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Michigan Supreme Court vacates order terminating mother’s parental rights

Posted on Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Michigan Supreme Court has peremptorily vacated the termination of a mother’s parental rights, as well as the Michigan Court of Appeals decision upholding that termination.

   As a result, the case has been sent back to the Ontonagon Circuit Court, Family Division, for a new adjudication hearing.

   In In re Jones, Minors (DocketNo. 326252), the Court of Appeals affirmed the termination of the mother’s parental rights, despite acknowledging flaws in how the trial court handled the matter. The appeals court, however, did remand the case so the trial court could re-examine the best interest factors.

   An application for leave to appeal was promptly filed with the Supreme Court.

   In the application, it was argued the trial court violated the mother’s due process rights by not adjudicating her fitness before termination. The trial court had failed to inform the mother of her procedural rights, including her right to an adjudication trial, before issuing its final decision.

   It was also argued that the Court of Appeals, despite noting the trial court had improperly adjudicated the mother, refused to address the merits of the appeal, and in so doing continued to misapply In re Hatcher, 443 Mich 426 (1993). The Supreme Court was asked to clarify that Hatcher does not preclude parents from challenging adjudicatory errors in termination of parental rights appeals.

   In Hatcher, the Supreme Court held that a juvenile court’s subject-matter jurisdiction is established when a petition is authorized at the preliminary hearing. Since Hatcher, Michigan courts have continuously recognized that child-protective cases, including termination of parental rights actions, involve a single proceeding, therefore allowing parents to raise errors that occurred at any point in the proceeding or post-dispositional appeal.

      The Supreme Court granted leave in December 2015 (Docket No. 152595) and limited the issues to:

·         whether Hatcher correctly applied the collateral attack rule to bar a challenge to the adjudication as part of an appeal from a termination of parental rights order, notwithstanding intervening dispositional orders that were appealable of right;

·         if Hatcher incorrectly applied the collateral attack rule, what must a respondent in a termination of parental rights proceeding do to preserve for appeal any alleged errors in the adjudication; and

·         what effect, if any, a party’s failure to utilize an appeal of right offered under the court rules has on that party’s subsequent appeal of that issue, in light of the interests of reasonable finality in child-protective proceedings, which intimately involve the interests and well-being of children while promoting the goal of reconciliation between parents and children.

   After the Supreme Court granted leave, the parties filed a joint motion for immediate consideration. It was stipulated that, under circumstances, the trial court’s ruling should be vacated and the matter remanded for a new adjudication trial.

   On February 17, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered the trial court and Court of Appeals rulings be vacated, and remanded the case for a new adjudication determination.

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