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In re Grace C.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division

October 15, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF GRACE C.,
v.
Levi C, Defendant-Appellant. The People of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 17 JA 274 Honorable Richard A. Stevens Judge Presiding

          PRESIDING JUSTICE GRIFFIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hyman and Pierce, concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GRIFFIN PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Respondent Levi C. was arrested and pled guilty to a charge of domestic battery for abusing his daughter Grace C. During the abuse and neglect proceedings, Grace C. informed the court and her guardian ad litem that Levi C. might not be her biological father. A paternity test was conducted and it was determined that Levi C. is not Grace C.'s biological father. The guardian ad litem, on behalf of Grace C, petitioned the trial court to declare the non-existence of a parental relationship between Levi C. and Grace C.

         ¶ 2 Levi C. moved to dismiss Grace C.'s petition on the basis that it was filed too late. The Illinois Parentage Act of 2015 (750 ILCS 46/101 et seq. (West 2016)) stipulates that an action to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship must be brought within 2 years of the petitioner knowing the facts that give rise to the petition. 750 ILCS 46/205(b) (West 2016). Levi C. argues that because Grace C. was told by him and by her mother that Levi C. might not be her biological father more than two years earlier, Grace C.'s petition is barred as untimely. Like the trial court, we reject Levi C.'s argument, and we affirm.

         ¶ 3 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Grace C. was born July 3, 2005. Respondent Levi C. was named as Grace C.'s father on her birth certificate. Levi C. signed the birth certificate as an acknowledgement of paternity. When Grace C. was three months old, her mother left. Grace C. lived under the care and custody of Levi C. her whole life after that point, while intermittently staying with her mother. Grace C. and her mother have had a strained relationship, and her mother now lives in Montana. When Grace C. was eight or nine years old, her mother told her that Levi C. was not her biological father. Levi C. also once mentioned to Grace C. when she was 10 years old that he was not her biological father.

         ¶ 5 On March 23, 2017, officers from the Chicago Police Department responded to a call at a liquor store. Both Grace C. and Levi C. were present. Twelve-year-old Grace C. told the officers that she had run away from home because Levi C. had struck her in the face earlier that day. She told officers that Levi C. had punched her in the back the prior day, and that the day before that, he had whipped her with a belt. The officer could see visible swelling on Grace C.'s face, and they took Levi C. into custody. Levi C. pleaded guilty to domestic battery.

         ¶ 6 The State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship for Grace C. At the initial hearing on the petition for an adjudication of wardship, a guardian ad litem was appointed for Grace C, but Grace C. was not present. Levi C. was, however, present and he informed the court that he was Grace C.'s father. The trial court entered an order of paternity in favor of Levi C. The matter proceeded through the Juvenile Court Act process to adjudication, disposition, and permanency hearings. Levi C. denied abusing Grace C, but the court found that Levi C. had abused Grace C. Levi C. began participating in therapy with DCFS's reunification services and the trial court set a goal of returning Grace C. to home within 12 months.

         ¶ 7 Almost 10 months later, the parties appeared in court for another permanency hearing. At the hearing, Grace C. informed the trial court judge and her guardian ad litem that Levi C. might not be her biological father. Grace C. requested that the trial court order paternity testing. Grace C. indicated that she did not want visitation with Levi C. and did not want to return home, but instead wanted to be adopted by her foster mother. Levi C. objected to paternity testing. Over Levi C.'s objection, the trial court ordered paternity testing.

         ¶ 8 A report from DNA Diagnostic Center was filed with the juvenile court indicating that Levi C. was not the father. Through her guardian ad litem, Grace C. filed a petition to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship and to disestablish Levi C.'s parentage. Levi C. filed a motion to dismiss the petition, arguing that the petition was not timely.

         ¶ 9 The Illinois Parentage Act of 2015 (750 ILCS 46/101 et seq. (West 2016)) provides a process that governs "proceedings to declare the non-existence of a parent-child relationship." 750 ILCS 46/205 (West 2016). The Act provides that the proceedings must be brought within 2 years of when the petitioner knew or should have known about the facts that support the petition. 750 ILCS 46/205(b) (West 2016).

         ¶ 10 Levi C. argues that the guardian ad litem's petition, brought on behalf of Grace C, is untimely because Grace C. knew that Levi C. was not her father more than two years before filing her petition. Levi C. points to Grace C.'s own testimony in which she averred that both her mother and Levi C. had informed her that Levi C. was not her biological father by the time she was 10 years old. Grace C. was 13 years old when the petition to declare the non-existence of a parental relationship was filed on her behalf. The trial court denied Levi C.'s motion to dismiss the petition, and instead vacated its prior order of paternity. The ...


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