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March 30, 1995


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. Nos. 90-D-2306, 93-F-3078. Honorable John T. Phillips, Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the court: McLAREN, P.j., concurs. Justice Hutchinson, dissenting:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the opinion of the court:

The petitioner, Maureen Daley, filed a petition as a nonparent pursuant to section 601 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Marriage Act) (750 ILCS 5/601 (West 1992)) seeking custody of the respondent's two minor children. The trial court entered an order granting respondent Elliot Siegel's motion to dismiss the petitioner's amended petition for custody. The petitioner appeals, contending that the trial court erred in determining, without an evidentiary hearing, that she did not have standing to petition for custody of the respondent's children. We affirm.

The petitioner's amended complaint alleged that the respondent had been married to the petitioner's sister, Patricia Daley, formerly known as Patricia Siegel (Patricia). The marriage produced two children, Elena Siegel and Marc Siegel. Both children are currently minors. On February 4, 1993, a judgment was entered dissolving the marriage. The petitioner attached a copy of that judgment to her complaint. The judgment provided, inter alia, that the respondent and Patricia were to have joint custody of Elena and Marc; the children were to reside primarily with Patricia.

The petitioner's amended complaint further alleged that Patricia died suddenly on November 5, 1992. The petitioner also alleged that at the time of Patricia's death neither parent was in "physical custody" of the children, that for several weeks following Patricia's death the children resided with the petitioner in Patricia's home on a "voluntary" basis, and that the petitioner's "physical possession" of the children basically has been uninterrupted.

Patricia's will named the petitioner as co-executor of Patricia's estate and guardian of her minor children. On November 29, 1993, the petitioner filed her original "Motion for Custody" pursuant to section 5/11-5 et seq. of the Probate Act of 1975 (755 ILCS 5/11-5 et seq. (West 1992)) and section 5/601 of the Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/601 (West 1992)). On December 17, 1993, respondent filed a "Motion to Strike and Dismiss Petition for Custody" (motion to dismiss). On February 8, 1993, the petitioner filed her "First Amended Petition for Custody" (amended petition).

The trial court determined the question of standing without an evidentiary hearing. In its December 7, 1993, order, the trial court ruled that standing would be determined by an examination of the pleadings. In her response to the motion to dismiss, the petitioner asserted that she was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the question of standing. On January 6, 1994, the trial court again ruled that the petitioner was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. Rather than hold a hearing, the trial court ordered the petitioner to submit a memorandum of law on the question of standing. On February 10, 1994, the trial court dismissed the amended petition pursuant to respondent's motion to dismiss. In its order, the trial court stated that petitioner was "without standing," citing In re Custody of Peterson (1986), 112 Ill. 2d 48, 96 Ill. Dec. 690, 491 N.E.2d 1150.

Section 601(b)(2) of the Marriage Act allows a nonparent to petition for the custody of a child but only if he is not in the physical custody of one of his parents. (750 ILCS 5/601(b)(2) (West 1992).) This statutory section creates a standing requirement that nonparents must satisfy in order to be considered for legal custody of a child. ( In re Custody of Peterson, 112 Ill. 2d at 52.) It is well settled that the nonparent has the burden of demonstrating that he or she has standing to commence a custody action. ( In re Custody of Peterson, 112 Ill. 2d at 53; In re Marriage of Santa Cruz (1988), 172 Ill. App. 3d 775, 789, 122 Ill. Dec. 759, 527 N.E.2d 131.) Furthermore, nonparents must show that the parent has relinquished "legal custody" of the child, rather than merely physical possession, before satisfying the standing requirement of section 601(b)(2) of the Marriage Act. In re Marriage of Dile (1993), 248 Ill. App. 3d 683, 686, 188 Ill. Dec. 595, 618 N.E.2d 1165; In re Custody of McCuan (1988), 176 Ill. App. 3d 421, 427, 125 Ill. Dec. 923, 531 N.E.2d 102.

In Peterson, the divorced mother of an infant child resided in her parents' home with the child. Pursuant to the judgment of dissolution of marriage, the mother had sole custody of the child while the father had reasonable visitation rights. The mother subsequently died; the maternal grandparents and the natural father both sought custody of the child. The father moved to dismiss the grandparents' petition for modification of custody on the ground that the grandparents lacked standing to pursue the action under the statute. Our supreme court held that the maternal grandparents lacked standing. In so holding, the court found that when the mother died, the father gained legal custody of the child, even though he did not have physical custody.

