COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-2 Thursday that the Mercer County Probate Court acted within its authority in placing foster child “M.S.” for adoption to foster parents Brian and Kelly Anderson, of Celina. The case gained wider attention during the #BringMaddyHome social media campaign.
In the opinion written by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, the majority decided a parent loses the legal right to consent to an adoption only after the termination of parental rights. In the case of M.S., the birth mother testified in Mercer County Probate Court, the branch of the court that handles adoption cases, expressing her desire for the Andersons to adopt the child. Children Services had removed M.S. from the Andersons, placing the child with a relative in Indiana.
The Allen County Prosecutor’s Office filed a writ of prohibition against the adoption motion, arguing that Allen County Juvenile Court had exclusive jurisdiction over the matter and that another court could not supersede the work of juvenile court in foster cases. That motion was originally upheld by the Supreme Court, but the decision was reversed after a motion to reconsider was filed by Mercer County.
“The Juvenile Court’s continuing jurisdiction does not, however, divest the Probate Court of its exclusive, original jurisdiction over adoption proceedings,” O’Donnell wrote in the majority opinion. “And M.S.’s mother’s residual parental right to consent to adoption and preadoption placement therefore supersedes the [Children Services] Board’s right to decide M.S.’s residential placement as part of its temporary custody.”
Brian Anderson could not be reached for comment, but the Andersons’ Columbus-based attorney, Susan Eisenman, noted that everyone in her office was very pleased with the ruling, saying that they had been “living and breathing” this case for the past six months.
“We’re very excited,” she said. “Throughout the process, we were fairly certain this would be the outcome, but it’s certainly been a long five to six months trying to get this worked out.”
Children Services executive director Cynthia Scanland maintains that the agency’s point of contention in this matter came down to a jurisdictional issue, not an issue with the Andersons.
“This case was an extraordinary circumstance in the state, and that’s why it ended up at the Supreme Court,” she said. “But we will do what we’ve continued to do from the beginning, which is follow the court orders, from our local juvenile court to the Supreme Court.”
Following that order now requires Children Services to return M.S. to the Andersons “forthwith,” which Scanland said will take place “as expeditiously as possible,” with involved parties coordinating schedules.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justice William M. O’Neill each wrote dissenting opinions, with O’Connor expressing concerns that this ruling could undermine future foster cases.
“To avoid the intruding eye of the juvenile court judge, the parent alleged to be abusive or neglectful can simply find a trusted ally or private adoption agency, then proceed to probate court, where the adoption can occur without any finality to the allegations of abuse or neglect,” she wrote in her dissent. “And once the adoption is final, nothing can be done to protect the child except, of course, return to juvenile court on a new dependency action.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.