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D.G. v. D.B.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 2, 2014

D.G. AND D.G., Appellees
v.
D.B. AND G.V., Appellants

Appeal from the Order dated August 22, 2013. In the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Civil Division at No: 2009-CV-11833-CU. Turgeon, J.

Martha P. Fleck, Harrisburg, for appellant.

Julie M. Cooper, Elizabethtown, for appellees.

BEFORE: GANTMAN, P.J., DONOHUE, and STABILE, JJ. OPINION BY STABILE, J.

OPINION

Page 707

 STABILE, J.

Appellant D.B. (" Mother" ),[1] the natural mother of E.B. (born in 2005), appeals from the August 22, 2013 order awarding primary physical custody of E.B. to Appellee D.G (" Grandmother" ), E.B.'s maternal grandmother.[2] We vacate and remand.

Appellees commenced this custody action in 2009 seeking partial physical custody of E.B. Pursuant to a January 22, 2010 agreement, Mother retained sole legal and primary physical custody, with Appellees having partial custody. On March 21, 2013, Appellees filed a modification petition requesting primary physical custody and joint legal custody of E.B. Appellees alleged, among other things, that Mother was neglecting E.B. and failing to attend to E.B.'s medical needs, including treatment for asthma and pulmonary aspergillosis. The trial court conducted hearings on July 2 and August 22, 2013, at the conclusion of which the trial court entered the order on appeal.

Mother filed this timely appeal on September 6, 2013. She raises six issues for our review. We will confine our analysis to the Mother's first two arguments, as we consider them dispositive:

1. Did the court err as a matter of law when it granted [Grandmother] standing to sue for legal and primary physical custody pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5324(2) as against [Mother] when [Grandmother] was unable to provide sufficient evidence at trial to warrant a granting of standing under the doctrine of in loco parentis ?
2. Did the court err as a matter of law when it granted [Grandmother] standing to sue for legal and primary physical custody pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5324(3) as against [Mother] when [Grandmother] was unable to provide sufficient evidence at trial that the minor child was substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity?

Mother's Brief at 7.

We review the trial court's order as follows:

[T]he scope of review of an appellate court reviewing a child custody order is of the broadest type; the appellate court is not bound by the deductions or inferences made by the trial court from its findings of fact, nor must the reviewing court accept a finding that has no competent evidence to support it. However, this broad scope of review does not vest in the reviewing court the duty or the privilege of making its own independent determination. Thus, an appellate court is empowered to determine whether the trial court's incontrovertible factual findings

Page 708

support its factual conclusions, but it may not interfere with those conclusions unless they are unreasonable in view of the trial court's factual findings; and thus, represent a gross abuse of discretion.

J.A.L. v. E.P.H., 453 Pa.Super. 78, 682 A.2d 1314, 1318 (Pa. Super. 1996).

" The concept of standing, an element of justiciability, is a fundamental one in our jurisprudence: no matter will be adjudicated by our courts unless it is brought by a party aggrieved in that his or her rights have been invaded or infringed by the matter complained of." Id. " The purpose of this rule is to ensure that cases are presented to the court by one having a genuine, and not merely a theoretical, interest in the matter." Id. " Thus the traditional test for standing is that the proponent of the action must have a direct, substantial and immediate interest in the matter at hand." Id.

Moreover:

In the area of child custody, principles of standing have been applied with particular scrupulousness because they serve a dual purpose: not only to protect the interest of the court system by assuring that actions are litigated by appropriate parties, but also to prevent intrusion into the protected domain of the family by those who are merely strangers, however well-meaning.

Id. at 1318-19.

The Child Custody Act (Act), lists persons who have standing to ...


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