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Dorr v. Woodard

Supreme Court of Maine

May 26, 2016

LOUISE DORR
v.
SARAH WOODARD

          Argued: November 5, 2015

         Augusta District Court docket number FM-2014-459

         On the briefs:

          Brian D. Condon, Esq., Law Office of Brian D. Condon, Winthrop, for appellant Louise Dorr

          Michelle Allott, Esq., Farris Law, P.A., Gardiner, for appellee Sarah Woodard

          At oral argument:

          Brian D. Condon, Esq., for appellant Louise Dorr

          Tammy Ham-Thompson, Esq., Farris Law, P.A., Gardiner, for appellee Sarah Woodard

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Louise Dorr appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Augusta, E. Walker, J.) dismissing for lack of standing her petition for court-ordered visitation with her granddaughter pursuant to the Grandparents Visitation Act, 19-A M.R.S. §§ 1801-1805 (2015). We conclude that Dorr's petition and affidavit did not demonstrate "urgent reasons, " or other compelling interests, sufficient to justify the requested intrusion on Woodard's constitutional right to be free from litigation regarding the care, custody, and control of her child. Thus, we affirm the court's dismissal for lack of standing.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Sarah Woodard is the mother of the child involved in this dispute. The child's father died less than a year after the child's birth. Dorr is the mother of the child's father.[1] There is no evidence that Woodard is an unfit parent, or that Woodard's parenting causes a threat of harm to the child. Dorr simply wants to be a part of her granddaughter's life.

         [¶3] On October 24, 2014, Dorr filed a petition in the District Court seeking court-ordered visitation with Woodard's child, alleging a sufficient existing relationship between herself and the child, or, in the alternative, that she had made a sufficient effort to establish a relationship. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1803(1)(B), (C).

         [¶4] Dorr attached her own affidavit to her petition and stated the following facts. Sarah Woodard is the child's mother, and Dorr is the child's paternal grandmother. Before the child's birth, Dorr attended a baby shower for the child and Woodard. Additionally, Dorr was in the hospital on the evening that the child was born-September 3, 2012. Dorr had additional, unspecified contact with the child until Dorr's son died on April 19, 2013, when the child was seven months old.[2] At that time, Woodard ceased contact with Dorr. Dorr attempted to maintain contact with Woodard and the child, and she hired a mediator to assist in resolving any issues. The mediation was unsuccessful. After her son's death, Dorr filed documentation seeking to prove her son's paternity of the child and filed documentation in Probate Court naming the child as his beneficiary and heir. Dorr hopes that these actions will entitle the child to any available Social Security or death benefits.

         [¶5] On November 3, 2014, Woodard filed a motion to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the Act infringes on her fundamental right to govern the care, custody, and control of her child, and is unconstitutional both on its face and as applied under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

         [¶6] On December 8, 2014, the District Court dismissed Dorr's petition for lack of standing. The court found that the affidavit did not establish a sufficient existing relationship with the child or a sufficient effort to establish such a relationship, and also did not make an initial showing of "urgent reasons" that would justify an infringement on the mother's rights. Dorr timely appealed. See 14 M.R.S. § 1901(1) (2015); M.R. App. P. 2.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         [¶7] Dorr argues that, given the unopposed facts she has presented, the plain language of 19-A M.R.S. § 1803(1)(A)-(C) provides her with standing. Woodard argues that a finding of standing on these facts would interfere with her fundamental liberty interest in raising her daughter. We review the court's determination of a grandparent's standing to petition for visitation rights de novo. See, e.g., Robichaud v. Pariseau, 2003 ME 54, ¶ 10, 820 A.2d 1212. "A statute is presumed to be constitutional and the person challenging the constitutionality has the burden of establishing its infirmity." Kenny v. Dep't of Human Servs., 1999 ME 158, ¶ 7, 740 A.2d 560. We will not reach beyond the facts in the case before us to decide the constitutionality of matters not yet presented. See United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 21-22 (1960). Therefore, we address the constitutionality of the Act only in the context of the facts presented to the District Court in Dorr's initial petition and accompanying affidavit.

         B. The Act

         [¶8] In 1991, the Maine Legislature enacted the Grandparents Visitation Act, which grants grandparents a statutorily-created right to petition for court-ordered visitation with their grandchildren under certain limited circumstances. 19-A M.R.S. §§ 1801-1805. The Act requires that grandparents make an initial showing of standing in a petition and accompanying affidavit submitted to the court before litigation may commence. 19-A M.R.S. § 1803(2)(A). The Act provides that grandparents can establish standing in a petition and accompanying affidavit by showing one of the following:

A. At least one of the child's parents or legal guardians has died;
B. There is a sufficient existing relationship between the grandparent ...

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