Department of Children and Families v. Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, 2016 WL 869317 (Fla. 1st DCA)

The Department of Children and Families sought certiorari review of a trial court order limiting the Department’s consideration of prospective adoptive homes to one particular family for a sibling group of five children. The First District Court of Appeal (First DCA) agreed that the order violated the separation of powers doctrine and granted certiorari.

At the time of termination of parental rights, the children were in three separate foster homes. Two other families had expressed interest in adopting all five children. One family, located in Ohio, had fostered the children for a period of almost two years, three years previously. The second family, located in Florida, responded to a statewide website recruitment effort and had an approved home study. The trial court directed the Department to pursue adoption solely with the Florida family and directed the Department to discontinue all efforts to place the children with the family in Ohio.

Citing a number of cases, the First DCA held the trial court does not have the authority to interfere with the Department’s selection of a prospective adoptive family provided its selection “was appropriate, consonant with its policies, and made in an expeditious manner.” The First DCA further held that the Department’s consent to an adoption is not required if the trial court finds that the Department unreasonably withheld such consent.

In the instant case, the Department was still considering both families and had not yet selected one as its prospective adoptive family. The Department had not withheld consent as no adoption petition had been filed. The First DCA did note that the trial court’s concern about the delay in establishing permanency was legitimate but found that the trial court could have compelled the Department to make an expeditious determination. By limiting the Department to one specific family without any best interest findings, the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction.

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