Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Family Division, at No. FD 85-5352.
Eileen D. Yacknin, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Louis Vaira, Pittsburgh, for appellees.
Brosky, Montgomery and Hester, JJ. Brosky, J., files a concurring opinion.
[ 362 Pa. Super. Page 263]
This appeal is from an order granting summary judgment and dismissing appellant's complaint for partial custody of Jennifer Weber, appellant's sister and appellees' minor daughter. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Appellees Carolyn and Robert Weber are the parents of both appellant Sharon Weber and Jennifer Weber, who is still a minor. Jennifer resides with her parents. Sharon is an adult who is unmarried and resides with an unmarried man in a residence separate from her parents and sister. Because Mrs. Weber does not approve of Sharon's living arrangements, she refused to permit Jennifer to visit with
[ 362 Pa. Super. Page 264]
Sharon at Sharon's residence or other places outside the parents' home. Sharon therefore filed a complaint seeking partial custody of Jennifer. Appellees filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that Sharon had not stated a cause of action. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, dismissing Sharon's complaint. We agree that, absent statutory authority, an adult sister does not have standing to bring an action for partial custody of a minor child over the objections of the minor child's parents.
The issue in this case is not simply whether Sharon and Jennifer should be permitted to visit with one another. Rather, the issue encompasses the more difficult question of whether and to what extent the courts can interfere in a decision made by parents of a minor child regarding who that child may associate with.
The right to raise one's children has long been recognized as one of our basic civil rights. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 43 S.Ct. 625, 67 L.Ed. 1042 (1923); In re Rinker, 180 Pa. Super. 143, 117 A.2d 780 (1955). Freedom of personal choice in matters of family life, and the concomitant freedom from unwarranted governmental intrusion, is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 102 S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982). For these reasons, governmental intrusion into the family is warranted only in exceptional circumstances. The statutory bases for court interference with the parents' right to custody are limited and specific, reflecting that philosophy. See, 11 P.S. § 2208 (taking an abused child into protective custody); 23 P.S. § 301 (custody and visitation rights between parents in a divorce action); 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511 (involuntary termination of parental rights); 23 Pa.C.S. § 5311-5313 (grandparents visitation); 42 Pa.C.S. § 6351, 6352 (disposition of dependent and delinquent children).
Appellant concedes that this case does not fall within any of the statutory bases for jurisdiction. Further, appellant does not challenge the ...