Argued: December 14, 2017
P. Sullivan, Esq. (orally), Sullivan Law, P.C., Augusta, for
appellants, adoptive parents of two of Paisley's
Irving Gilbert, Esq. (orally), Elliott, MacLean, Gilbert
& Coursey, LLP, Camden, for appellee foster parents.
T. Mills, Attorney General, and Meghan Szylvian, Asst. Atty.
Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for
appellee Department of Health and Human Services.
SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and
Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR,
HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.
The appellants, the adoptive parents of two of Paisley's
five biological siblings, appeal from a judgment of the
District Court (Rockland, Sparaco, J.) denying their
petition to adopt Paisley and granting the petition of the
appellees, Paisley's foster parents, to adopt her.
The appellants argue that they have standing to appeal the
trial court's adoption decree granting the foster
parents' petition to adopt Paisley. They challenge the
trial court's finding that, pursuant to 18-A M.R.S.
§9-302(a)(3) (2017), the Department of Health and Human
Services acted unreasonably in withholding consent to the
adoption of Paisley by the foster parents. The appellants
also challenge the trial court's admission of testimony
by the foster parents' expert witness, a child attachment
In this appeal, we consider the application of the consent to
adoption statute, 18-A M.R.S. § 9-302 (2017), to
contested adoption proceedings heard in the District Court
following a District Court judgment terminating parental
rights concerning that child. See 22 M.R.S.
§§ 4050-4056 (2017). Adoption proceedings following
State initiated proceedings to terminate parental rights are
heard in the District Court. See 4 M.R.S. §
l52(5-A) (2017); 18-A M.R.S. § 9-103 (2017). See
also Adoption of lsabelle T., 2017 ME 220, ¶ 9 n.2,
___ A.3d ___.
As relevant to this appeal, 18-A M.R.S. § 9-302(a)
(a) Before an adoption is granted, written consent to the
adoption must be given by:
(3) The person or agency having legal custody or guardianship
of the child or to whom the child has been surrendered and
released, except that the person's or agency's lack
of consent, if adjudged unreasonable by a judge . . . may be
overruled by the judge. In order for the judge to find that
the person or agency acted unreasonably in withholding
consent, the petitioner must prove, by a preponderance of the
evidence, that the person or agency acted unreasonably. The
court may hold a pretrial conference to determine who will
proceed. The court may determine that even though the burden
of proof is on the petitioner, the person or agency should
proceed if the person or agency has important facts necessary
to the petitioner in presenting the petitioner's case.
The judge shall consider the following:
(i) Whether the person or agency determined the needs and
interests of the child;
(ii) Whether the person or agency determined the ability of
the petitioner and other prospective families to meet the
(iii) Whether the person or agency made the decision
consistent with the facts;
(iv) Whether the harm of removing the child from the
child's current placement outweighs any inadequacies of
that placement; and
(v) All other factors that have a bearing on a determination
of the reasonableness of the person's or agency's
decision in withholding consent.
petition for adoption must be pending before a consent is
Here, Paisley's parents' rights had been terminated,
and because the Department had legal custody of Paisley,
section 9-302(a)(3) required that, before any adoption could
be granted, the Department's written consent had to be
obtained. The Department's refusal to grant consent to
adoption by the appellees and its consent to adoption by the
appellants was the focus of the District Court hearing. After
the hearing, the court, applying section 9-302(a)(3), found
that the appellees-the foster parents-had met their burden to
prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that the
Department had acted unreasonably in withholding its consent
to their adoption of Paisley.
Because the evidence admitted at the trial on the competing
petitions for adoption supports the trial court's
findings and discretionary determinations, we affirm the
The following findings, all of which are fully supported by
the record, were made by the court in its decision. Paisley
was born in October 2015. When she was just twelve days old,
the Department took custody of her and ...