In this termination case, In re Jones, Minors, No. 336271, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) appealed the Oakland County Circuit Court’s order dismissing the petition to adjudicate and terminate the parental rights of the respondent-mother to her three minor children.
The Michigan Court of Appeals (MCOA) reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the request for leave to appeal by the mother.
FACTS: The facts are that three of the children live with their father who was granted sole legal and physical custody in 2014. The mother was not granted parenting time with those children. The fourth child, AM, lived with the mother until May 15, 2016 when AM was found dead in her home. The medical examiner performed an autopsy on the partially decomposed body and, although unable to determine the exact cause of death, ruled the death a homicide. The mother never reported the death. She was arrested, charged with felony murder, second-degree murder, first and second-degree child abuse and failure to report a dead body. As of September 14, 2017, she was awaiting trial in Wayne County.
DHHS filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights to her three children in Oakland Circuit Court, which authorized the petition then ordered it transferred to Wayne County, which refused to accept the case. The mother didn’t admit to the allegations in the petition nor was a trial held, however, the trial court dismissed the petition.
Oakland Circuit court’s reasoning for dismissal was that it was impossible to establish jurisdiction since the children, placed with their father, were safe; and, since it was unlikely that the children would ever see their mother, assuming jurisdiction over them wasn’t in the interests of judicial economy.
DHHS, in challenging the dismissal, argued that the fact that the children are safely placed with their father didn’t detract from the danger the mother posed to the children if they were ever to be returned to her care and does not prevent the trial court from finding jurisdiction under MCL 712A.2(b).
The mother and the children’s lawyer-guardian ad-litem (L-GAL) disagreed, arguing that,
because the children were safely in the care of their father, they were not being neglected, had not been abandoned, and were not at a substantial risk of harm to their mental well-being, the trial court could not have possibly have jurisdiction pursuant to MCL 712A.2(b).
The MCOA noted that the state may exercise its authority to protect children by seeking an adjudication over one or both parents as the circumstances warrant. And, the court noted, as found in prior opinions and once jurisdiction over the children is established, may also terminate the rights of one parent while the children are living safely with another.
The MCOA reversed and remanded the matter back to the trial court stating: “we find that the trial court clearly erred by concluding that the children’s safe placement with their” father barred its exercise of jurisdiction under MCL 712A.2(b). And, because the trial court didn’t conduct an adjudication trial, the court couldn’t determine whether jurisdiction would be appropriate.
The matter was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which was denied.