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A Sympathetic Court of Appeals Panel in a Section 45 Hearing Adoption Case

Posted on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Recently, the Court of Appeals released an opinion in In re KJP-D, KFP-D, Minors, issued August 11, 2015 (Docket No. 323596), a Section 45 adoption case affirming the trial court's ruling that the decision of the Superintendent of the Michigan Children's Institute denying petitioners consent to adopt was not arbitrary and capricious. As basic background, the Superintendent is given statutory authority to approve or deny petitions to adopt, but Section 45 of the Adoption Code (MCL 710.45) allows petitioners who were denied consent to have a hearing where the trial court determines whether the Superintendent's decision was arbitrary and capricious, which must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. These hearings involve intensive factual development, but very infrequently result in the Superintendent's decision being overturned. The In re KJP-D case was no different. After lengthy proceedings, the trial court decided that the Superintendent's decision was not arbitrary and capricious. The Superintendent's decision is so often affirmed because the Court of Appeals has interpreted the statutory language to mean that the trial court cannot find the decision arbitrary and capricious if the Superintendent has "one good reason to withhold consent." Unpub op at 7. The Court of Appeals' opinions, including In re KJP-D, are clear that the reviewing court should not inquire into whether the Superintendent's decision was correct, but only whether it was arbitrary and capricious. 

 

Under this harsh standard of review, after an in-depth analysis, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision in In re KJP-D. Interestingly, though, the Court of Appeals expressed deep empathy for the petitioners and said that it was affirming the trial court "with compassion and appreciation for the depth of petitioners [sic] love for and commitment to the children." Unpub op at 1. It even indicated that though it lacked authority to legally compel such a result, it hoped that the petitioners could remain a part of the adoptees' lives. The Court of Appeals further stated, "Nonetheless, we are constrained by the record and the applicable standard that governs our review of this matter, and we must answer the legal question raised in this case in accordance with the laws of this state." Unpub op at 8.

 

It is unknown whether the petitioners were in pro per during the Court of Appeals' briefing and argument because the Court of Appeals' clerk, for reasons of confidentiality, refused to answer when asked. If in pro per, the Court of Appeals' repeated statements of empathy may be explained by wanting not to seem harsh to this couple who deeply desired to adopt the minors at issue. Perhaps the Court of Appeals' sympathetic remarks can be explained by its understanding the frustration of the Section 45 Hearing process, which seems to only serve to offer individuals baseless hope by providing an appeal of a legally almost irreproachable decision by the Superintendent. 

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