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In re C.S.M.F.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 7, 2014

IN RE: C.S.M.F., A MINOR, APPEAL OF: M.F. & N.F

Argued January 29, 2014

Page 671

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Criminal Division, No(s): CP-02-MD-0003761-2013, CP-02-MD-0004028-2013, MD-0003761-2013, MD-0004028-2013. Before CASHMAN, J.

Jennifer Zofcin, Pittsburgh, for appellant.

Margaret P. Joy, Pittsburgh, for participating party.

BEFORE: BOWES, DONOHUE, and STABILE, JJ.

OPINION

Page 672

BOWES, J.:

Appellants M.F. & N.F. are C.S.M.F.'s (" C.F." ) adult half-brother and sister-in-law and appeal from the order entered in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Criminal Division's Miscellaneous docket that denied their application to file a private dependency petition concerning M.F.'s now seven-year-old half-sister, C.F. The child's maternal grandparents (" Grandparents" ), filed a motion to quash certain issues leveled in Appellants' brief. We deny the motion to quash and reverse and remand for further proceedings in the family division.

On July 25, 2013, C.F.'s father (" Father" ) was arrested and charged with murdering his wife, C.F.'s mother. On the same date, Grandparents sued Father in criminal court for sole physical custody and sole legal custody of C.F., and they filed an ex parte petition for special relief seeking immediate custody of their granddaughter. The criminal court granted the ex parte petition immediately and scheduled a hearing for August 7, 2013. The matter was issued a docket number corresponding to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Criminal Division's Miscellaneous docket.[1]

Appellants attended the August 7, 2013 hearing and requested that the trial court transfer the matter to Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Family Division and sought to file a custody complaint and a private dependency petition. The trial court declined to transfer the matter to the Family Division and sustained Grandparents' preliminary objections to Appellants' custody complaint due to Appellants' conceded lack of standing under the child custody law. Moreover, the trial court dismissed the private dependency petition because Appellants failed to file a prerequisite application to file the private petition pursuant to Pa.R.J.C.P. 1320.[2] The court

Page 673

also rejected Appellants' attempt to file the Rule 1320 application orally during the hearing. C.F. continued in Grandparents' custody pursuant to the ex parte emergency order.

Appellants filed the written Rule 1320 application on the same day as the hearing. The trial court scheduled a hearing on Appellants' application to file a private dependency petition for October 4, 2013. At the outset of that hearing, the trial court adopted Grandparents' position that Appellants lacked standing to file a private dependency petition because they would lack standing to participate in an ensuing dependency proceeding. In reaching its conclusion, the trial court cited case law that addressed standing to participate in an adjudication proceeding. That case law concluded that a " party" is limited to parents, legal custodians, and the person whose care and control is being challenged. See In re L.C., II, 2006 PA Super. 107, 900 A.2d 378 (Pa.Super. 2006). As Appellants did not fit within one of the enumerated classes of individuals that have standing as a " party" to participate during the adjudication, the trial court dismissed the application prior to considering the merits of Appellants' allegations that C.F. is dependent as the term is defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 6302. This timely appeal followed.

Appellants raised eight issues in their concise statement of matters complained of on appeal, which they consolidated in their brief into the following three questions:

1. Can any person file a private dependency petition under the Juvenile Act?
2. Did the Criminal Division follow the proper procedures in placement of a dependent child?
3. Should the dependency and child custody proceedings have been transferred from the Criminal Division to the Family Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas?

Appellants' brief at 5.

At the outset, we address Grandparents' motion to quash. Pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1972, a party may petition to quash an appeal " for any . . . reason appearing on the record." However, quashal generally is reserved for scenarios where the underlying order is interlocutory or untimely, or ...


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