Ex parte S.L.M. and R.S.M. (In re: S.L.M. and R.S.M.
Released for Publication May 15, 2015.
Etowah Juvenile Court, JU-11-120.02 and JU-11-487.02; Appeal from Petition for Writ of Cert. to the Court of Civil Appeals, 2120004. Willis H. Clay, Trial Judge.
For Petitioners: Christopher R. Garner, Burns Garner Law Firm, Gadsden.
For Respondent: Jane V. Floyd, Floyd Law Firm, Gadsden.
STUART, Justice. Bolin, Parker, Shaw, Main, Wise, and Bryan, JJ., concur. Murdock, J., concurs in the result. Moore, C.J., dissents.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS
This Court issued a writ of certiorari to determine, among other issues, whether the decision of the Court of Civil Appeals on return to remand, determining that sufficient evidence was presented to support the juvenile court's decision to modify custody, conflicts with Ex parte McLendon, 455 So.2d 863 (Ala. 1984). We reverse the
judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and render a judgment for S.L.M. and R.S.M.
S.C., the maternal grandmother, petitioned the Etowah Juvenile Court to intervene and to grant her custody of S.D.A., who was 19 months old at the time of trial, and R.D.A., who was 9 months old at the time of trial, both of whom were in the custody of S.L.M. and R.S.M. (S.D.A. and R.D.A. are hereinafter referred to collectively as " the children" ). S.L.M. and R.S.M. are not related to the children. In the petitions, the grandmother alleged that the children were dependent as to the mother and the biological father, that S.L.M. may have been awarded temporary custody of the children, and that it would be in the best interest of the children for the children to be placed in her custody.
At trial, the maternal grandmother testified that she lived in Kentucky, that she and the children's mother were estranged, that she had custody of the mother's oldest child, and that she had been unaware of the births of the children. She explained that, when she learned about the children, she contacted the Department of Human Resources, requesting information about and custody of the children. She testified that she was physically and financially able to take care of all three children and that she wanted them to grow up as a family. The maternal grandmother admitted that she had never met the children and that the oldest child had only seen photographs of the children.
S.L.M. testified that, although she was not a blood relative of the mother, she had known the mother for over 20 years and considered the mother a " sister." She explained:
" We are -- I love [the mother] like a sister, and she loves me. I have been the only person there for [the mother]. [The mother] is a struggling drug addict that needs help, and I have been the only one there. But no, we are not related."
With regard to her relationship with the children, S.L.M. testified that the children had lived with her and her husband, R.S.M., since their respective births. She explained that she brought each child to her home from the hospital because of the mother's drug-addiction problems. S.L.M. testified:
" I love them like they are my own. I have cared for the children since day one. I stayed in the Birmingham hospital with [the youngest child] for five weeks because she was born premature in a motel room and almost died. None of [the mother's] family ... could even call me and ask if that baby was alive or dead. I was the only one there for that baby, the only one. I have had the babies since day one. I have been the only one there for them, and I love them. I love them like they are my own."
She stated that R.S.M. is a good father and that their daughter loves the children. When asked how often the mother visits
with the children, S.L.M. replied, " sometimes a week, sometime a couple of weeks. It just depends on how [the mother] is to tell you the truth." She stated that she allowed the mother to visit with the children if the mother was " straight."
R.S.M. testified that he shares custody of the children with S.L.M., his wife of 13 years. He stated that he loved the children like his own daughter and that he willingly provided for them, carried them to doctor's appointments, and used his income to support them.
The mother testified that she wanted S.L.M. to have custody of her children. She elaborated about the children's lives with S.L.M., stating:
" [W]hen I went to church with the kids -- they are going to church. They are living a very Christian life. The kids are done very fairly. I mean, they have got all the toys in the world you can dream of. I mean, they are spoiled. I mean, I will give you that. They are spoiled. And they are really over loved. They are. I mean, there is so much love around them."
The mother admitted that the maternal grandmother could provide adequately for the children but maintained that she wanted the children to remain with S.L.M. and R.S.M. so that she could ...