The Washtenaw County Probate Court properly denied the respondent’s motion to dismiss a petition for continuing mental-health treatment, even though the petition did not strictly comply with the statutory requirements, the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled.
The respondent in In re Eddins (Docket No. 360060) has a history of receiving involuntary mental-health treatment. The initial petition was filed in August 2014. Over the years, subsequent petitions for continuing treatment were filed and the Washtenaw County Probate Court entered additional orders requiring the respondent to be hospitalized and/or receive outpatient treatment.
The petition at issue in this case was filed in September 2021 and included a clinical certificate, as required by MCL 330.1473. The Probate Court held a hearing in January 2022, where the respondent asked the court to dismiss the petition. The respondent asserted that because the petition did not strictly comply with the Mental Health Code (MCL 330.1001, et seq.) requirements, the Probate Court lacked jurisdiction over the proceeding. The Probate Court decided to rule on the respondent’s claims at the conclusion of the hearing.
After testimony was presented, the respondent filed a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8), claiming the petition failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The Probate Court denied the respondent’s motion, ruling that the pleadings could be amended. The Probate Court ultimately held that the respondent’s treatment should continue.
The respondent appealed. She asserted the petition was deficient because it did not set forth all the factual information required by MCL 330.1473 and, as such, the Probate Court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the proceeding.
The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the Probate Court’s decision in a 2-1 published opinion.
According to the Court of Appeals, the Probate Court has the “abstract power” to oversee cases filed under the Mental Health Code. “The court’s subject-matter jurisdiction is not dependent upon whether the petition for continuing mental-health treatment filed in this case strictly complied with the requirements of the Mental Health Code. The probate court, therefore, did not err by denying respondent’s motion to dismiss the petition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.”
Judge Michael J. Kelly wrote the majority opinion, joined by Judge Christopher P. Yates.
Judge Amy Ronayne Krause dissented. “I would conclude that although the 2021 petition was fatally defective and therefore deprived the probate court of subject-matter jurisdiction, the trial court properly granted petitioner’s oral motion at the hearing to amend the petition. However, the record shows that no amended petition was ever actually filed. This oversight means the probate court never properly acquired subject-matter jurisdiction. Nevertheless, instead of reversing the probate court, I would provisionally remand to the probate court for petitioner to file an amended petition and retain jurisdiction.”
Strict Compliance Unnecessary
In its analysis, the Court of Appeals first examined whether the petition was indeed defective.
“Based on our review of the 2021 petition, it is apparent that it did not comply with every requirement stated in MCL 330.1473,” the Court of Appeals pointed out. “In particular, although the statute requires the petition to include ‘a statement setting forth the reasons for the … determination that the individual continues to be a person requiring treatment,’ … the 2021 petition does not include any information describing respondent’s current condition.”
Although the petition included details supporting the inference that the respondent was initially a person requiring treatment, “there is no statement setting forth the reasons that she continued to be a person that requires treatment,” the Court of Appeals observed. “As a result, the 2021 petition failed to comply with MCL 330.1473. Moreover, the 2021 petition was also deficient because, although the 2021 petition provided details on the treatment that was provided to respondent, it did not include ‘the results of that course of treatment.’”
Next, the Court of Appeals examined whether the petition’s failure to strictly comply with the statute deprived the Probate Court of subject-matter jurisdiction. The respondent maintained that, under North v Washtenaw Circuit Judge, 59 Mich 624 (1886), the failure to strictly comply with the mandatory provisions of the Mental Health Code meant the Probate Court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. “We disagree,” the Court of Appeals said, noting that when North was decided, Probate Court jurisdiction was derived from 240 How Stat 6314-6315.
“At present, however, the jurisdictional limits of the probate court as it relates to matters under the Mental Health Code are stated in the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC), MCL 700.1101 et seq., the Revised Judicature Act of 1961 (RJA), MCL 600.101 et seq., and [the Michigan] Constitution, Const 1963, art 6, § 15,” the Court of Appeals explained. “Consequently, we conclude that respondent’s reliance on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of a statute governing the probate court’s jurisdictional limits in 1886 is not persuasive as to whether the probate court has jurisdiction over a similar action in 2022. Rather than rely on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of past statutes, we turn to the present authorities governing the jurisdiction of the probate court.”
According to the Court of Appeals, because the Probate Court has “exclusive legal and equitable jurisdiction over protective proceedings – including proceedings brought under the Mental Health Code,” the Probate Court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the respondent’s claim. “That is, it has the abstract power to try cases brought under the Mental Health Code.”
Therefore, even though the petition did not strictly comply with the statutory requirements, that failure “did not deprive the probate court of subject-matter jurisdiction over the continuing involuntary mental-health treatment proceeding,” the Court of Appeals said.
Petition Can Be Amended
The Court of Appeals also denied the respondent’s claim that the trial court should have granted her summary disposition motion under MCR 2.116(C)(8) because the petition failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.
“[An MCR 2.116(C)(8)] motion may only be granted if ‘a claim is so unenforceable that no factual development could possibly justify recovery,’” the Court of Appeals wrote. “Here, notwithstanding the petition’s failure to strictly comply with MCL 330.1473, it is apparent that the claim can be supported with further factual development.”
Even if summary disposition was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(8), the Probate Court “shall give the parties an opportunity to amend their pleadings as provided by MCR 2.118, unless the evidence then before the court shows that amendment would not be justified,” the Court of Appeals explained, citing MCR 2.116(I)(5). “An amendment ‘would not be justified if it would be futile.’”
Here, the Probate Court heard testimony regarding the respondent’s current condition and the results of her treatment, the Court of Appeals observed. Afterward, the petitioner filed a motion to amend the petition and the Probate Court granted that motion.
“In light of the testimony at the hearing, it is clear that the amendment of the petition was justified,” the Court of Appeals said. “The probate court did not, therefore, err by denying respondent’s motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) or by permitting petitioner to amend the petition so that it would comply with the requirements in MCL 330.1473.”