Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

(425) 455-5513

Adopting Children Over DSHS’ Objection

Posted Tuesday, July 10, 2012 by John S. Palmer

The Washington Court of Appeals has clarified that parents may adopt a child over the objections of DSHS if they can establish by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the adoption is in the best interest of the child. The court found that the adoptive parents need not also demonstrate that the Department’s objection is arbitrary and capricious.

In the case decided by the court, Kenneth and Betty Lambrecht were seeking to adopt their great-granddaughter, identified in the court’s opinion as “S.H.” The Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) was a party to the proceeding because S.H. had been deemed to be a “dependent child” under Washington’s child welfare laws; in such cases, DSHS’ consent to an adoption is required unless a court determines by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the proposed adoption is in the child’s best interest.

Two weeks before the adoption was finalized, DSHS withdrew its consent and removed S.H. from the Lambrechts’ home based on a reported altercation between Mr. Lambrecht and another child in the home. A hearing was held on the Lambrechts’ adoption petition; at the conclusion of the Lambrechts’ case, the trial court granted a motion by DSHS to dismiss the petition, on the grounds that DSHS’ actions were not “arbitrary and capricious” and that the Lambrechts’ had failed to establish a prima facie case that adopting S.H. would be in her best interest.

On appeal, DSHS argued that a 1994 decision by the Court of Appeals (In re the Dependency of G.C.B.) required the Lambrechts to prove that the Department’s preadoptive planning “is so utterly devoid of merit as to constitute an arbitrary and capricious exercise of authority.” The Court of Appeals disagreed and found that the “arbitrary and capricious” standard had been rejected by the Washington Supreme Court in In re Adoption of B.T. (2003) which contains language stating that the adoption statutes only permit a court to consider the best interest of the child when ruling on an adoption petition.

The Court of Appeals also found that, based on the testimony of various witnesses, the Lambrechts had made a prima facie case that their adopting S.H. would be in her best interest, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The trial court had dismissed the petition at the conclusion of the Lambrechts’ case-in-chief in response to a motion made by DSHS pursuant to Civil Rule 41, which states that dismissal is appropriate “if there is no evidence, or reasonable inference therefrom, that would support a verdict for the plaintiff.” Therefore the Court of Appeals was required to look at all the evidence in the light most favorable to the Lambrechts to determine whether dismissal had been appropriate at that stage of the proceedings. Although some of the testimony had not been favorable to the Lambrechts, the Court of Appeals found that, looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to them, a rational trier of fact could conclude that allowing the adoption was in the best interest of S.H.

As a result of the ruling, the case will now go back to the trial court; DSHS will have an opportunity to present its evidence, and the Lambrechts will have an opportunity to present rebuttal evidence. Due to the time sensitive nature of the proceeding (the adoption petition was filed almost 3 years ago), the Court of Appeals instructed the trial court to expedite these additional proceedings.

In Re Adoption of S.H. Washington Court of Appeals, Division II, Docket no. 41355-8-II, decided June 26, 2012.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at (425) 455-5513, toll free at (877) 455-5513, or

Local: (425) 455-5513
Toll Free: (877) 455-5513
Fax: (425) 455-5546
Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056