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In Re Jennings

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 5, 1977.

IN RE GLEN WAYNE JENNINGS ET AL., MINORS. — (KATHRYN PIHLAJA, COUNTY PROBATION OFFICER, APPELLANT; FAYE JENNINGS, APPELLEE.)


Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of De Kalb County, the Hon. James E. Boyle, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

This appeal involves a dispute concerning the proper interpretation and application of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 37, par. 701-1 et seq.). The State's Attorney of De Kalb County, on behalf of Kathryn Pihlaja, the De Kalb County probation officer and director of Children's Services for De Kalb County, appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court for the Second District which, with one justice dissenting, reversed an order of the circuit court of De Kalb County appointing Pihlaja guardian of the three minor children of Judy Jennings with authority to consent to their adoption. 32 Ill. App.3d 857.

On April 24, 1972, Pihlaja filed petitions concerning the three Jennings children. The petitions alleged that Judy Jennings was the natural mother of the children, that the father was unknown, that the children were neglected and dependent, and that it would be in their best interests to be adjudged wards of the court. Judy Jennings filed an entry of appearance and consent as to each petition. On June 19, 1972, she signed entries of appearance which authorized the court to appoint a guardian of the children with authority to consent to their adoption. On June 21, 1972, the circuit court entered an order appointing Pihlaja temporary guardian of the children to furnish temporary custody and shelter care, and, in a separate order, also directed that she be appointed guardian of said children with power to consent to their adoption.

Two months later, on August 28, 1972, Faye Jennings, the children's grandmother, filed petitions for supplemental relief in regard to each of the three children. The petitions alleged that Judy Jennings, the mother, was mentally retarded and illiterate, that petitioner had raised and cared for the children since their birth, and that she was the proper person to have care and custody of the children. The petitions requested that the court terminate Pihlaja's guardianship and her power to consent to adoption, and that the petitioner be granted legal custody of the children.

On November 9, 1972, Judy Jennings signed a withdrawal of the consents to adoption she had previously executed. That same day, the grandmother's petitions were denied following oral argument by counsel. No evidentiary hearing was held concerning the allegations of the grandmother's petitions.

The Appellate Court for the Second District reversed the order and remanded for an evidentiary hearing on the grandmother's petitions over the dissent of one justice. The majority held that the grandmother was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the merits of her petition. The majority also found that the circuit court was without jurisdiction because the children were not adjudged wards of the court and because the consents to adoption were void. We granted leave to appeal.

Two principal issues are presented for our resolution. The first issue is whether the children's grandmother had a right to an evidentiary hearing on her petition for change of guardianship. Second, it must be determined whether the circuit court lacked the requisite dispositional jurisdiction. Pihlaja contends that the grandmother had no statutory right to a hearing and that she has no standing to challenge the validity of the proceedings at which Pihlaja was appointed guardian.

The grandmother contends that she was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on her petition on the basis of section 5-8 of the Juvenile Court Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 37, par. 705-8). Section 5-8(2) at that time provided:

"The minor or any person interested in the minor may apply to the court for a change in custody of the minor and the appointment of a new custodian or guardian of the person or for the restoration of the minor to the custody of his parents or former guardian or custodian. No legal custodian or guardian of the person may be removed without his consent until given notice and an opportunity to be heard by the court."

It is clear that the grandmother is a "person interested in the minor," and as such, under the statute, has the right to apply to the court for a change of custody. The statute does not, however, explicitly grant the right to a hearing to persons interested in the minor.

The Juvenile Court Act specifically designates the parties to a juvenile proceeding and the rights they are afforded. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1971, ch. 37, par. 701-20.) Section 1-20(1) of the Act provides:

"[T]he minor who is the subject of the proceeding and his parents, guardian, legal custodian or responsible relative who are parties respondent have the right to be present, to be heard, to present evidence material to the proceedings, to cross-examine witnesses, to examine pertinent court files and records and also, although proceedings under this Act are not intended to be adversary in character, the right to be represented by counsel. * * *"

The Act also allows limited rights to certain persons. Section 1-20(2) provides that a foster parent, who is not otherwise a party to the proceeding, and a representative of an agency or association interested in the minor have the right to be heard by the court, but do not become parties to the ...


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