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In re A.A.-F.

Supreme Court of Kansas

July 12, 2019

In the Interests of A.A.-F., M.A.-F., F.A.-F., B.C., and J.S., Minor Children.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. Subject-matter jurisdiction raises a question of law subject to unlimited review.

         2. Kansas courts have authority-in other words, the judicial power-to hear only those matters over which they have jurisdiction. That jurisdiction derives from Article 3, sections 1, 3, and 6 of the Kansas Constitution. Those provisions grant Kansas courts jurisdiction as provided by law. Statutes serve as the usual mechanism for the law to define jurisdiction.

         3. The Revised Kansas Code for Care of Children, through K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 38-2203, generally confers original jurisdiction on Kansas courts to hold proceedings concerning any child who may be a child in need of care. But the Legislature placed limits on this jurisdiction, making it subject to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), K.S.A. 2018 Supp. 23-37, 101 et seq.

         4. The UCCJEA's drafters prioritized the jurisdictional grounds to help assure that only one state at a time exercises jurisdiction, thus avoiding conflicting orders. Courts in the child's "home state" have the highest and first priority. The term "home state" is defined as "the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before commencement of a child-custody proceeding."

         5. Once a home state exercises jurisdiction over a child-custody proceeding, it generally has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction until a court makes findings that fall within a UCCJEA provision recognizing certain circumstances under which a different court may exercise jurisdiction.

         6. The party bringing an action and invoking a court's jurisdiction has the burden to establish jurisdiction.

         7. Usually full faith and credit or comity principles apply when a court of one state is presented with the order of another state. Under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, Article IV, § 1, a foreign judgment-that is, the judgment of another state-carries the same force and effect in Kansas as it has in the state where the judgment was rendered. If the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies, a judgment of a sister state with jurisdiction cannot be impeached for irregularities in the proceedings or erroneous rulings but must be regarded as binding, until set aside by the court rendering it or by a reviewing court on appeal. Generally, however, the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not apply to orders that are nonfinal or interlocutory. Those orders are generally subject to principles of comity. Under comity principles, courts of one state give effect to the laws and judicial decisions of another, not as a matter of obligation but out of deference and respect.

         8. Kansas courts generally presume the validity of orders, journal entries, and judgments of the courts of other states.

         9. The party attacking another state's order has the burden of establishing the reasons it should not be enforced or applied.

         10. A Kansas court may exercise comity when Kansas law recognizes the rights upon which a decree of a sister state is based and the court decides that the enforcement of such rights does not violate any principle of Kansas public policy.

         11. On appeal, Kansas appellate courts review determinations of whether to exercise comity over a foreign order for an abuse of discretion. A district court abuses its discretion if it makes an error of law, makes an error of fact, or was otherwise arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable.

         12. The burden is on a party to designate a record sufficient to present its points to the appellate court and to establish its claims.

         13. Kansas appellate courts generally presume a district court has made sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its decision.

         14. In considering if there has been a violation of the right to procedural due process protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a court weighs: (1) the individual interest at stake; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation of the interest through the procedures used and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and (3) the State's interest in the procedures used, including the fiscal and administrative burdens that any additional or substitute procedures would entail.

         15. Parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of their children.

         16. The State's interest in a child's welfare may be asserted through state processes designed to protect children in need of care. But before a parent can be deprived of his or her right to the custody, care, and control of his or her child, the parent is entitled to due process of law. One of the fundamental requirements of due process is the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner.

         17. The failure to follow a statutorily required procedure does not inevitably result in a due process violation.

          Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion filed December 29, 2017.

          Appeal from Geary District Court; Maritza Segarra, judge.

          Andy Vinduska, of Manhattan, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant natural mother.

          Jason B. Oxford, assistant county attorney, argued the cause, and Michelle L. Brown, assistant county attorney, was on the briefs for appellee.

          OPINION

          LUCKERT, J.

         Acting under the Uniform Child-Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), a California court transferred five cases to a Kansas court for the continuation of child in need of care proceedings. The natural mother (Mother) of the children challenges the Kansas court's subject-matter jurisdiction, pointing to potential issues arising from the transfer. Mother also raises a constitutional due process challenge based on the alleged failure of the Kansas district court to hold a timely, statutorily required permanency hearing.

         Based on the record before us, we hold the Kansas district court did not abuse its discretion by accepting and exercising jurisdiction after the California court transferred jurisdiction. Nor did the Kansas court violate Mother's due process rights. As a result, we affirm the exercise of subject-matter jurisdiction by Kansas courts and the rulings made by the district court that are the subject of this appeal.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The proceedings transferred from California involve five of Mother's six children. The natural father of the three oldest children is A.F., and the natural father of the younger children is D.S. D.S. actively participated in the California and Kansas proceedings and objected to the exercise of jurisdiction by the Kansas court. A.F. never appeared and reportedly was in Mexico. Neither father is involved in this appeal.

         The two oldest children, who were born in Kansas, have been in and out of protective custody since at least 2009. The three younger children have been in and out of custody since shortly after their births. When each child first became the subject of a child in need of care (CINC) proceeding, he or she resided in California with Mother and, at various times, with either A.F. or D.S. (California does not use the same child in need of care terminology as does Kansas. Even so, for consistency, we will refer to the California dependency proceedings and the Kansas proceedings as CINC proceedings.)

         In October 2014, Mother had physical custody of all the children, although the California Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) retained legal custody and supervision of at least some of them. At that time, Mother and D.S. were married and residing in California. An argument between Mother and D.S. devolved into a physical altercation that led to D.S.'s arrest. Mother then took the children to Geary County, Kansas, without informing D.S. The California court revoked the children's physical placement with Mother on October 27, 2014, and issued warrants in November 2017 for the children's return.

         Upon D.S.'s release from custody, he traveled to Kansas to reunite with Mother and the children at the home of Mother's friends. D.S. physically confronted the friends and threatened them, leading authorities to arrest him. About two months after the children had arrived in Kansas, Kansas officials returned the children to California under authority of the California warrants. In February 2015, the California court determined "[s]ubstantial danger exists to the physical health of minor(s) and/or minor(s) is suffering severe emotional damage, and there is no reasonable means to protect without removal from parent's or guardian's physical custody." At that time, the California court ordered a report on possible placement with the children's grandmother in Kansas and a possible transfer of the case to a Kansas court that could oversee the family's reintegration. Mother appealed that order. While it is unclear from the record ...


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