Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 99MR74 Honorable Luther H. Dearborn, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann
In June 1999, plaintiff, referred to herein as Jane Doe, filed a habeas corpus petition herein to void the trial court's June 1998 judgment granting adoption of her sister's minor child, referred to herein as J.D., to defendants, referred to herein as the Noes, in McLean County case No. 98-AD-10. In December 1999, the trial court dismissed Jane's petition. Jane appeals, arguing that (1) the adoption order is void for lack of jurisdiction; and (2) she has standing to challenge the adoption because she is a third-party beneficiary of an alleged oral agreement between her sister (referred to herein as Joyce Doe) and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), providing that she would be allowed to adopt J.D. We affirm.
When J.D. was born in August 1993, he tested positive for cannabis and cocaine. Two days later, DCFS took him into protective custody and temporarily placed him in Jane's care. In September 1993, the trial court adjudicated J.D. a neglected minor; and in October 1993, DCFS became his guardian. Jane retained custody.
In January 1996, Joyce signed a final and irrevocable surrender of her parental rights as to J.D. and acknowledged her surrender before a juvenile court judge. In April 1996, the State filed a petition to terminate Joyce's parental rights. In July 1996, the trial court terminated Joyce's parental rights and gave DCFS the authority to consent to J.D.'s adoption. Although J.D. was then in Jane's care, she did not file any petition to adopt him.
In January 1997, DCFS removed J.D. from Jane's care because he had bruises consistent with those received from a spanking. DCFS determined that the abuse report was indicated and placed J.D. with other foster parents. In August 1997, the trial court found that the permanency goal of adoption had not been achieved and that it was in J.D.'s best interests to be placed immediately in an adoptive home. The court also terminated Jane's visitation with J.D.
In December 1997, the Baby Fold, a private agency, placed J.D. with John and Jill Noe. In February 1998, the Noes filed a petition to adopt J.D. Jane and her counsel learned of the pending adoption petition when they attended an unrelated March 1998 hearing and counsel for DCFS informed the court about J.D.'s adoptive status. However, Jane never filed a petition to adopt J.D., nor did she seek to intervene in the adoption proceeding. In May 1998, DCFS provided its written consent to J.D.'s adoption by the Noes. In June 1998, the Noes obtained an adoption judgment.
Jane urges us to consider several additional alleged facts: (1) she administratively appealed J.D.'s removal and the indicated abuse report, but she never received a "fair hearing" as required by DCFS regulations (89 Ill. Adm. Code §337.120 (1996) (effective July 1, 1995)); (2) DCFS did not follow its policy and custom of staying all actions regarding a child pending a foster parent's administrative appeal; (3) she was not notified of any proceedings in the juvenile court that terminated her visitation rights; (4) DCFS refused to return J.D. to her care unless she admitted spanking him; (5) a juvenile court judge asked counsel for DCFS to seek advice from DCFS' regional counsel about how to expedite or "get around" Jane's administrative appeal; and (6) in December 1998, DCFS voluntarily "unfounded" the indicated report of abuse involving Jane and J.D. However, these allegations are not relevant to any of the dispositive issues in this appeal.
In June 1999, Jane filed the instant habeas corpus petition alleging that J.D. was "imprisoned" in the Noes' home. She argued that J.D.'s adoption was invalid because Joyce's surrender of her parental rights was subject to an oral agreement with DCFS to allow Jane to adopt J.D. The trial court dismissed the petition because Jane did not have standing to seek J.D.'s custody and could not collaterally attack the adoption judgment. This appeal followed.
Jane characterizes the adoption judgment as void for lack of jurisdiction. She argues that the trial court did not have jurisdiction because J.D. was not "available for adoption" as defined by section 1(F) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(F) (West 1998)). We disagree.
A child is available for adoption if the child has been surrendered for adoption to an agency and the agency has thereafter consented. 750 ILCS 50/1(F)(a) (West 1998). The trial court may enter an adoption judgment if it finds that (1) the adoption is for the welfare of the child and (2) either a valid consent exists or no consent is required. 750 ILCS 50/14(e) (West 1998). An agency may make a valid consent if the child has been surrendered for adoption to such agency. 750 ILCS 50/8(b)(3) (West 1998).
A valid adoption is a complete defense to a petition for habeas corpus. People ex rel. O'Connor v. Cole, 322 Ill. 95, 96, 152 N.E. 554, 554 (1926). While habeas corpus is an appropriate means to collaterally attack an adoption order where that order is void for want of jurisdiction (Greco v. Chicago Foundlings Home, 38 Ill. 2d 289, 291, 230 N.E.2d 865, 867 (1967)), the scope of inquiry in such a proceeding is limited to determining whether the trial court possessed jurisdiction (Gebhardt v. Warren, 399 Ill. 196, 199, 77 N.E.2d 187, 189 (1948)). Prior to invoking ...