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In re Adoption of J.M.B.

Court of Appeals of Oklahoma, Division IV

February 8, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF J.M.B., a minor child,

          Mandate Issued: 06/13/2018

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE KURT G. GLASSCO, TRIAL JUDGE

          Jessika Tate, Gilbert J. Pilkington, Jr., Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Appellant

          Catherine Z. Welsh, Jim C. McGough, Matthew J. Hall, Mark A. Zannotti, Brian D. Carter, WELSH & MCGOUGH, PLLC, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Appellees

          Angela N. Monroe, ASSISTANT PUBLIC DEFENDER, OFFICE OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDER, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Minor Child

          KEITH RAPP, JUDGE

         ¶1 The trial court respondent, Avery Buyckes (Buyckes), appeals a Judgment determining that he has no standing to object to the adoption of JMB by the maternal grandparents, Michael and Phyllis White (Grandparents). JMB is represented by counsel in these proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 JMB was born on February 9, 2013. JMB's mother, Cokesha D. Phillips (Mother) is deceased and her date of death is September 16, 2016. At the time of her death she was married to Timothy D. Phillips (Presumed Father). They were lawfully married on September 22, 2000, [1] and remained married until Mother's death. [2] JMB's birth certificate lists Presumed Father as Father. [3]

         ¶3 Grandparents filed a petition to adopt JMB. Presumed Father previously consented to Grandparents' custody in a sworn document where he listed himself as "father." [4] He does not object to the adoption.

         ¶4 In their petition, Grandparents allege that Buyckes may claim to be the natural father of JMB. The petition states that Buyckes filed a paternity action in Tulsa County District Court, and might claim an interest in the adoption proceeding. Grandparents asserted that Buyckes had not been adjudicated as the natural father, so he had no standing. Alternatively, Grandparents moved for an order allowing the adoption without his consent because he has not provided support for JMB or maintained a positive relationship with JMB. Counsel for JMB also filed a challenge to Buyckes' standing.

         ¶5 The court in Buyckes' paternity case entered an "Interim Temporary Order" which ordered that he pay child support and an arrearage for child support and provided for supervised visitation. [5] Buyckes relies on this interim support order as one basis for finding that he is the natural father of JMB and argues that it refers to him as "father" of JMB. However, the paternity action never became final with an adjudication of parentage and was still pending when the present case was heard. [6] Buyckes testified that he did not have the money to continue the case.

         ¶6 In addition to the support order, Buyckes relies on a DNA test showing that he was not excluded as father and that the test shows a relationship between Buyckes and JMB to have a 99.99% probability. [7] He also points out that JMB has Buyckes as his last name. At the hearing on the standing motion, Buyckes submitted into evidence a Department of Human Services form, "Acknowledgment of Paternity" which he and Mother signed. [8]

         ¶7 Buyckes filed a handwritten objection to the adoption where he asserted his claim of being the natural father. [9] Grandparents and counsel for JMB challenged his standing.

         ¶8 After a hearing where evidence of the foregoing facts was presented, the trial court determined that Buyckes did not have standing and his objection to the adoption was therefore moot. In addition, the trial court ruled that: (1) Paternity was not decided; (2) The DHS child support order did not determine that Buyckes was the father; (3) Buyckes' "paternity case was moot because the mother had passed away and him being determined the father could only be by agreement;" and, (4) "Natural father was permitted to file an application on paternity and submit authority." [10] Buyckes appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

Standing, as a jurisdictional question, may be correctly raised at any level of the judicial process or by the Court on its own motion. This Court has consistently held that standing to raise issues in a proceeding must be predicated on interest that is "direct, immediate and substantial." Standing determines whether the person is the proper party to request adjudication of a certain issue and does not decide the issue itself. The key element is whether the party whose standing is challenged has sufficient interest or stake in the outcome.

In re Estate of Doan, 1986 OK 15, ¶ 7, 727 P.2d 574, 576.

         ¶9 Standing presents a jurisdictional issue. Bank of America, NA v. Kabba, 2012 OK 23, ¶ 4, 276 P.3d 1006, 1008. Jurisdictional questions are reviewed de novo. Jackson v. Jackson, 2002 OK 25, ¶ 2, 45 P.3d 418, 421-22. Under this standard, the appellate court has "plenary, independent and ...


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