THOMAS L. LAGIOS, APPELLANT
KENNETH MITCHELL GOLDMAN AND DEANNE FIELDS GOLDMAN, APPELLEES
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
FROM THE COLUMBIA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. NO. PR-2012-106-5.
HONORABLE LARRY W. CHANDLER, JUDGE.
Law Firm, Inc., by: Robert L. Depper, Jr., and Caleb
Baumgardner, for appellant.
Dodson & Barker, PLLC, by: Jack W. Barker, for appellees.
DANIELSON, Associate Justice. Special Justice LONA MCCASTLAIN
joins in this opinion. BAKER, J., concurs. HART, J.,
dissents. WOOD, J., not participating.
E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice.
Thomas L. Lagios appeals from a decree of adoption entered in
the Circuit Court of Columbia County, granting the adoption
of his biological daughter to appellees Kenneth Mitchell
Goldman and Deanne Fields Goldman. On appeal, Lagios contends
that (1) the circuit court never acquired jurisdiction of the
case due to the Goldmans' failure to comply with relevant
adoption statutes, (2) the circuit court abused its
discretion in allowing the adoption without his consent, (3)
the circuit court abused its discretion in sua sponte
reopening the record to allow the Goldmans to introduce
further evidence, and (4) the evidence does not support the
circuit court's finding that the adoption is in the best
interest of the child. We disagree with each of Lagios's
assertions and affirm the adoption decree.
jurisdiction of this case is pursuant to Arkansas Supreme
Court Rule 1-2(e) (2015), as we granted a petition for review
filed by Lagios after the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed.
See Lagios v. Goldman, 2015 Ark. App, 329,
463 S.W.3d 726. When we grant a petition for review, we
consider the appeal as though it had been originally filed in
this court. See, e.g., Bohannon v.
Robinson, 2014 Ark. 458, 447 S.W.3d 585.
child at issue in this case, whom we refer to as M., was born
in February 2012. When M. was born, the biological mother was
twenty-eight years old and unmarried. She was cohabiting with
Lonnie Dan Henson, who was sixty-five years old at the time.
Henson was present for M.'s birth and was listed as the
father on her birth certificate. M.'s biological mother
died on March 12, 2012, when M. was approximately one month
initially attempted to care for M. himself, but, for various
reasons, he was unable to do so. Prior to M.'s birth, he
had become acquainted with appellee Deanne Goldman, who owned
an antique mall and flea market that Henson frequented.
According to her testimony, Henson had come to her store
shortly before M.'s birth, introduced M.'s mother as
his girlfriend, and shared that they were expecting a baby.
Upon the mother's death, Henson contacted Deanne, who
became concerned for M. because, as she put it, Henson
weighed over three hundred pounds, he was on oxygen and a
walker, he had been in the hospital with chest pains, he was
sixty-five years old, and he had a newborn baby. Deanne tried
to help Henson acquire necessary baby equipment, such as a
crib. She offered to care for M. toward the end of March
because Henson was not feeling well. Henson left M. in
Deanne's care starting March 30, 2012. While this
arrangement was originally intended to be temporary, Henson
was unable to resume care of the child. On May 31, 2012,
Henson asked Deanne to adopt M.
On June 1, 2012, Deanne filed a guardianship petition in the
Probate Division of the Columbia County Circuit Court. It was
granted the same day. According to Deanne's testimony,
she initially petitioned for guardianship rather than
adoption because Henson wanted to pursue a
medical-malpractice lawsuit on M.'s behalf. However,
Henson later indicated that he wanted Deanne to pursue the
lawsuit and that he wanted to " remain [the] beneficiary
of her money." Deanne declined to pursue the lawsuit.
20, 2012, appellant Thomas Lagios filed a petition to
establish paternity and custody in the Domestic Relations
Division of the Union County Circuit Court. Lagios, a
sixty-year-old friend of Henson's, asserted that both he
and Henson believed that he might actually be M.'s
biological father. He also averred that, until recently, he
had enjoyed regular visitation with M. Lagios later testified
that he met M.'s mother through Henson, who arranged a
" [b]lind date," and that he had sexual intercourse
with her approximately three times around the time that M.
was conceived. He also stated that he had seen M.
" [a] bunch of times" at Henson's house. A DNA
rest performed on August 2, 2012, concluded that Lagios's
probability of paternity was 99.992%.
September 6, 2012, Deanne and her husband jointly filed a
petition for adoption in the Probate Division of the Columbia
County Circuit Court. Lagios filed a response contesting the
adoption. On January 14, 2013, the Union County Circuit
Court, Domestic Relations Division, entered an order
declaring Lagios to be M.'s biological father and
transferring the custody portion of the Union County case to
Columbia County to be joined with the pending adoption case.
