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Buchanan v. Legan

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

December 7, 2017

HANNAH E. BUCHANAN, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
MICHAEL LEGAN, SUSAN E. BUCHANAN, n/k/a Susan E. Blair, and JAMES E. BUCHANAN, Respondents (Michael Legan, Respondent-Appellee).

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, Circuit No. 16-F-40 Honorable Lisa Y. Wilson, Judge, Presiding.

          WRIGHT JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Carter and Lytton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          WRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 On March 25, 1997, Susan E. Buchanan gave birth to a daughter, Hannah E. Buchanan (Hannah), during the course of a marriage with James E. Buchanan. Two years later, the couple's marriage was dissolved and a joint parenting agreement resulted in joint custody for the children born during the course of this marriage, including Hannah. More than a decade later, Susan Buchanan filed two separate parentage actions in the circuit court. The second 2011 petition, relevant to this appeal, attempted to simultaneously disestablish the existing parent-child relationship between Hannah and James Buchanan in order to create a new parent-child relationship with Hannah's purported biological father, Michael Legan. The prayer for relief in the second 2011 petition included a request for the trial court to order DNA testing, enter a finding that Michael Legan was Hannah's "natural" father, establish a visitation schedule and impose child support obligations on Michael Legan as Hannah's second and only other legal parent.

         ¶ 2 Court-appointed counsel for Hannah filed a motion to dismiss the second 2011 petition, filed by Susan Buchanan on Hannah's behalf. The motion to dismiss alleged the shortened statute of limitations barred the relief requested in the second 2011 petition because all parties had known for more than two years that someone other than James Buchanan was Hannah's biological father. After a hearing, the court entered a written order granting Hannah's motion to dismiss the second 2011 petition.

         ¶ 3 Four years later, Hannah filed her own amended 2016 petition to determine the existence of a father-child relationship with Michael Legan shortly after attaining age 18. The amended 2016 petition did not contest the existing parental rights of James Buchanan. The trial court found that res judicata barred the relief requested in the subsequently amended 2016 petition as a matter of law, due to the resolution of the prior proceeding in 2012 that was filed in Hannah's name. The trial court dismissed the amended 2016 petition over Hannah's objection. Hannah Buchanan appeals.

         ¶ 4 FACTS

         ¶ 5 In 1999, Susan Buchanan (Susan), [1] filed a petition for dissolution of marriage from James Buchanan (respondent-Buchanan), in Peoria County case No. 99-D-277. The petition alleged, inter alia, that a child, Hannah, was born March 25, 1997, to Susan and respondent- Buchanan during the course of their marriage. On May 19, 1999, the trial court entered a judgment of dissolution and joint parenting agreement that dissolved the marriage and adjudicated respondent-Buchanan as Hannah's joint custodial parent.

         ¶ 6 I. First 2011 Petition

         ¶ 7 On March 7, 2011, Susan filed a "Petition to Determine the Existence of the Father and Child Relationship and for Determination of Child Related Issues" in Peoria County case No. 11-F-153 (first 2011 petition). The first 2011 petition sought to determine the existence of the father-child relationship between Hannah and Michael Legan (respondent-Legan), claiming that respondent-Legan was Hannah's natural father. On June 9, 2011, Susan and respondent-Legan stipulated and agreed to dismiss the first 2011 petition with prejudice. The stipulated dismissal order contained language stating the stipulated dismissal was "with prejudice as to that cause of action, but not with prejudice as to other parties who may request a determination as to same."

         ¶ 8 II. Second 2011 Petition

         ¶ 9 On May 6, 2011, Susan filed a "Petition to Determine the Existence of a Father-Child Relationship, the Non-Existence of a Father-Child Relationship, and Child-Related Issues" (second 2011 petition) in Peoria County case No. 11-F-369. This second 2011 petition, filed by Susan on behalf of Hannah, differed from the first 2011 petition by naming Michael Legan and James Buchanan as respondents. The second 2011 petition attempted to disestablish the existing father-child relationship between Hannah and respondent-Buchanan resulting in Susan becoming Hannah's sole custodial parent. The prayer for relief in the second 2011 petition also requested the trial court to order DNA testing, enter a finding that respondent-Legan was Hannah's "natural" father, impose child support obligations on respondent-Legan, and establish a visitation schedule between Hannah and respondent-Legan.

         ¶ 10 The trial court appointed Jeffrey Dunn as guardian ad litem. A report filed by Dunn indicated that Dunn interviewed Hannah and respondent-Buchanan. Dunn advised the trial court, based on his investigation, that he believed Susan initiated the second 2011 petition, in her daughter's name, solely for Susan's financial gain and without any regard for Hannah's best interests. Dunn concluded this approach was not in Hannah's best interests because Hannah felt strongly that respondent-Buchanan should continue his status as her legal parent.

         ¶ 11 The trial court also appointed Angela Madison, an attorney, to act as Hannah's child representative. Madison filed a motion to dismiss the second 2011 petition that designated Hannah as the petitioner, rather than Susan. Hannah's motion to dismiss included the following statements:

"5. An action to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship is barred, under 750 ILCS 45/8 [(West 2010)], if brought later than 2 years after the Petitioner obtains knowledge of relevant facts and shall not ...

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