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Railroad appealing judgment in adoption case

JACKSON — The Illinois Central Railroad Co. has asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that it had no legal standing to challenge the adoption of three children by a dying former employee who was suing the company.

The state Court of Appeals ruled against Illinois Central last October. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the appeal for Sept. 13 in Jackson.

The case is among dozens the Supreme Court will hear during its September-October term.

Court records show John Foster Jr. filed an asbestos lawsuit in Warren County against Illinois Central in Oct. 2005, months after a lung tumor was found.

In 2006, Foster adopted three of his own grandchildren in Jefferson County in southwestern Mississippi. Records show he did so with the blessing of their birthparents, Virginia and DeWayne Smith. Virginia Smith was Foster’s daughter.

A chancery judge approved the adoptions June 28, 2006, and entered the orders into court documents two days later.

Foster refused treatment and died 37 days after the adoption was completed, according to court records.

His grandchildren were allowed to join in the asbestos lawsuit as his heirs and to receive monthly payments from his Illinois Central pension.

On June 26, 2007, the railroad company asked the Jefferson County Chancery Court to set aside the adoptions of the children. The company said the adoptions were fraudulent and shouldn’t have been approved because Foster was too ill to take care of the children.

Chancellor George Ward ruled against the railroad, saying the challenge was not filed on time. State law says any court action to set aside an adoption must be filed within six months.

The Appeals Court agreed that the challenge by Illinois Central came too late.

The Appeals Court also wrote that under Mississippi law, only a natural parent has a legal right to object to the adoption of a child by someone else.

“Illinois Central has a substantial financial interest in the adoption by Foster. However, this interest is purely economic,” Appeals Court Judge William Myers wrote in the decision.

Court documents showed the three adopted children were receiving about $1,932 a month from Foster’s retirement with Illinois Central, and they wouldn’t have received that money without the adoption.

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