Utah Court Gives Father a Second Chance after Adoption; Finds Lower Court Ruling ‘Wrong’

by Norris Law Group on March 4, 2014

20512556_sOn February 25, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Utah Supreme Court has ruled that a lower court judge was in error when he refused to let a father amend a paternity petition intended to prohibit the adoption of his daughter in Utah, while at the same time dismissing the father’s constitutional claims. This is an update in a case discussed in the January 31, 2014 edition of this blog.

The higher court found that if the 4th District Judge had allowed Christopher Carlton, a war veteran based in Pennsylvania, to amend his petition to add the adoptive parents as defendants, it would have addressed a standing issue subsequently used in part to bar the single father from intervening in the case.

In a 24-page decision issued on February 24, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the lower court should have allowed Carlton to amend his petition to add the couple before ruling on the merits of his claims, which the court said “may [indeed] have merit:” “Of particular potential merit is Mr. Carlton’s contention, which he clarified at oral argument, that the [Utah Adoption] Act’s imposition of a deadline on out-of-state fathers whose home states impose no such deadline is a violation of due process.”

Carlton discovered that his then girlfriend, Shalanda Brown, was pregnant in 2009. Brown, however, disappeared in 2010, before the child’s June due date. Carlton did not hear from Brown again until the summer of 2010. At first, Brown said that the baby, a boy, suffered from respiratory problems. Later, she said that the boy had died. Carlton sought more information about the child, and in November 2010 finally found out that the baby was actually a girl, was alive and had been put up for adoption in Utah.

The Utah court also found that Carlton’s claim for emotional distress against The Adoption Center of Choice should have not been dismissed by the lower court, though the judge properly dismissed five other claims: “[B]ecause we today reverse the district court’s dismissal of Mr. Carlton’s constitutional claims, the question of whether he may be able to ‘establish his parental rights to the child’ remains open’ and that leaves intact his claims against the adoption center.” The court ruled 11 months after hearing arguments in this case, and has sent it back to the lower court to address these points.  The Adoption Center of Choice lost its license during the week of February 17, and it is unclear how the agency may be involved in this case going forward.

Attorney Graham Norris and his associates at the Norris Law Group serve the residents of Utah County and throughout Utah in the area of family law. Contact them today at 801-932-1238 or online for a free consultation.

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