Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County. No. 01-JA-41 Honorable Judith M. Brawka, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Callum
Respondent, Andre D., appeals the trial court's orders finding him unfit and terminating his parental rights to his daughter, Andrea D. Respondent raises two arguments in this appeal. First, he argues that the court's findings of unfitness were erroneous as a matter of law because the State's amended motion for termination of parental rights was not sufficiently specific, where it (1) did not state a cause of action; (2) did not comply with a statutory notice requirement to apprise respondent that he could "permanently" lose his parental rights (705 ILCS 405/2--13(4) (West 2000)); and (3) was not verified. Respondent next asserts that the trial court's determination that he was unfit was against the manifest weight of the evidence. We reverse.
I. Motion Taken with the Case
In a motion that we ordered taken with this case, the State requests that we strike a paragraph of respondent's brief as improper due to its argumentative nature. We note that, following the State's motion, respondent filed a motion to, inter alia, amend his brief to delete the argumentative portion of the aforementioned paragraph. We allowed respondent's motion. Therefore, given our disposition of respondent's motion, the State's request is denied as moot.
II. Failure to State a Cause of Action
Respondent argues first that the State's pleadings were insufficiently specific in that they failed to state a cause of action.
The sufficiency of pleadings is an issue of law, which we review de novo. U.S. Fire Insurance Co. v. Zurich Insurance Co., 329 Ill. App. 3d 987, 1002 (2002). The essential test of the sufficiency of a petition is whether it reasonably informs the respondent of a valid claim against him. In re Harpman, 146 Ill. App. 3d 504, 512 (1986). The requirement of pleading with specificity does not require more than a setting forth of the specific statutory grounds of unfitness. In re M.S., 210 Ill. App. 3d 1085, 1091-92 (1991).
In its amended petition, the State alleged that respondent was an unfit parent under subsections (b), (i), (r), and (s) of section 1(D) of the Adoption Act (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(b), (i), (r), (s) (West 2000)). The State recited the statutory language, without more.
In M.S., this court held that a petition that merely tracked the statutory language "was sufficient to apprise the respondent of the claim against her." M.S., 210 Ill. App. 3d at 1093. Given this precedent, we conclude that the pleadings here were sufficiently specific.
III. Pleading Defect Relating to Permanent Termination of Parental Rights
Respondent next contends that the trial court's finding of unfitness was erroneous because the State's petition was defective on its face in that it failed to apprise respondent that his parental rights could be "permanently" terminated. 705 ILCS 405/2--13(4) (West 2000).
We note first that respondent did not raise this issue at trial. Generally, pleading defects must be raised at trial so that they may be remedied; otherwise, the defects are waived. In re Dragoo, 96 Ill. App. 3d 1104, 1107 (1981). However, under the plain error doctrine, we may address a waived issue if the evidence is closely balanced or the error affects substantial rights. 134 Ill. 2d R. 615(a). The termination of parental rights affects a fundamental liberty interest. In re J.J., 201 Ill. 2d 236, 243 (2002). Here, we are not amenable to invoking waiver where the question is whether respondent was provided with a statutorily mandated notice. Thus, we choose to review this question. In re R.A.B., 315 Ill. App. 3d 620, 623 (2000) (plain error rule invoked where issue involved fundamental right to a jury trial); In re J.C., 163 Ill. App. 3d 877, 891 (1987) (plain error rule invoked where issue involved fundamental right to effective assistance of counsel).
Section 2--13(4) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) provides:
"(4) If termination of parental rights and appointment of a guardian of the person with power to consent to adoption of the minor under Section 2--29 is sought, the petition shall so state. If the petition includes this request, the prayer for relief shall clearly and obviously state that ...