Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed December 1, 2011

In re C.C., 2011 IL 111795

Appellate citation: 406 Ill. App. 3d 360.

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

This case concerning child neglect comes from Champaign County. The two children involved here were born in 2002 and 2006.

A petition for an adjudication of neglect was filed in May of 2010, naming as respondents the biological father, the mother, and the maternal grandmother, who was also legal guardian. She is the appellee here. She and the mother stipulated that the children were neglected, while the father waived adjudication.

The hearings revealed that the mother had issues with both substance abuse and domestic violence. The earlier appointment of the grandmother as legal guardian had not solved these problems, because the children were usually left in the care of their mother while the grandmother-guardian was at work.

After hearings, in August of 2010, the circuit court found that the two parents, as well as the legal guardian, were unable to care for, protect, and train or discipline the minors. An adjudication of neglect was entered, and the court found that it was in the children's best interests that they be made wards of the court and placed with the DCFS. The Guardianship Administrator for the DCFS was named as guardian. The guardianship of the grandmother was terminated, and she was dismissed as a party in the case. Her court-appointed counsel was discharged. She appealed that ruling, and that controversy is what is at issue here.

The grandmother argued that her removal as guardian should not automatically terminate her status as a party or her receipt of legal services. The appellate court agreed with her, and reversed the circuit court on this issue, being of the view that the removal action was not specifically called for by statute.

In this decision, the supreme court disagreed with the appellate court, noting that the grandmother had not challenged her removal as guardian, the children's placement with the DCFS, or the ruling that she was unable to care for the minors. The appellate court misconstrued the Juvenile Court Act, which provides that one must be a guardian to have party status. A guardianship granted continues until the circuit court directs otherwise, and, once the circuit court directs removal or dismissal of a guardian, that person is no longer a guardian and is no longer a party. The appellate court also acted inappropriately in justifying its action as in the children's best interests after the circuit court had already decided otherwise, the grandmother had not appealed this issue, and, in any event, statute does not make best-interests determinations a part of the determination of who is a party.

The grandmother may have other remedies. She may have a statutory right to be heard by the court as a previously appointed relative caregiver interested in the minors and may petition for restoration of her guardianship status.

The appellate court was reversed and the circuit court was affirmed.