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In re H.K.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 28, 2017

IN THE INTEREST OF: H.K., A MINOR APPEAL OF: R.L., FATHER IN THE INTEREST OF: H.K., A MINOR APPEAL OF: R.L., FATHER

         Appeal from the Order Entered July 11, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Orphans' Court at No(s): CP-02-DP-0001429-2014

         Appeal from the Order Entered August 24, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Family Court at No(s): CP-02-AP-000063-2016

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., SHOGAN, J., and MOULTON, J.

          OPINION

          MOULTON, J.

         Appellant R.L. ("Father") appeals from the July 11, 2016 permanency review order and from the August 24, 2016 order terminating his parental rights to his child, H.K., born in July 2014 ("Child"), under 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511(a)(1), (2), and (b). We conclude that Father lacks standing to challenge the July 11, 2016 permanency review order and, therefore, dismiss his appeal from that order, docketed at 1201 WDA 2016. We affirm the August 21, 2016 order terminating Father's parental rights, docketed at 1416 WDA 2016.

The trial court set forth the following factual background:
[Child] is a two year old child, who has only lived in the home of her foster parents, having been placed with them upon her discharge from the hospital when she was two weeks old. She had spent the first thirteen days of her young life detoxing: Mother had tested positive for Subutex. She does not know or have a relationship with her [paternal] grandparents. Mother named R.L. as the alleged Father shortly before the child was adjudicated dependent on August 25, 2014. Father R.L. is currently incarcerated. He did not sign an acknowledgement of paternity, nor was his name on the birth certificate. Father took a genetic test in November 2014; he was determined to be the child's biological Father on December 11, 2014. From January 2015 to April 2016, Father did not have any contact with [the Office of Children Youth and Families ("CYF")] or the Court despite receiving notice at his place of incarceration. He did not hire an attorney, nor ask for visitation, nor participate in court hearings. Mother signed to voluntarily terminate her parental rights on April 15, 2016.
Only after the [termination of parental rights] petition was filed, did Father seek counsel; counsel entered her appearance on April 4, 2016. Counsel's first appearance on behalf of Father was at the July 11, 2016 permanency review hearing. Paternal Grandparents filed a "Grandparent Complaint for Custody" in April; their request for visitation and issues related to custody were ultimately deferred to the July 11, 2016 permanency review hearing. See Order of Court, dated June 16, 2016.

Opinion, 9/26/2016, at 1-2 ("PRO 1925(a) Op."). On July 11, 2016, the trial court held a permanency review hearing and a hearing addressing Grandparent's request for custody.

         Following this hearing, the trial court found Child "shall remain with" her foster parents. Perm. Rev. Order at 4. The Court further found that CYF shall "Offer Family Team Conferencing and Act 101 Mediation to foster parents[.] NO visitation shall be scheduled with paternal grandparents . . . without approaching the court." Id. On August 11, 2016, Father filed a notice of appeal from the permanency review order, which was docketed at 1201 WDA 2016.

         On March 29, 2016, CYF filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights. On August 24, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on this petition and terminated Father's parental rights pursuant to section 2511(a)(1) and (2) and (b).[1] On September 23, 2016, Father filed a notice of appeal, which was docketed at 1416 WDA 2016. On October 11, 2016, this Court consolidated the appeals sua sponte.[2]

         Father raises the following issues on appeal:

I. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FINDING THAT AFTER PATERNITY WAS ESTABLISHED IN DECEMBER 2014, "CYF DID ONGOING FF["] (FAMILY FINDING) ["]WORKING WITH THE FATHER["]?
II. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FINDING "APRIL 2016 [PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS] FIRST CONTACTED CYF AND THAT IS THE FIRST TIME CYF WAS AWARE THEY EXISTED"?
III.WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION . . . IN NOT ALLOWING VISITATION WITH THE PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS OF [CHILD] OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF ACT 101 MEDIATION?
IV.WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN RULING "IT WOULD BE TRAUMATIC TO [CHILD] BOTH TO BE REUNI[TED] WITH OR INTRODUCED TO PEOPLE SHE DOES NOT KNOW, GIVEN HER CURRENT AGE AND HER CURRENT LEVEL OF [ST]ABILITY WITH HER CURRENT FOSTER PARENTS["]?
V. WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FINDING IN RULING THAT THE COURT IS NOT REQUIRED TO CONSIDER REASONABLE EFFORTS IN A HEARING TO INVOLUNTARILY TERMINATE PARENTAL RIGHTS OF FATHER, R. L.?
VI.WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR AND/OR ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN FINDING CHILDREN, YOUTH AND FAMILIES PROVED BY CLEAR AND CONVINCING EVIDENCE THAT TERMINATING THE PARENTAL RIGHTS OF R. L. BEST MEETS THE NEEDS AND WELFARE OF [CHILD], THE MINOR CHILD IN THIS MATTER?

Father's Br. at 1-2.

         1. Appeal of the July 11, 2016 Permanency Review Order (1201 WDA 2016)

         Father's first four issues attempt to challenge findings the trial court made in the July 11, 2016 permanency review order. We conclude that Father lacks standing to contest these findings, which address whether Grandparents had a right to custody of, or visitation with, Child.

         Father challenges the trial court's findings that: CYF did family finding; CYF first learned of Grandparents when they contacted the agency in April 2016; and it would be traumatic for Child to be reunited with or introduced to Grandparents. He also challenges whether the court erred in not allowing visitation with Grandparents outside of Act 101 mediation.[3]

         Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 501 states: "Except where the right of appeal is enlarged by statute, any party who is aggrieved by an appealable order, or a fiduciary whose estate or trust is so aggrieved, may appeal therefrom."[4] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has explained:

"Aggrieved person" has acquired a particular meaning in the law. In William Penn [Parking Garage, Inc. v. Pittsburgh], we explained that the core concept of standing was that a party had to be "aggrieved." [346 A.2d 269');">346 A.2d 269, 280-81 (Pa. 1975)]. And, "aggrieved" when used in terms of standing is generally understood to mean that the person "has a substantial, direct and immediate interest in ...

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