No. 900 PITTSBURGH, 1983, Appeal from the Decree entered in the Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Erie County, No. 3 in Adoption, 1982.
Stephanie Domitrovich, Erie, for appellant.
Dennis V. Williams, Erie, for appellee.
Rowley, Wieand and Hester, JJ.
[ 324 Pa. Super. Page 392]
This appeal arises from the July 5, 1983 Order of the Court of Erie County, Orphans' Court Division, which denied appellant's exceptions and granted a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights in his natural child, J.D.P.
The petition for involuntary termination of appellant's parental rights was filed on January 12, 1982, and following a hearing thereon, the lower court entered an order dated March 2, 1982, terminating those rights. Exceptions were timely filed, argued and denied. Appellant appealed to this Court. On June 17, 1983, we vacated the order of the lower court due to the fact that during the pendency of this case, the United States Supreme Court in Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982), elevated the burden of proof required in involuntary termination of parental rights cases from a preponderance of the evidence standard to a clear and convincing evidence standard. Matter of Adoption of J.D.P., 315 Pa. Super. 192, 461 A.2d 862 (1983). We remanded the case to the lower court for application of the constitutionally mandated clear and convincing evidence standard and also directed the lower court to proceed in accordance with our decision in In re Adoption of M.E.T., 313 Pa. Super. 316, 459 A.2d 1247 (1983).
In that case, we held that the Santosky decision required those cases pending on appeal in which a party's parental rights were terminated based on preponderance of the evidence standard be remanded to the lower court for further proceedings at which the clear and convincing evidence standard shall be applied. We further held that the lower court, on remand, and after hearing arguments of counsel, would be permitted to exercise its discretion in determining whether new evidentiary hearings would be required. We explained:
We do not, . . ., feel that the lower court must, in all cases, hold new evidentiary hearings. Rather, we adopt the procedure advocated by The Appeals Court of Massachusetts in Custody of a Minor (No. 2), 13 Mass.App. 1088, 436 N.E.2d 172, app. den., Mass. , 438 N.E.2d
[ 324 Pa. Super. Page 39375]
(1982) and Custody of A Minor (No. 3), 14 Mass.App. 1013, 441 N.E.2d 768 (1982). Thus, we hold that cases shall be remanded with a direction to the trial court that it determine, after hearing arguments of counsel, whether new evidentiary hearings are required. If the court is convinced that counsel would have tried the case differently had it known that a clear and convincing evidence standard would be applied, or if the court concludes that the evidence should be expanded and/or brought up to date, then it should schedule new evidentiary hearings. If, on the other hand, the court is convinced that new evidentiary hearings are not required, the court need only reconsider its prior findings in light of the clear and convincing standard and modify those findings as necessary.
Id., 313 Pa. Superior Ct. at 323, 459 A.2d at 1251.
On June 23, 1983, the lower court, after remand, re-entered its original order of March 2, 1982 without the benefit of further evidentiary hearings or oral arguments by counsel. The court stated in its opinion that its decision to terminate appellant's parental rights was, in fact, based on clear and convincing ...