Court of Appeals Rules that Parental Rights Should Not Have Been Terminated


Issues:

Termination under §§ 19b(3)(g), (i), (j), & (l); In re Trejo Minors; In re Miller; Whether there was evidence that “prior attempts to rehabilitate” the respondent-mother were “unsuccessful”; Whether § (l) violates the Due Process Clauses of the U.S. & Michigan Constitutions; MCL 712A.19b(5); MCL 722.638(1)(b)(i) & (2); In re Moss Minors; In re Jackson; In re JL (KS App.); Florida Dep’t of Children & Families v. Florida (FL Dist. Ct. App.); Parents’ significant liberty interest in the companionship, care, custody, & management of their children; In re Brock; Principle that a statute creating a presumption that operates to deny a fair opportunity to rebut it violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; Vlandis v. Kline; Heiner v. Donnan; Whether a “saving construction” should be applied; McCahan v. Brennan; Shirilla v. Detroit

Summary

Holding that § (l) provides constitutionally deficient protection to a respondent’s due process interest in raising his or her children, the court concluded that the trial court clearly erred in terminating the respondent-mother’s parental rights to the child (DG) where there was no evidence of her continuing unfitness. Further, termination was not warranted under §§ (g), (i), and (j). Thus, it reversed the trial court’s order terminating her parental rights to DG and remanded for further proceedings. As to § (i), the court noted that this statute requires the trial court “to determine the success of prior rehabilitation efforts as of the date of the termination hearing.” The trial court essentially based its conclusion on the prior abusive conduct of a man (B) respondent was previously involved with and who had fathered three of her other children, “and its conclusion that respondent had some sort of persistent relationship with him and thus had failed to rehabilitate.” However, “no evidence or testimony was presented at the termination hearing indicating that respondent was currently in any sort of relationship” with B. There was no evidence of any interaction between them, other than perhaps attempts by him to contact her, “for the past four years.” The trial court “had no evidence upon which to base its conclusion that ‘prior attempts to rehabilitate’ respondent had been ‘unsuccessful.’” Further, the record did not support “the conclusions, by clear and convincing evidence, that harm would come to DG if returned to respondent,” pursuant to § (j), or that, although he “may have been ‘neglected’ at the time he was found” wandering unsupervised outdoors, there was “no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care and custody within a reasonable time considering the child’s age” pursuant to § (g). The court concluded that the combination of § (l) and other relevant statutory provisions operate to “create a presumption of unfitness of a respondent who has been subjected to a prior termination.” As written, § (l) “provides no way to rebut this presumption of unfitness, assuming the fact of the prior involuntary termination” and “fails to comport with due process in light of the fundamental liberty interest at stake.”

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