IN THE MATTER OF RICHELL CHRESTENSEN AND SEAN PEARSON
Argued: October 24, 2018
Circuit Court-Brentwood Family Division
Simmons & Ortlieb, PLLC, of Hampton (John Anthony
Simmons, Sr. on the brief and orally), for the appellant.
Marshall Law PLLC, of East Kingston (Brian D. Kenyon on the
memorandum of law and orally), for the appellee.
appellant, Sean Pearson, appeals an order of the Circuit
Court (LeFrancois, J.) dismissing his petitions for
parenting time for lack of standing. He contends that he has
standing to seek parenting time pursuant to our holding in
In the Matter of J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. 577
(2008), even though he surrendered his parental rights to the
child at issue in 2012. We agree with the trial court that
the appellant lacks standing and, therefore, we affirm.
trial court set forth, or the record reflects, the following
undisputed facts. The appellee, Richell Stiles (formerly
Chrestensen) (mother), gave birth to a child in March 2010.
The appellant is the biological father of that child. In
2012, the appellant surrendered his parental rights to the
child. See RSA 170-B:5, :9-:11 (2014). In
conjunction with the surrender, the mother adopted the child
and became the child's sole parent. See RSA
170-B:4 (2014). The mother allowed the appellant to have
contact with the child after the surrender, although the
parties dispute the nature and frequency of that contact.
appellant moved to reopen the surrender case in 2014. The
probate division denied the motion after reviewing, inter
alia, the recording of the 2012 hearing at which the
appellant surrendered his parental rights to the child. Based
on the record, the probate division concluded that the
appellant "was fully advised of his rights at the time
of the [surrender] proceeding," "knowingly and
voluntarily waived those rights," and "freely and
voluntarily acknowledged" that he would no longer be the
parent of the child upon the court's acceptance of the
2017, the appellant filed petitions for parenting time with
the child in the family division. The mother moved to
dismiss, arguing in part that the appellant lacked standing
because he had surrendered his parental rights to the child
in 2012. The appellant, relying on J.B. & J.G.,
asserted that he had standing because he had "acted as
[the child]'s father" in the years since the
surrender. At the appellant's request, the trial court
held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, at
which it heard testimony concerning, inter alia, the
frequency and nature of the appellant's contact with the
child post-surrender. Following the hearing, the court
granted the motion to dismiss for lack of standing. This
issue presented in this appeal is whether a father who
surrendered his parental rights to a child has standing to
maintain a subsequent petition for parenting time with that
child under RSA chapter 461-A (2018) (amended 2018). The
appellant argues that he is a "parent" for purposes
of RSA chapter 461-A, and thus has standing to maintain a
petition for parenting time with the child. He contends that
he has "re-establish[ed] his 'parental
status'" by continuing to act "as the
child's father" since the surrender. He argues that
his post-surrender contact with the child is sufficient to
establish his status as a "parent" pursuant to our
holding in J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. at 580-81. The
mother counters that the appellant "has no standing to
request an award of parenting rights or responsibilities of
any kind" because he surrendered his parental rights
pursuant to RSA chapter 170-B (2014 & Supp. 2018).
in ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the trial court is
required to determine whether the allegations contained in
the petitioner's pleadings are sufficient to state a
basis upon which relief may be granted. Petition of
Willeke, 169 N.H. 802, 804 (2017). To make this
determination, the court would accept all facts pleaded by
the petitioner as true and construe all reasonable inferences
in the light most favorable to the petitioner. Id.
When, however, the motion to dismiss does not contest the
sufficiency of the petitioner's legal claim, but instead
challenges the petitioner's standing to sue, the trial
court must look beyond the allegations and determine, based
upon the facts, whether the petitioner has sufficiently
demonstrated a right to claim relief. Id. When the
trial court has made findings of fact on the issue of
standing, we generally review those factual findings
deferentially. See Hannaford Bros. Co. v. Town of
Bedford, 164 N.H. 764, 767 (2013). When the relevant
facts are not in dispute, we review the trial court's
standing determination de novo. See id.;
K.L.N. Construction Co. v. Town of Pelham, 167 N.H.
180, 183 (2014).
case, the appellant requested - and the trial court held - an
evidentiary hearing so that the court could make factual
findings concerning his post-surrender contact with the
child, contact on which he relies for his assertion of
standing. The appellant challenges a number of the trial
court's factual findings on appeal. Because we conclude
that he lacks standing as a matter of law based on the facts
that are not in dispute, we need not consider the trial
court's factual findings or the appellant's
challenges to them.
the issue presented in this appeal requires that we engage in
statutory interpretation. Specifically, we must interpret
provisions of RSA chapter 461-A, which governs parental
rights and responsibilities, see J.B. & J.G.,
157 N.H. at 580, and RSA chapter 170-B, which governs
adoption and surrender of parental rights, see RSA
170-B:1 (2014). In matters of statutory interpretation, we
are the final arbiter of the intent of the legislature as
expressed in the words of the statute considered as a whole.
J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. at 579. When examining the
language of a statute, we ascribe the plain and ordinary
meaning to the words used. In re Guardianship of Madelyn
B., 166 N.H. 453, 458 (2014). We also interpret the
statute in the context of the overall statutory scheme and
not in isolation. Id. Our goal is to apply statutes
in light of the legislature's intent in enacting them,
and in light of the policy sought to be advanced by the
entire statutory scheme. Id. at 459. When
interpreting two statutes that deal with a similar subject
matter, we construe them so that they do not contradict each
other, and so that they will lead to reasonable results and
effectuate the legislative purpose of the statutes. J.B.
& J.G., 157 N.H. at 579.
chapter 461-A provides the trial court with authority to
determine "parental rights and responsibilities."
See RSA 461-A:3, :6 (amended 2018); In the
Matter of Rupa & Rupa, 161 N.H. 311, 319 (2010). The
term "parental rights and responsibilities" is
defined to mean "all rights and responsibilities parents
have concerning their child." RSA 461-A:1, IV;
accord J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. at 580. RSA chapter
461-A does not explicitly define the term "parent."
J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. at 580. The appellant
relies on our decision ...