Nelson v. EvansAnnotate this Case
In 2017, Dennis and Linda Nelson, the maternal grandparents of C.E., S.E., and A.E., filed a petition at magistrate court relying on Idaho Code section 32-719 to establish visitation rights after Stephanie and Brian Evans, the granddaughters’ parents, terminated contact between the children and the grandparents. Although the magistrate court initially dismissed the petition in its entirety, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the dismissal, concluding that “Idaho Code section 32-719 does not restrict when a grandparent may petition a court for visitation rights” and that “there [wa]s a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Evanses’ decision to terminate all contact between the Nelsons and their children was in their children’s best interests.” On remand to the magistrate court, the Evanses moved for a determination that Idaho Code section 32-719 unconstitutionally interfered with their fundamental parental rights. The magistrate court denied the motion, and the matter proceeded to trial. After a three-day trial, the magistrate court found that, while the Evanses were fit parents, their decision to terminate all contact between the children and the grandparents was not in the best interests of the children. However, the magistrate court also found that Linda’s actions on the whole had not been in the best interests of her granddaughters and that her actions had undermined the Evanses efforts to parent their children. The magistrate court nevertheless imposed a visitation schedule. The magistrate court ordered that the Nelsons attend counseling to address the issues it identified before the Nelsons could exercise their visitation award. This appeal followed. The Idaho Supreme Court found that “[p]arents have a fundamental right to maintain a familial relationship, and to the ‘custody, care and control’ of their children; this right is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. ... Because section 32-719 does not limit standing or provide meaningful guidance for how to apply the best interests test, it is not narrowly tailored. As a result, section 32-719 does not pass constitutional muster. We hold that Idaho Code section 32-719 is facially unconstitutional." The magistrate court's visitation order was reversed and the case was dismissed without remand.