four year old Mother and a thirty-five year old Father, who never married, nor lived together. During her pregnancy, Mother began arranging for her child's adoption, without Father's knowledge or consent. After the birth, Father visited Mother and child one time in the hospital. Immediately after her release from the hospital, three days after the child was born, Mother executed a consent for adoption and placed the child in the care of Carol Starr. Ms. Starr, who was acting as an intermediary for the adoption, then placed the child with petitioners/appellees T.S. and R.S. Ms. Starr was the wife of Mother's pastor, aunt of R.S., and an employee of the attorney handling the adoption. T.S. and R.S. have cared for the child in their home from the time she was a few days old, up to the present.
¶ 3 On May 22, 2002, T.S. and R.S. petitioned for involuntary termination of Father's parental rights.
¶ 4 Nonetheless, the panel remanded to the trial court to address the effect of termination of Father's parental rights on the "developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of [the] Child," pursuant to section 2511(b).
¶ 5 Father appeals, raising two questions for review. First, Father contends that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that termination of his parental rights best served the needs and welfare of the child. Second, Father contends that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to dismiss the termination petition based on lack of petitioners'/appellees' standing.
¶ 6 We first address Father's contention that the evidence did not clearly and convincingly show that termination of his parental rights best served the needs and welfare of the child. In an appeal from an order terminating parental rights our scope of review is broad and comprehensive, but our standard is narrow. We consider all the evidence, along with the legal and factual findings of the trial court. In re M.G.,
¶ 7 An inquiry into whether termination of parental rights would best serve the developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child is a distinct aspect of a termination hearing,
¶ 8 In the case at bar, Father alleges that the court did not consider the effect that the circumstances of the child's placement are likely to have on her emotional well-being in coming years. Specifically, Father predicts emotional and identity problems for the child when she learns of her Father's ignorance of her placement for adoption. Father presented no evidence in support of his prediction. His own brief testimony was the only evidence offered on his behalf at the February 2005 hearing.
¶ 9 In contrast, appellees offered several lines of evidence concerning the best interests of the child. Aside from their own testimony, appellees offered testimony from two expert witnesses: Dr. Shienvold, a licensed psychologist who performed an evaluation of appellees and the child, and Ms. Parkhill, who conducted a home study. Dr. Shienvold described the attachment that the child has to appellees as "very strong, very secure." N.T., 2/8/05, at 12. He testified that it would be in the best interests of the child to remain with appellees, the people to whom she is primarily attached, as young children often have problems when they are separated from their primary attachment figures. Ms. Parkhill testified that appellees' home is completely appropriate for raising the child, as it has been set up to be child friendly and to prompt creativity in the child's play.
¶ 10 The court concluded that the child is in a loving, caring, nurturing home where she is being raised by loving and well-adjusted parents. In addition, the court determined that appellees are meeting all of the child's developmental, physical and emotional needs, and that it is in the child's best interests for Father's parental rights to be terminated. The court was faced with a choice between Father's pure speculation about a future potential problem that is within his power to resolve and appellees' well-supported evidence that the child is thriving in a safe and stable environment, where she is strongly attached to appellees as the only parents she has ever known. We find the court's decision to be strongly supported by the evidence and free of legal error.
¶ 11 We turn now to Father's second contention: that appellees lacked standing to bring the termination petition and therefore the petition should have been dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. As this Court has previously explained, "[w]hen our legislature has designated who may bring an action under a particular statute, a court does not have jurisdiction over the action unless the party bringing the action has standing." In re Adoption of W.C.K., 748 A.2d 223, 228 (Pa.Super.2000), appeal denied, 567 Pa. 745, 788 A.2d 378 (2000). In the case at bar, as in W.C.K., the relevant statute is the Adoption Act,
¶ 12 Father first raised the issue of standing in his petition for allowance of appeal, which our Supreme Court denied without comment. However, Father relies on the tenet that "the question of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, by any party, or by the court sua sponte" to argue that this Court may now address the standing issue. W.C.K., 748 A.2d at 228 (quoting Grom v. Burgoon,
¶ 13 As discussed above, the Adoption Act specifies who may bring a petition to terminate parental rights: inter alia, "[t]he individual having custody
¶ 14 In several other cases, where consent was clearly manifest for adoption, this court has held that prospective adoptive parents did stand in loco parentis to a child and thus had standing to commence a
¶ 15 The issue presented in the case at bar is whether prospective adoptive parents stand in loco parentis to the child when one biological parent gives consent for adoption and the other biological parent does not consent, but also fails to take any action to bond with or support the child or to assert his parental rights for the first year of the child's life. Given the facts of the present case, we find that appellees were prospective adoptive parents who stood in loco parentis to the child. There is no question that Mother consented in writing to the adoption of her child by appellees and voluntarily terminated her parental rights. There is no question that appellees have assumed and discharged parental duties with regard to the child since she was several days old. There is also no question that Father was aware of these facts.
¶ 16 Father knew that Mother had placed the child for adoption, he continued to have a relationship with Mother, and he voiced his opposition to the adoption — but voice his opposition to the adoption is all that he did with regard to the child for more than a year. As this Court has previously stated, Father did not make reasonable efforts to maintain contact with, to bond to, or to provide financial support for his child. C.M.S., 832 A.2d at 462-65. Father never filed a petition for custody or visitation. He claims that there was nothing he could do, but this Court has previously rejected Father's protestations of lack of recourse. Id. Father did have legal recourse and his failure to pursue it for over a year after the child's birth has contributed to the length of this dispute. Father failed to take action, while appellees assumed and discharged all parental duties with regard to the child. The child is now four years old, living in the only home and with the only parents that she has ever known. To deny that appellees stood in loco parentis to the child would require us to ignore not only the reality of this child's life, but also Father's failure to establish any sort of bond with his newborn child or to provide in any way for her care. This we cannot and will not do.
¶ 17 In spite of these considerations, Father insists that his case is controlled by our Supreme Court's holding in B.A. v. E.E. ex rel. C.E.,
¶ 18 Our Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the lower courts erred in conferring in loco parentis status upon the prospective adoptive parents, thereby allowing them to intervene. Id. The Court held that allowing intervention was error and vacated the order granting custody to the prospective adoptive parents. The underlying rationale behind the Court's holding was that parents enjoy a presumption of the right to custody of their children. Id. at 549 n. 1, 741 A.2d at 1229 n. 1. Third parties do not have standing to interfere with the natural parents' custody of their child — "unless the natural parents' prima facie right to custody is successfully overcome via ... dependency proceedings." Id. at 549, 741 A.2d at 1229 (quoting Cardamone v. Elshoff,
¶ 19 We disagree with Father that B.A. must control his case, because the factual circumstances and the procedural posture are dissimilar. In B.A. the appellant-father filed a petition for custody within two months of his child's birth. In the case at bar, Father never filed a petition for custody, or even visitation, and took no legal action for more than a year after his child's birth. Father merely stated to various people that he was opposed to the adoption, while taking no steps to establish any relationship with, nor to support his child. Father's inactivity presents a very different fact pattern from that of B.A.
¶ 20 Father's inactivity and lack of involvement with his child more closely resemble a subsequent case decided by this Court. See McDonel v. Sohn,
¶ 21 Finally, we note that, unlike B.A. and McDonel, the case at bar is a termination proceeding, not a custody proceeding.
¶ 22 Order affirmed.
- No Cases Found