IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF L.F. and B.F., minor children, MATTHEW DAVID SEAY and FARRAH EVENING SEAY, Appellants,
STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Appellee.
Mandate Issued: 07/17/2019
FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TULSA COUNTY, OKLAHOMA HONORABLE
DORIS L. FRANSEIN, TRIAL JUDGE
Catherine Z. Welsh, Jim C. McGough, Mark A. Zannotti, Matthew
J. Hall, Rachel J. Ellsworth, WELSH & McGOUGH, PLLC,
Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Appellants
Clift, DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN
SERVICES, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Larisa Grecu-Radu,
ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL, OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN
SERVICES, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Appellee
Barnett, ASSISTANT TULSA COUNTY PUBLIC DEFENDER, Tulsa,
Oklahoma, for the Minor Children
P. WISEMAN, VICE-CHIEF JUDGE
Appellants Matthew David Seay and Farrah Evening Seay appeal
the juvenile court's dismissal of their application to
set the matter for a best interests hearing and the dismissal
of their petition for adoption of minor children. After
review of the record and applicable law, we affirm the
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On December 12, 2016, DHS obtained emergency legal custody of
the minor children as stated in an emergency order issued
pursuant to 10A O.S § 1-4-201(D) by the Tulsa County
District Court in Case No. JD-2016-594 (deprived case or
court). On December 28, 2016, DHS filed a deprived petition
requesting immediate termination of parental rights. On April
25, 2017, the parents stipulated to the allegations of the
"State's offer of proof" and the minor
children, LF and BF, were adjudicated deprived based on
heinous and shocking neglect and placed in DHS's
temporary legal custody. Both parents also waived jury trial.
According to the "placement agreement for out-of-home
care," on December 16, 2016, DHS placed LF and BF in the
foster home of Matthew and Farrah Seay-- i.e.,
Appellants currently seeking the adoption of the children. On
June 14, 2017, Appellants received a "Notice of
Child's Removal from Out-of-Home Placement" stating
the children would be removed from their foster care on June
22, 2017, to be placed in a kinship home. On June 20, 2017,
Appellants filed an objection to the removal of the children
from their foster home "pursuant to 10A O.S. §
1-4-805," and on June 21, 2017, Appellants filed an
amended objection. After a hearing in July 2017, the trial
court in the deprived case overruled Appellants'
objection to removal by DHS finding "that the move by
DHS was not arbitrary, contrary to the permanency plan of the
children and is in the best interests of the children."
Appellants did not appeal this ruling. DHS removed the
children from Appellants' foster home and placed them
with a relative where they, according to DHS's appellate
brief, still remain.
On September 1, 2017, Appellants filed a petition to adopt
the children in Tulsa County District Court Case No.
FA-2017-338 (adoption case or court). That same day,
Appellants filed in the deprived case an application for
temporary injunction asking the deprived court to prohibit
the removal of the children from Oklahoma because they had
filed a petition for adoption in the adoption case and would
"likely prevail in obtaining a Decree of Adoption"
as the children's parents had agreed to the adoption. On
September 6, 2017, the deprived court denied the application
for temporary injunction stating:
Specifically, the children are still in the temporary custody
of the Department of Human Services as the parental rights of
the above-referenced children have not been terminated. The
non-jury trial on the issue of immediate termination has not
as yet been conducted. Therefore, any petition for adoption
is premature and not before the court.
Further, whether the natural parents "agree to consent
to the adoption by the Adoptive Parents" is irrelevant
for the reason that if the rights of the natural parents are
terminated pursuant to the non-jury trial, any ability for
the natural parents to consent to the adoption by the Seays
are [ sic ] extinguished as a matter of law. It is
the consent from the Department of Human Services that is to
be obtained and considered by the Court.
Lastly, the likelihood that the Seays will prevail in their
Petition for Adoption is questionable considering that the
Court approved the removal of the above-referenced children
by DHS from the Seays' home for placement in the current
September 2017, the minor children's parents consented to
the adoption by Appellants.
On October 17, 2017, DHS filed a "special limited
appearance, advice of pending deprived action and automatic
stay of action" in the adoption case advising the court
of the pending deprived action, that the deprived court had
not given consent for the adoption court to exercise
jurisdiction over the children, and an automatic stay was
therefore required pursuant to 10A O.S. § 1-4-101(A)(2).
On November 1, 2017, the adoption court entered a court
minute finding "The hearing for final decree is stricken
and stayed. The matter should be heard at juvenile."
In an order filed February 20, 2018, following a non-jury
trial, the deprived court terminated the parents' rights
to LF and BF and placed them in DHS's permanent custody
"to make reasonable efforts to finalize the plan of
adoption." The final order of judgment for approval as
to form was filed March 29, 2018.
On February 27, 2018, Appellants filed their
"application for setting of best interest." The
trial court set the application for hearing, but only for
purposes of determining "the legal issues of
jurisdiction and [Appellants'] standing to adopt"
and directing the parties to submit briefs. On March 13,
2018, DHS filed a "motion to intervene and to dismiss
application for setting best interest" to which
Following a hearing in May 2018, the deprived court granted
DHS's motion and dismissed the adoption proceeding after
determining Appellants lacked "standing to pursue
adoption in a separate proceeding" without consent of
the deprived court. If further concluded:
IT IS THEREFORE THE FINDINGS AND ORDER OF THE COURT that the
[Appellants'] Application to set the above-entitled
matter for a best interests hearing be dismissed. Further,
because [Appellants] are found to lack standing to pursue
adoption of the children in the above-entitled separate
proceeding and have attempted to do so without the consent of
this Court, who ...