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Y.G. v. Department of Children & Families

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

May 3, 2018

Y.G., Mother of A.P., a Child, Appellant,
v.
Department of Children and Families, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. David Gooding, Judge.

          Sarah Rahn Thomas, Assistant Regional Conflict Counsel, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Jacksonville, and Crystal M. Frusciante, Assistant Regional Conflict Counsel, Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, Region One, Sunrise, for Appellant.

          Ward L. Metzger, Appellate Counsel, Department of Children and Families, Jacksonville, for Appellee; David P. Krupski, Appellate Counsel, Guardian ad Litem Program, Sanford.

          Winokur, J.

         Y.G. appeals the trial court's order terminating her parental rights to her son A.P. Because the trial court should have continued the trial after Y.G. consented to A.P.'s adoption, we reverse.

         I. Background

         On September 14, 2017, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) sheltered A.P., an infant less than two weeks old. On October 9, Y.G. executed a consent to adoption and relinquishment of rights in favor of the maternal grandfather. DCF then filed an adoption case plan and expedited petition for termination of parental rights (TPR) as to Y.G. On October 31, the grandfather filed Y.G.'s consent to adoption and a notice of appearance as an intervenor, and DCF filed an approved relative home study on the grandfather.

         Y.G. filed a motion for continuance of the TPR trial, arguing that she had a right to private placement of A.P., she consented to his adoption, an approved relative home study of the grandfather had been filed, and the grandfather would soon file a motion to intervene once an adoption home study was completed. At a hearing November 28, the trial court declined to wait on a potential motion to intervene to be filed, denied the motion to continue, and set the single-parent TPR trial for December 4.

         On December 3, the grandfather filed a motion to intervene and transfer custody of A.P. He attached an adoption home study, which was approved on December 1.

         Before trial the next day, DCF and the guardian ad litem (GAL) stated that the grandfather's motion was sufficient, but objected, arguing that a transfer of custody was not in A.P.'s best interests. The trial court stated that it would "take in the motion" during "the best interest part" of the TPR trial. The grandfather moved to continue the trial so he could participate in discovery, understand the basis of the objection, and procure witnesses. The trial court denied the motion to continue. The grandfather declined the invitation to present his motion as part of the TPR trial.

         Y.G. then renewed her motion to continue on the basis of the recently-filed motion to intervene. She argued that she had a right to consent to adoption, and the grandfather's motion to intervene required a hearing as to A.P.'s best interests relevant to the grandfather's adoption. Additionally, she argued that a brief continuance would not prejudice A.P., as his permanency would not be affected; permanency would not be achieved until the father's rights were terminated, which would not occur until at least mid-December due to DCF's intended service of notice by publication. The trial court denied Y.G.'s motion to continue and conducted the TPR trial, after which it terminated Y.G.'s parental rights to A.P.

          II. Consent to Adoption

         Section 63.082, Florida Statutes, governs proceedings related to a ...


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