THE CIRCUIT COURT OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY Jeffrey W. Shaw, Judge
A. Chapman (Chapman Law Firm, PC, on briefs), for appellants.
B. Hook; Dawne Alexander (Kathleen M. McDaniel, Guardian ad
litem for the minor children; The Law Office of Carla B.
Hook; Law Office of Kathleen M. McDaniel, PLLC, on brief),
Present: Judges Chafin, Russell and Senior Judge Clements
Argued at Richmond, Virginia
G. RUSSELL, JR. JUDGE
Cathleen and William Nelson (grandparents) are the
biological, paternal grandparents of two minor children,
brothers who were adopted by appellees John and Jane Doe
(adoptive parents). The grandparents appeal an order of the
circuit court vacating a prior order granting their counsel
permission to view certain files and records and dismissing
their request to reopen and rehear prior
proceedings. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the
circuit court's vacation of its October 16, 2017 order
and dismissal of the remainder of the matter.
appellate court, we review the record "in the 'light
most favorable' to the prevailing party in the circuit
court and grant to that party the benefit of 'all
reasonable inferences fairly deducible therefrom.'"
Toms v. Hanover Dep't of Soc. Servs., 46 Va.App.
257, 262, 616 S.E.2d 765, 767 (2005) (citation omitted). In
addition, "[u]nder basic principles of appellate review,
we may not go beyond the record developed in the trial
court." Boyd v. Cty. of Henrico, 42 Va.App.
495, 505 n.4, 592 S.E.2d 768, 773 n.4 (2004) (en
banc); see also John v. Im, 263 Va. 315, 320,
559 S.E.2d 694, 697 (2002).
of allegations of abuse, the Middlesex Department of Social
Services (Department) sought to terminate the parental rights
of the biological father of the children. The termination
proceedings were initiated in the Middlesex County Juvenile
and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR court) and
eventually resolved in the Middlesex County Circuit Court.
While the termination proceedings related to father's
rights were pending, grandfather filed independent petitions
for custody of the children; however, grandfather withdrew
the petitions on November 30, 2016 before the circuit court
had entered a final order in the termination proceedings.
Ultimately, father's parental rights were terminated by
the circuit court by order entered on December 8,
2016.Father did not appeal the circuit
court's termination decision. Accordingly, the
termination order became a final judgment on January 10,
to the termination orders, the children were placed in the
custody of the Department, which was granted "the
authority to place the child[ren] for adoption and consent
thereto . . . ." The Department placed the children with
the adoptive parents on April 20, 2016.
April 3, 2017, both grandparents filed petitions in the JDR
court for custody and visitation of the children, alleging
simply that the brothers were children whose custody and
visitation "require[d] determination" pursuant to
Code § 16.1-241(A). The blanks asking the
"[p]etitioner's relationship to child" were not
completed. A guardian ad litem was appointed on
April 25, 2017, for the brothers for the JDR court
proceedings, and a hearing was set for July 28, 2017.
April 17, 2017, after almost a year of having physical
custody of the children, the adoptive parents petitioned the
circuit court to allow them to adopt the children. Attached
to the adoption petition were the orders of termination and
forms showing that the Department had consented to the
adoption in March of 2017. The petition also included a
report of investigation prepared by the Department. The
Department was not a party to the adoption proceeding and did
not participate other than the above-referenced documents
being attached to the petition.
review of the petition, the circuit court noted that all of
the statutory requirements had been satisfied and, consistent
with Code § 63.2-1210, elected to waive any order of
reference and to dispense with a probationary period and
interlocutory order. Specifically finding "that the best
interests of [the] children will be promoted by the 
adoptions[, ]" the circuit court granted the adoptive
parents' petition and a final order of adoption was
entered on April 19, 2017. No motions to reconsider were
filed within twenty-one days of the entry of the order, and
no appeal challenging the adoption was noted within thirty
days of the entry of the order.
28, 2017, the return date for the grandparents' custody
and visitation petitions in the JDR court, the grandparents
appeared and withdrew the petitions. As a result, the JDR
court dismissed the petitions.
months later, on October 11, 2017, the grandparents'
attorney submitted a letter to the circuit court seeking
permission to review the adoption file and "any record
the [JDR court] or Department  may have related to [the
children]." Claiming that the grandparents were
"parties in interest to the adoption[, ]" the
letter alleged that reviewing the information was necessary
"to examine the appropriateness of the adoption
process." Grandparents further requested a stay of entry
of the final order of adoption or the reopening of the matter
for "time to confirm that things were handled
appropriately by the [c]ourt and/or the Department[.]"
