Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District, Butler
FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS JUVENILE DIVISION
Case No. JS2016-0085
Repper, Pagan, & Cook, Ltd., Christopher J. Pagan, for
Harrison Green, Executive Park, for appellee.
1} Appellants, the paternal grandparents of P.R.P.
("Grandparents"), appeal the decision of the Butler
County Common Pleas Court, Juvenile Division, denying their
petition for companionship or visitation rights with P.R.P.
For the reasons discussed below, this court affirms the
juvenile court's decision.
2} Mother, the appellee, and Father married in 2010.
Their child, P.R.P., was born in April 2012. Father, Mother,
and P.R.P. lived next door to Grandparents, in a home they
rented from Grandparents. In October 2015, Father collapsed
at work and stopped breathing. Father was placed on life
support but died several days later. The record is unclear as
to the cause of Father's death. There was some indication
in the record that Father may have had issues with substance
abuse. However, the family ordered an autopsy, which revealed
the death was from "natural causes."
3} While Father was alive, Mother's and
Grandparents' relationship was strained. Following
Father's death, the relationship deteriorated. In January
2016, Mother moved with P.R.P. out of the rented home and
into her parents' home.
4} In February 2016, Grandparents filed a complaint
requesting visitation with P.R.P. pursuant to R.C. 3109.11,
which allows the relatives of a deceased parent to petition
for visitation with the deceased's minor child. The
complaint alleged that P.R.P. had lived next door to
Grandparents for P.R.P.'s entire life, that Mother ceased
all communications with Grandparents, and that Mother was not
willing to allow Grandparents to communicate with P.R.P.
5} The court held a hearing over two days in August
and November 2016. Mother, Grandparents, relatives, friends,
and some of Grandparents' neighbors testified. Much of
the testimony dealt with the longstanding interpersonal
grievances between Mother and Grandparents and had little to
do with P.R.P. In this regard, Mother testified that her
relationship with Grandparents was "distant" and at
6} With respect to P.R.P., Mother testified that
Grandparents only began interacting with P.R.P. to any
significant extent in the summer after his third birthday.
This testimony was corroborated by Mother's friend who
said that she spent significant time with Mother at
Mother's house and rarely saw Grandparents until P.R.P.
was three years old. Mother testified that Grandparents
occasionally watched P.R.P. but that P.R.P.'s maternal
grandmother was the child's primary caregiver when Mother
was at work.
7} Mother stated that Grandfather confronted her and
blocked her vehicle in the driveway when she was moving out
of the rented home. Grandfather threatened to tell P.R.P.
that Mother's behavior caused Father's death and that
Mother was a "horrible" person. Grandfather also
told Mother that P.R.P. would be "better off" being
raised by Grandparents.
8} Mother testified that she did not want
Grandparents to have visitation with P.R.P. because she
believed they intended to seek custody of P.R.P. and that
they intended to demean her in P.R.P.'s presence.
9} During his testimony, Grandfather denied that he
accused Mother of causing Father's death and said that he
knew that Father died of "natural causes." Later in
his testimony, Grandfather conceded that he told Mother that
"you could have saved" Father. Grandfather also
admitted telling persons in the hospital that Mother finally
"pushed [Father] over the edge" and that she could
have been a better wife to Father. Grandfather explained that
his comments referred to his belief that Mother had an affair
and treated Father poorly during the marriage. Grandfather
admitted that he received Father's cellular phone from
Father's work and refused to return it to Mother despite
10} Grandfather conceded that he would anger Mother
by giving candy to P.R.P. despite Mother's instructions
otherwise. Grandfather testified that he would give P.R.P.
another piece of candy after Mother became angry with him.
Father's sister also testified that Mother did not like
for Grandparents to watch P.R.P. because they would give him
candy and would not put him down for naps. Additionally,
Grandparents would not give P.R.P. snacks at the time Mother
11} Grandfather introduced numerous photographs
taken in 2015 depicting Grandfather and the paternal side of
the family playing with and interacting with P.R.P.
Grandfather stated that he and Grandmother were seeking
visitation with P.R.P. because P.R.P. loved spending time
with them and that not seeing his grandparents would be
12} Mother called several witnesses to testify. One
witness testified that she was at the hospital following
Father's collapse and heard Father's family
expressing hatred towards Mother. Another witness said she
heard Grandfather state that Mother killed Father, which he
stated in front of many people.
13} Following the hearing, the court issued an order
finding that Grandparents did not meet their burden to
establish that it was in P.R.P.'s best interest to
establish visitation with Grandparents. The court observed
that Mother's desire to deny Grandparents visitation was
neither "unreasonable" nor "irrational"
because Grandparents did not respect Mother's rules
regarding P.R.P.'s diet and nap times and because
Grandfather threatened he would tell P.R.P. that Mother
caused Father's death because of the stress Mother
allegedly put Father through during their marriage.
14} Grandparents appeal, raising three assignments
15} Assignment of Error No. 1:
16} THE COURT APPLIED THE WRONG TEST TO DETERMINE
17} Grandparents argue that the court analyzed their
visitation petition by erroneously requiring them to prove
that Mother's desire to deny them visitation was
"irrational" or "unreasonable" before
analyzing whether visitation was in P.R.P.'s best
interest according to the factors set forth in R.C.
3109.051(D). Mother contends that the court applied the
appropriate test for nonparental ...