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Adoption of Douglas

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

February 17, 2016

Adoption of Douglas (and five companion cases [1] )

          Craig T. Spratt for Douglas & others.

          Warren M. Yanoff for father I.

          Diana Cowhey McDermott for the mother.

          Robert J. McCarthy, Jr., for Cole & another.

          Lynne M. Murphy for Department of Children and Families.

          Jaime L. Prince & Andrew L. Cohen, Committee for Public Counsel Services, for Committee for Public Counsel Services, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          OPINION

          [45 N.E.3d 597] These cases are appeals of consolidated care and protection petitions concerning six children -- Douglas, Tom, Brian, Mark, Cole, and Frank. The appeals are brought by the biological mother of the six children; by the biological father of the two oldest children (father I) -- Douglas and Tom; and by four of the children -- Douglas, Tom, Brian, and Mark. They appeal from the provisions of decrees of the Juvenile Court denying parental visitation after termination of the parental rights of the mother, father I, and the biological father of the four younger children (father II) -- Brian, Mark, Cole, and Frank.[2] The Appeals Court, in a memorandum and order pursuant to its rule 1:28, dismissed the appeals of the mother and father I. It concluded that neither had standing to challenge the orders concerning visitation because their parental rights had been terminated after the consolidated hearings, pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 26, and G. L. c. 210, § 3, were concluded, and they had not appealed from the entry of the termination decrees. See Adoption of Douglas, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 1118, 30 N.E.3d 133 (2015). With respect to the appeal of the four children, the Appeals Court

Page 1025

affirmed the decrees of the Juvenile Court. Id. We granted further appellate review, and affirm the Juvenile Court judge's decrees.

          Background.

          The Department of Children and Families (department) filed a care and protection petition on behalf of Douglas, Tom, Brian, and Mark, alleging neglect due to substance use and domestic abuse of all four children. The department subsequently filed a care and protection petition on behalf of Cole and Frank, and the two petitions were consolidated. On March 3, 2010, the mother, father I, and father II each stipulated to his or her current unfitness and that their respective children were in need of care and protection.[3]

         On June 3 or 4, 2013, each of the parents submitted a written stipulation acknowledging his or her current unfitness, agreeing to the issuance of a decree terminating his or her respective parental rights; waiving the right to trial on the merits of the care and protection petitions; and waiving the right to appeal " as to unfitness and the [45 N.E.3d 598] termination of parental rights." The stipulations of father I and the mother also expressly reserved " the right to appeal any decision rendered as to the proposed plans of adoption for each child." They did so with the apparent understanding and agreement that entry of decrees terminating their parental rights would be deferred until " the conclusion of the[] hearings" concerning placement of the children and parental and sibling visitation, that they would retain the right to participate in those placement hearings, and that they could appeal from any adverse result. The Juvenile Court judge conducted colloquies and accepted the stipulations,[4] but neither found the parents unfit nor entered decrees terminating their parental rights at that time.

         The judge thereafter conducted a hearing in the consolidated cases that extended over the course of seven days, beginning on June 3, 2013, and concluding on June 20, 2013. Thereafter, on October 1, 2013, the judge issued an order adjudicating, pursuant to G. L. c. 119, § 26, and G. L. c. 210, § 3, the parents to be unfit; ordering the entry of decrees terminating their respective parental rights; approving the plans of adoption submitted by the department; [5] declining to order either posttermination or postadoption visitation between the children and their respective biological parents; and ordering sibling visitation. He issued 449 findings of fact and twenty-nine conclusions of law on February 10, 2014. The mother, father I, and the four oldest children (Douglas, Tom, Brian, and Mark) appealed.

          Standing.

          Until parental rights have been terminated by entry of a decree, parents have the right to participate in proceedings to determine issues such as placement and visitation arrangements concerning their children.[6] See Adoption of Gillian, 63 ...


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