A similar result was reached in In re Marriage of Dile (1993), 248 Ill. App. 3d 683, 188 Ill. Dec. 595, 618 N.E.2d 1165. There, a mother was awarded sole custody of a child upon the dissolution of her marriage. The father was awarded visitation and ordered to pay child support. Thereafter, the mother committed suicide. Upon her death, the maternal grandparents took the child to their home, enrolled her in school, and scheduled counseling. When the father came to the grandparents' home to take the child, the grandparents refused to relinquish her. Six months after the mother's death, the grandparents filed a motion for custody. The Dile court held that the trial court properly granted the father's motion to dismiss the custody petition. The court found the grandparents' allegation of standing to be insufficient where it was based solely on the fact that the child resided with the grandparents following her mother's death. The court further found that when the mother died the father gained legal custody, and nothing in the record indicated that he relinquished custody to the grandparents.

Having examined the case law interpreting the standing requirement of section 601(b)(2), we must now turn to the question of whether the trial court properly dismissed the petitioner's petition without a hearing. Section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure provides for the filing of a motion to dismiss attacking the sufficiency of the complaint. (735 ILCS 5/2-615 (West 1992).) A father's motion to dismiss a custody petition based on a lack of standing which does not designate the section of the Code it is brought under should be construed as a section 2-615 motion to dismiss since it attacks the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. (See In re Marriage of Santa Cruz (1988), 172 Ill. App. 3d 775, 789, 122 Ill. Dec. 759, 527 N.E.2d 131; In re Custody of O'Rourke (1987), 160 Ill. App. 3d 584, 585, 112 Ill. Dec. 610, 514 N.E.2d 6.) A trial court should dismiss a cause of action on the pleadings only if it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proven which will entitle a plaintiff to recover. ( Burdinie v. Village of Glendale Heights (1990), 139 Ill. 2d 501, 504, 152 Ill. Dec. 121, 565 N.E.2d 654.) This broad statement, however, should not be misconstrued as an adoption of notice pleading. ( Board of Education v. A, C & S, Inc. (1989), 131 Ill. 2d 428, 438, 137 Ill. Dec. 635, 546 N.E.2d 580.) Illinois is a fact-pleading jurisdiction. ( Washington v. Chicago Board of Education (1990), 204 Ill. App. 3d 1091, 1096, 150 Ill. Dec. 11, 562 N.E.2d 541.) When reviewing a dismissal, it is this court's duty not only to take all well-pleaded facts as true, but also to disregard mere conclusions of law or facts unsupported by the facts alleged. ( Capitol Indemnity Corp. v. Stewart Smith Intermediaries, Inc. (1992), 229 Ill. App. 3d 119, 123, 171 Ill. Dec. 52, 593 N.E.2d 872.) Additionally, affidavits may not be considered in support of a section 2-615 motion to dismiss attacking the sufficiency of the complaint. ( Waterfront Estates Development, Inc. v. City of Palos Hills (1992), 232 Ill. App. 3d 367, 372, 173 Ill. Dec. 667, 597 N.E.2d 641; Curtis v. County of Cook (1982), 109 Ill. App. 3d 400, 409, 65 Ill. Dec. 87, 440 N.E.2d 942.) Because this process does not require the court to weigh facts or determine credibility, appellate courts do not give a trial court's judgment deference, but instead review the matter de novo. T&S Signs, Inc. v. Village of Wadsworth (1994), 261 Ill. App. 3d 1080, 1084, 199 Ill. Dec. 467, 634 N.E.2d 306; Toombs v. City of Champaign (1993), 245 Ill. App. 3d 580, 583, 185 Ill. Dec. 755, 615 N.E.2d 50.

In the instant case, the petitioner supported his motion to dismiss with an affidavit. The affidavit was improper when presented in conjunction with his section 2-615 motion to dismiss. Accordingly, we find that it should have been stricken. Nonetheless, since our standard of review is de novo, and we can affirm on any valid basis appearing in the record, we will proceed to address the question of whether the petitioner pleaded sufficient facts, which if taken as true, would have established that the petitioner had standing under section 601(b)(2) of the Marriage Act.

Turning to an examination of the petitioner's amended complaint, we note that it merely alleged that upon the death of the mother neither parent had "physical custody" of the child. This allegation was simply a legal conclusion unsupported by any facts alleged in the complaint. The complaint further alleged that the children resided for several weeks with the petitioner following the mother's death on a "voluntary" basis. The clear precept of Peterson and Dile indicates that upon the mother's death the father gained legal custody of the children. In fact, the present case is even more compelling because here the father had joint custody of the children pursuant to the judgment of dissolution, while in Peterson and Dile the deceased parent had been awarded sole custody. The petitioner's amended complaint does not indicate that her care and possession of the children following the mother's death was anything but a fortuitous occurrence. Among the general factors relevant for pleading the existence of standing by a nonparent are: the manner the nonparent came into possession of the children; the nature of the possession; and the duration of the possession. ( In re Marriage of Santa Cruz, 172 Ill. App. 3d at 783-84.) We hold that Dile and Peterson require that, under the circumstances of the present case, a nonparent allege in a petition for custody facts showing that the ...

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