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Davis v. McGuire

Supreme Court of Maine

May 24, 2018


          Argued: December 13, 2017

          Elissa J. Roberts, Esq. (orally), Schneider & Brewer, Waterville, for appellant

          Maureen D. Davis Tiffany Bond, Esq. (orally), Bond Law, Portland, for appellee

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

          HJELM, J.

         [¶1] Maureen D. Davis appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Skowhegan, [1] Stanfill, J.) dismissing, for lack of standing, her complaint seeking to be determined a de facto parent of her grandson. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(2) (2017). Davis argues that the court erred by concluding after a contested hearing that she failed to establish that she has standing to proceed to a plenary hearing and that the court improperly held her to a greater standard than that to which an unrelated third party would be held. We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are either undisputed or drawn from the court's findings of fact, all of which are supported by the record.[2] See Thorndike v. Lisio, 2017 ME 14, ¶ 2, 154 A.3d 624.

         [¶3] Davis's daughter, Danielle, gave birth to a boy in December of 2007. Bennie C. McGuire III is the child's father. In 2008, Danielle filed a complaint to determine parental rights and responsibilities and child support. In 2009, by agreement of Danielle and McGuire, the District Court (Skowhegan, Carlson, M.) entered a judgment awarding Danielle sole parental rights and responsibilities, with no rights of contact to McGuire, and ordering McGuire to pay Danielle child support. Danielle died in early August of 2016.

         [¶4] Davis has consistently been involved in the child's life. For example, the child frequently stayed overnight at Davis's home, where Davis provided the child with his own space and allowed him to keep belongings. The child's address for purposes of school and extracurricular activities, however, was Danielle's, and he refers to Davis as his grandmother. Further, before Danielle's death Davis did not seek formal recognition as a parent to the child, and Danielle did not indicate informally that she regarded Davis as the child's parent.

         [¶5] Less than one week after Danielle died, Davis filed an ex parte petition in the Somerset County Probate Court seeking temporary guardianship of the child. In her petition, Davis alleged that the child had resided both with her and with Danielle since his birth and that McGuire had not participated in the child's life during the past eight years other than a handful of visits with the child in Maine. The court [Washburn, J.) granted Davis a six-month temporary guardianship of the child.

         [¶6] Upon learning of the order of temporary guardianship several days after it was issued, McGuire filed a petition to terminate the guardianship. The Probate Court commenced a hearing on McGuire's petition, but before the hearing could be completed, Davis filed a complaint in the District Court in Skowhegan seeking an adjudication that she is a de facto parent of the child and an order establishing parental rights and responsibilities and child support. McGuire filed an answer to Davis's complaint and a motion to dismiss for lack of standing. Both Davis's complaint and McGuire's answer were accompanied by affidavits. See 19-A M.R.S. §§ 1891(2) (A), (B).

         [¶7] Pursuant to the Home Court Act, see 4 M.R.S. § 152(5-A) (2017), the Probate Court case was transferred to the District Court in Skowhegan, which conducted a consolidated hearing (Kelly, J.) on Davis's guardianship petition and McGuire's petition to terminate the temporary guardianship. While the hearing was ongoing, the parties reached an agreement for a temporary co-guardianship, which the court accepted and entered as an order that made Davis and McGuire the child's co-guardians until February of 2017 and provided that the child would move to Ohio with McGuire in late December of 2016. The order stayed all deadlines in the de facto parenthood case and continued the case to February for either an uncontested hearing or a case management conference, specifically reserving the issue of standing. The parties' agreement subsequently faltered, however, as was demonstrated in early December of 2016 when McGuire filed a motion for contempt, which the court ultimately denied after holding a hearing the following month.

         [¶8] With the resumption of proceedings on Davis's de facto parenthood complaint, the court [Stanfill, J.) issued a written order on standing. In the order, the court stated that based on its review of the parties' affidavits filed with the complaint and the answer, it "has serious concerns whether Ms. Davis's role has historically been as a loving and involved grandparent or as a de facto parent." For that reason, the court scheduled a hearing pursuant to section 1891 (2) (C) for the court "to determine" whether Davis satisfied specified aspects of the standing framework.

         [¶9] At the resulting hearing, held in March of 2017, both parties testified, and, by agreement, the record included transcripts from the earlier proceedings held in both the Probate Court and the District Court.[3] Later that month, the court entered a judgment dismissing Davis's de facto parenthood complaint for lack of standing. The order contained a number of findings of fact and reiterated that the purpose of the hearing was for the court "to determine those facts" that were controverted.

         [¶10] In its judgment, the court addressed the separate statutory criteria that must be met for a party to establish de facto parenthood. See 19-A M.R.S. § 1891(3) (2017). But see infra n.7. The court found that Davis had presented prima facie evidence

that she has engaged in consistent caretaking of [the child]; that there is a bonded and dependent relationship between Ms. Davis and [the child] that was fostered by [the child's] mother Danielle; that [Davis] accepts full and permanent responsibility of the child without expectation of financial compensation; and that the continuing relationship between Ms. Davis and [the child] is in his best interest.

         The court also found, however, that Davis did not present "prima facie evidence that [the child] resided with her for a significant period of time" or

that Danielle understood, acknowledged or accepted that or behaved as though Ms. Davis was [the child's] parent as opposed to a loving, involved and supportive grandparent. . . . [A]lthough it appears that Danielle relied heavily on Ms. Davis for help with [the child], taking care of him after school, getting him to events, and the like, there is little evidence that Danielle saw Ms. Davis as a parent, with rights equal to hers, as opposed to a wonderful and important grandmother who provided consistent support and assistance.

         The court further found that, given the child's bond with Davis, the child's separation from her would cause him "despair." Following from its finding that McGuire is a fit and competent parent, the court concluded that the best interest of the child by itself is nonetheless insufficient to confer standing on Davis.

         [¶11] Because the court concluded that Davis failed to prove several elements necessary to establish her standing to proceed with the de facto parenthood claim, the court dismissed the complaint. Davis moved for additional findings and to amend the judgment. See M.R. Civ. P. 52, 59. The court denied the motion, ...

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