FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND
DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED
appeal from the Circuit Court for Okaloosa County. Mary
P. Egger of The Nearing Firm, Miami, for Appellants.
Katherine E. Giddings and Diane DeWolf, of Akerman LLP,
Tallahassee, and Joseph L. Rebak and Lorayne Perez of Akerman
LLP, Miami, for Appellee.
Adam Edwards and his adopted son Brindley Kuiper appeal an
order vacating Mr. Kuiper's adoption, which was finalized
in 2004. Ryan Maxwell, Mr. Edwards' biological son,
argued for setting aside Mr. Kuiper's adoption because he
didn't receive proper notice. He deemed the adoption a
sham that diluted his potential for receiving distributions
of family trust benefits. We reverse because Mr. Maxwell
lacks standing to challenge the 2004 adoption order.
Maxwell is the only biological son of Mr. Edwards and is a
beneficiary of three irrevocable trusts established by Mr.
Edwards' great-grandparents to provide for their
descendants. These trusts are managed at the sole discretion
of trustees, who determine if, when, and to which eligible
trust beneficiaries distributions are made. In 2004, Mr.
Edwards adopted Mr. Kuiper, which had the legal effect of
adding Mr. Kuiper as an eligible beneficiary to these trusts.
Indeed, Mr. Kuiper has since been disbursed thousands of
dollars from the trusts. Mr. Maxwell alleged that he
didn't know about the adoption in 2004, and he challenged
the adoption when he later learned of it. In 2014, Mr.
Maxwell filed a motion to set aside the final judgment of
adoption, alleging fraud on the court. He claimed that the
adoption should be vacated because he didn't receive
notice despite his legal interest in preventing trust
benefits from flowing to Mr. Kuiper. The trial court agreed
and vacated the adoption order. Messrs. Edwards and Kuiper
law in Florida is a creature of statute and of the Florida
Adoption Act. See § 63.012 et seq., Fla. Stat.
The statutes prescribe who may adopt, who may be adopted, and
under what conditions adoptions may take place. In 2006, the
Legislature amended the Act to codify a decision of the
Florida Supreme Court from 1996, setting forth when a
third-party should be notified about an adoption, could
intervene in an adoption proceeding, and could bring an
action to vacate an adoption. See §
63.182(2)(a), Fla. Stat.; Stefanos v.
Rivera-Berrios, 673 So.2d 12 (Fla. 1996). Generally
speaking, an action to set aside a final judgment may not be
filed more than one year after judgment is entered, but this
doesn't apply to allegations of fraud upon the court.
See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.540(b). Mr. Maxwell alleged
harm from a fraud on the court as to Mr. Kuiper's
adoption. He claims to have had a right to notice and
intervention in the adoption proceeding, yet didn't
validity of Mr. Maxwell's claim depends on whether he was
entitled to notice of the adoption when it occurred in 2004.
See Stefanos, 673 So.2d at 13. Under
Stefanos and the Act, a party must show a direct,
financial, and immediate interest in an adoption to be
entitled to notice, or to have legal standing to vacate an
adoption order. A showing of an indirect, inconsequential, or
contingent interest is "wholly inadequate." §
63.182(2)(a), Fla. Stat.; Stefanos, 673 So.2d at 13.
So a person with an indirect interest or contingent interest
in an adoption does not have standing to set aside a judgment
of adoption. Id.
this case, Mr. Maxwell lacks standing to set aside the 2004
adoption because he wasn't entitled to notice in the
first place. He had no direct, immediate, and financial
interest in the adoption. The interests Mr. Maxwell possesses
as an eligible beneficiary to three family trusts are all
contingent. See Stefanos, 673 So.2d at 13;
Dennis v. Kline, 120 So.3d 11, 22-23 (Fla. 4th DCA
2013). The trusts are solely administered at the discretion
of trustees. And Mr. Maxwell has no direct or immediate right
to funds in the trust or control over trust-disbursement
decisions. The trustees possess unilateral discretion to
determine, for instance, if disbursements are made, when
disbursements are made, and to whom (among the eligible
beneficiaries) disbursements are made. See Blechman v.
Estate of Blechman, 160 So.3d 152, 159 (Fla. 4th DCA
2015) (defining a contingent interest partly on the basis of
whether it involves an event in the future, which may never
happen and which lies entirely outside the control of the
beneficiary to bring about with certainty). Because Mr.
Maxwell does not possess direct, financial, and immediate
interests in the trusts, he had no concomitant right to
receive notice about the adoption that added Mr. Kuiper as an
eligible beneficiary. And he cannot now have the adoption
Maxwell's counterargument to vacate the adoption derives
mostly from the Fourth District's holding in Rickard
v. McKesson, 774 So.2d 838 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000). There,
the Court held that a contingent beneficiary of a trust was
entitled to notice of an adoption proceeding that caused a
contingent beneficiary to be divested of her entire interest
in a trust. Id. at 840. But the situation in
Rickard, to the extent that case remains good law,
is not present here. Mr. Maxwell was not divested of his
entire interest in the trust. He retains his eligibility and
contingent interest to receive trust disbursements. The
Fourth District's decision in Dennis, subsequent
to Rickard, affirms the rule that a plaintiff
seeking to challenge an adoption must demonstrate a ...