adoption hearing, held on June 28, 2013, the Goldmans
attempted to introduce a home study performed on their home
by Deborah Rago, a licensed, certified social worker. Lagios
objected on the basis that Rago was not present to be
cross-examined and that the home study contained
hearsay. The circuit court allowed the Goldmans
to proffer the home study. At the conclusion of the hearing,
the court " recessed" for an opportunity to review
the parties' arguments regarding the home study and
allowed the parties to file posttrial briefs. In his brief,
Lagios asserted that the Goldmans had failed to comply with
various adoption statutes, including the requirement of a
home study. The Goldmans argued that the court could reopen
the case in order to hear Raga's testimony and accept the
home study into evidence. Additionally, in a letter to the
court, the Goldmans specifically requested a hearing for this
purpose. On August 9, 2013, the circuit court entered an
order reopening the record " for the purpose of
receiving additional evidence relevant to the issues involved
in this litigation," which the court characterized as
" life altering." Lagios opposed this order in a
motion to reconsider. At a subsequent hearing on August 30,
2013, the circuit court stated that the issue was " so
grave and of such importance" that it would constitute
an injustice not to allow the record to be
completed. The court heard Raga's testimony and accepted
the home study into evidence.
circuit court entered its decree of adoption on September 17,
2013. The court concluded that Lagios was not a fit and
proper person to have custody of M. and that the Goldmans
were fit and proper persons to raise her. The court further
found that the Goldmans had substantially complied with all
relevant adoption statutes. Lagios now appeals.
begin with our standard of review. Before an adoption
petition can be granted, the circuit court must find from
clear and convincing evidence that the adoption is in the
best interest of the child. See In re Adoption
of] J.P., 2011 Ark. 535, 385 S.W.3d 266. We will not
reverse a circuit court's decision regarding the best
interest of a child to be adopted unless it is clearly
against the preponderance of the evidence, giving due regard
to the opportunity and superior position of the circuit court
to judge the credibility of the witnesses. See id.
Personal observations of the court are entitled to even more
weight in cases involving the welfare of a young child.
The Circuit Court's jurisdiction
first point on appeal, Lagios contends that the circuit court
never acquired jurisdiction of this case due to the
Goldmans' failure to comply with various adoption
statutes. Specifically, he alleges deficiencies with respect
to the following statutes.
Arkansas Code Annotated Section 9-9-210
Lagios asserts that the Goldmans' petition for adoption
failed to comply with Arkansas Code Annotated section 9-9-210
because it failed to state the following:
(4) The full name, age, place, and duration of residence of
(5) The marital status of the petitioner, including the date
and place of marriage, if married;
(6) That the petitioner has facilities and resources,
including those available under a subsidy agreement, suitable
to provide for the nurture and care of the minor to be
adopted and that it is the desire of the petitioner to
establish the relationship of parent and child with the
individual to be adopted;
(7) A description and estimate of value of any property of
the individual to be adopted;
(8) The name of any person whose consent to the adoption is
required, but who has not consented, and facts or
circumstances which excuse the lack of his normally required
consent, to the adoption; and
(9) In cases involving a child born to a mother unmarried at
the time of the child's birth, a statement that an
inquiry has been made to the Putative Father Registry and
(A) No information has been filed in regard to the child born
to this mother; or
(B) Information is contained in the registry.
Ark. Code Ann. § 9-9-210(a)(4)-(9).
first note that, for reasons explained later in this opinion,
Lagios's consent to the adoption was not required.
Additionally, in accordance with Arkansas Code Annotated
section 9-9-206, consent to this adoption was not required of
any other person. Therefore, the Goldmans did not fail to
comply with section 9-9-210(a)(8). Moreover, as the Goldmans
point out, the need for an inquiry into the putative-father
registry had already been obviated when the petition was
filed; DNA testing had
already established that Lagios was M.'s biological
father. Accordingly, the Goldmans did not fail to comply with
section 9-9-210 (a)(9).
respect to the other four items, the Goldmans respond that
any information missing from their petition was introduced
and made part of the record through testimony, subsequent
pleadings, and exhibits. As they point out, this court has
upheld the validity of an adoption petition where there was
substantial compliance with the statutory requirements.
See Taylor v. Collins, 172 Ark. 541, 289
S.W. 466 (1927). In Arkansas Department of Human
Services v. Couch, 38 Ark.App. 165, 171, 832 S.W.2d
265, 269 (1992), our court of appeals explicitly rejected the
argument that a petition for adoption was fatally defective
for failure to include all of the information required by
section 9-9-210: " Other statutory information required
was introduced by the pleadings and testimony of the parties.
We find there was substantial compliance with the statutory
requirements and the petition was not fatally
defective." The same can be said here.
true that this court has held that adoption statutes are to
be strictly construed and applied because they are in
derogation of the common law. See,e.g..Swaffar v. Swaffar, 309 Ark. 73, 827 S.W.2d 140
(1992). However, we have simultaneously held that an adoption
decree is void unless all " jurisdictional"
requirements " appear in the record." Id.
at 79, 827 S.W.2d at 144; see alsoMinetree v.
Minetree, 181 Ark. 111, 26 S.W.2d 101 (1930). We have
limited our strict-compliance standard to those statutory
requirements that are jurisdictional in nature-specifically
and primarily, those having to do with consent. SeeMartin v. Martin, 316 Ark. 765, 875 S.W.2d 819
(1994); Swaffar, 309 Ark. 73, 827 S.W.2d 140; In
re Adoption of Parsons, 302 Ark. 427, 791 S.W.2d 681
(1990) ; In re Adoption of Glover, 288 Ark. 59, 702
S.W.2d 12 (1986). In addition, we have held that statutory
requirements--even jurisdictional ones--are ...