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In re Name Change of S.D.L.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Huron

July 19, 2019

In re The Name Change of S.D.L. to S.M.O. Willie Otis Appellant

          Court of Appeals No. H-18-014 Trial Court No. NC 2018 00009

          Willie L. Otis, pro se.

          Jon P. Schaefer, for appellees.

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT

          ZMUDA, J.

         {¶ 1} This matter is before the court upon the appeal of appellant, Willie Otis, of the decision of the Huron County Common Pleas Court, Probate Division, denying and dismissing his application for a change of name for his daughter, S.D.L. Also before the court is the motion of appellant, objecting to the trial court's adoption of appellees' statement of evidence and proceedings, and seeking an order to the trial court to produce a "copy of the July 13, 2018 name change hearing proceeding." For the reasons that follow, we deny appellant's motion, and affirm the judgment of the probate court.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         {¶ 2} The sole issue on appeal is whether the trial court correctly denied the application for a change of name for S.D.L., appellant's natural daughter. Despite this, appellant mainly argues his due process and custody rights as natural father to S.D.L. These arguments are not related to the instant appeal, but pertain to a prior determination by the Huron County Common Pleas Court, Juvenile Division, which awarded legal custody of S.D.L. to appellees W.L. and R.L.[1] That decision is not at issue in the present appeal.

         {¶ 3} S.D.L. was born on December 8, 2016, and she has lived with W.L. and R.L. as part of their family since leaving the hospital. Shortly after S.D.L.'s birth, her natural mother, C.C., obtained a birth certificate from the Huron County Health Department, giving S.D.L. the surname of W.L. and R.L. At the time of S.D.L.'s birth, C.C. was married to a man other than appellant. However, paternity was subsequently established pursuant to R.C. Chapter 3111, and no party disputes that appellant is the natural father of S.D.L.

         {¶ 4} More than a year after appellant learned he had fathered S.D.L., appellant filed his application for change of name of a minor, pursuant to R.C. 2717.01. The trial court scheduled the matter for hearing and provided notice to all interested parties, including W.L. and R.L., S.D.L.'s legal custodians. A hearing was held on July 13, 2018. Appellant appeared by videoconference from the London Correctional Institution, where he was serving a sentence for child endangering. The victim in that case is not S.D.L., but appellant's son and S.D.L.'s half-brother, T.O. Appellees W.L. and R.L. also appeared for hearing, along with C.C.

         {¶ 5} Appellant called three witnesses at hearing, C.C, and appellees W.L. and R.L. Appellant also testified on his own behalf, and appellees' counsel cross-examined appellant. The focus of appellant's evidence pertained to the application for the original birth certificate and custody matters, with scant evidence proffered regarding the requirements under R.C. 2717.01(A). Instead, appellant argued that C.C. should have used his surname in applying for the original birth certificate, and that legally changing S.D.L.'s name would best serve S.D.L.'s interests, because it would create a "natural and symbolic connection to her biological father."

         {¶ 6} After hearing testimony, and considering the evidence and the requirements under R.C. 2717.01(A), the trial court found that appellant failed to demonstrate "reasonable and proper cause" for the requested name change, and dismissed the application.[2] Appellant filed a timely notice of appeal from this decision.

         {¶ 7} On January 25, 2019, appellant filed a motion, seeking leave to supplement the record with his statement of evidence instanter, pursuant to App.R. 9(C). In response, appellees also sought leave to file a statement of the evidence instanter, noting that appellant failed to request a transcript of the hearing although a transcript was otherwise available. On February 11, 2019, appellees filed their response to appellant's statement of evidence. With conflicting versions of the proceedings below, we briefly remanded the matter to the trial court for a statement of evidence and proceedings, as provided under App.R. 9(C). After reviewing appellant's and appellees' proposed statements, the trial court adopted appellees' statement of evidence and proceedings, the record was supplemented accordingly, and this appeal proceeded.

         {¶ 8} On March 1, 2019, appellant filed his motion, objecting to the trial court's adoption of appellees' statement of evidence and proceedings and seeking an order to the trial court to produce and file a transcript of the July 13, 2018 hearing. In his objection, appellant seeks to include facts and evidence related to the paternity and custody proceedings, and disputes appellees' statement of evidence and proceedings as inaccurate, in part, because appellees omit this information. Because appellant argues appellees' statement of evidence and proceedings is inaccurate, and not properly considered as part of the record, we address appellant's motion first.

         II. Appellant's Motion

         {¶ 9} Appellant seeks corrections to the record, arguing the trial court erred in adopting appellees' version of proceedings because appellees omitted or misstated the pertinent evidence. Appellant also requests that we order the trial court to produce and file the transcript of the hearing held. In support of his motion, appellant attached his own statement of evidence and proceedings, along with numerous documents related to the paternity and custody proceedings. Appellant identifies facts he believes require correction. None of the requested corrections, however, relate to the issue on appeal, namely, whether appellant presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that changing S.D.L.'s name would be in her best interest.

         {¶ 10} Instead, appellant seeks to supplement the record to include records and pleadings from prior cases, in order to reargue the custody case. Appellant also takes issue with any suggestion he stalked S.D.L.'s mother for months, or assaulted T.O.'s mother and grandfather, or lost visitation rights for T.O. He argues that he completed anger management and parenting courses, contrary to appellees' assertions, and proffers documents he does not claim to have submitted within the trial court proceeding, with some of these documents dated after the date of the hearing. Appellant also argues that appellees presented insufficient evidence as to the factors considered by the trial court regarding a change of name for S.D.L. In ...


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