The circuit court granted the request to view the files on
October 16, 2017, by order entitled "Order Granting
Permission to View"; the order did not purport to stay,
reopen, or address the April 19, 2017 adoption
October 16, 2017, 174 days after the final order of adoption
was entered, grandparents filed a motion for a new trial or
to rehear the adoption matter, asserting that the case
"involve[d] the fundamental rights of  grandparents to
assist in the custody of children to whom they are
biologically related" and that "[i]t is not in the
best interests of the [c]hildren that [they] be adopted by a
non-relative when the paternal grandparents are interested,
ready and available." In support of their motion, the
grandparents alleged that they "did not consent to the
adoption" and were not aware or given notice of the
adoption proceedings and that their interest and pending JDR
court petitions should have been considered by the circuit
court. The motion further stated that "there
may have been fraud, or misleading and disingenuous
representations to this [c]ourt[.]" (Emphasis added).
Grandparents asked the circuit court to grant their motion
"to rehear, reopen the matter, [and to] vacate or
otherwise suspend" the adoption order. The motion does
not allege specifically that the adoption order was void, nor
does the motion mention the termination proceedings.
response, on October 18, 2017, the Department, citing
confidentiality statutes and the lack of notice to the
affected parties, filed a motion to vacate the "Order
Granting Permission to View." By order entered the same
day, the circuit court suspended execution of the "Order
Granting Permission to View" pending a hearing to
determine the circuit court's authority to grant the
access. No order suspending or vacating the adoption order
was entered at that time.
October 30, 2017, the adoptive parents filed a motion to deny
the grandparents' motion to rehear, to prohibit contact
between grandparents and the children, and to enjoin any
dissemination of any information learned from any review of
the adoption file. On November 14, 2017, the guardian ad
litem who had been appointed in prior proceedings filed
a motion to dismiss the grandparents' motion for
rehearing or new trial. The guardian argued that the
grandparents lacked standing, that the circuit court no
longer had jurisdiction, and that disrupting the adoption
would harm the children.
circuit court held a hearing on November 15, 2017. The
grandparents, adoptive parents, Department, and guardian all
participated without objection. No testimony was elicited.
The circuit court first determined what issues were before
it. The grandparents averred, "We are here specifically
today to get access to the court's file . . . ."
Nonetheless, the circuit court commented,
I think . . . we first need to decide what are the grounds
that someone could possibly challenge in the six-month period
as opposed to within 21 days and do those grounds apply here,
which that would then dictate whether there would be any
basis to move forward to anything on the merits. So I think
we need to determine are you even able to win to have me even
reopen it under the six-month rule. In other words, what
grounds are good enough to reopen something; and if . . . any
of those grounds [are] present.
acknowledged that the issues were intertwined, but contended,
"the reason we need to see the court's file is so we
know whether or not we can challenge successfully the final
order of adoption."
argued that the grandparents had no standing because the
final order of adoption severed any ties between them and the
children. The circuit court found this reasoning circular and
reiterated, "I'm not saying they can challenge it.
What I'm saying is what are the grounds to challenge it
at this stage and can they be met. So that's what I'd
like to address." The circuit court then queried what
constituted valid reasons to challenge the adoption, whether
the grandparents were entitled to notice, and whether their
consent was required.
grandparents then maintained, "For the adoption to be
proper, the parents' rights have to be terminated . . . .
However, for the termination to be proper, the grandparents
have had to been considered [as potential custodians] . . .
under [Code §] 16.1-283." They then explained they
also were seeking permission to view the files and records in
order to review the termination proceedings. Counsel stated
that he had had access to the adoption file "because
after the [ex parte] order [granting permission] was
entered, I drove up here and looked at the file."
then likened adoption cases to custody proceedings under
Title 16.1 and argued that the circuit court, in considering
the adoption file, similar to the review of custody
petitions, "either knew or should have been
informed" of their pending JDR custody petitions. When
the circuit court asked grandparents to "point me to the
statute that requires the adoption petitioner to include all
other litigation pending on the case[, ]" grandparents
responded, "[we] don't know that" and continued
that they "can't point you to a code section yet,
that they should have had notice that an adoption was pending
. . .[; b]ut . . . either the juvenile court should have been
aware that an adoption was pending or the circuit court
should have been aware that custody and visitations were
grandparents summarized their argument as follows:
now the [c]ourt may understand why we need to see the file,
but they're saying these people didn't have notice
because father's rights were terminate[d]. Well, if they
were never considered and father's rights were
terminated, you have parties interested in custody who were
never considered and ...