Parents Can Appeal Petition To Adjudicate Wardship; Opposing Brief Not Necessary For Court To Rule

Z.L., a minor who had been adopted as an infant, had reactive attachment disorder. The disorder apparently did not manifest until a few years after his adoption, when Z.L. became disruptive in the household.

The State filed a petition to adjudicate wardship, with the intent to place Z.L. in a foster home. Although they were designated as respondents to the the State’s petition, Z.L.’s parents agreed with the State and the petition. Only Z.L.’s Guardian Ad Litem opposed the State’s petition.

The trial court ruled that good cause did not exist to grant the State’s petition. Z.L.’s parents appealed the trial court’s decision. The State did not appeal, although it did file a brief supporting Z.L.’s parents. And while the GAL was named as an appellee, the GAL did not file an opposing brief.

The first question for the appellate court was whether Z.L.’s parents were proper parties to bring the appeal. The Fourth District Illinois Court of Appeals ruled that Z.L.’s parents could appeal, even though technically they were respondents to the petition in the trial court. “While the trial court’s ruling meant Jeff and Emily retained their parental rights, the ruling in this case was adverse to their interests insomuch as they were seeking the trial court’s permission to voluntarily relinquish those rights. Because the parents were parties to the proceedings in the trial court, had a substantial interest in the outcome of those proceedings, and that outcome was adverse to their interests, they have the right to pursue this appeal.”

The next issue was whether the parents should win by default because the GAL, the only party who opposed placing Z.L. in a foster home, did not file a brief. The Fourth District Appellate Court ruled that the absence of the GAL’s brief did not give Z.L.’s parents an “automatic” win. The court is not “compelled to serve as an advocate for an appellee,” nor “required to search the record for the purpose of sustaining the judgment of the trial court.”

But the court stated that it “may decide the merits of appellant’s arguments on appeal where the record is simple, the claimed errors are such that they may be decided based on appellant’s brief, and the record supports our finding in favor of appellant.” In this case, “Because respondents’ and the State’s briefs sufficiently present the issue for review, we will decide the merits of this appeal from the facts and legal arguments before us without the aid of a brief from the GAL.”

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that Z.L.’s parents had good cause to be relieved of parental responsibilities. The whole case, In re Z.L., No. 4-06-0998 (2/15/08), is available by clicking here.