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Providing summaries of opinions as they are released from the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals (published & unpublished), and selected U.S. Sixth Circuit. Over 60,000 cases summarized to date.

 

 

Case Summary


Cases appear under the following practice areas:

  • Constitutional Law (1)

    Full Text Opinion

    This summary also appears under Corrections

    e-Journal #: 73404
    Case: Koger v. Mohr
    Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ( Published Opinion )
    Judges: White, Clay, and Cook
    Issues:

    Claims under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) & 42 USC § 1983; Holt v. Hobbs; Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.; Haight v. Thompson; Whether the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction (ODRC) violated the RLUIPA by denying plaintiff-prisoner’s request to grow dreadlocks; Whether the denial of a special diet violated the RLUIPA; Free exercise claim; U.S. Const. amend. I; Maye v. Klee; Kent v. Johnson; Turner v. Safley; Reasonableness test; Flagner v. Wilkinson; Spies v. Voinovich; Block v. Rutherford; Equal protection claim; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Scarbrough v. Morgan Cnty. Bd. of Educ.; Harbin-Bey v. Rutter; City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 35

    Summary:

    The court held that because the defendants-ODRC officials could not justify the denial of plaintiff-prisoner’s (Koger) religious diet requests, the district court erred by granting them summary judgment on his RLUIPA, First Amendment, and equal protection claims relating to his diet. Koger, who is a Nyahbinghi Rastafarian, alleged that defendants’ denial of his requests for various religious privileges based on prison policy “substantially burdens” his religious practice under the RLUIPA. The court affirmed summary judgment for defendants on Koger’s claim based on their denial of his request to grow dreadlocks. The court held that although he could establish that the removal of his dreadlocks would burden his religious practice, the grooming policy would not result in their removal unless it is determined that his hair is “unsearchable.” Because he did not allege or show that it was, the court held that he failed to show the “policy prevents him from growing his locks naturally”; thus, he could not “‘demonstrate that [the] prison policy substantially burdens [his] religious practice.” But the court reversed summary judgment for defendants on Koger’s claim that the denial of his request for a special Rastafarian diet, an ital diet, and the ability to fast, violated the RLUIPA. Defendants had to show that the policy “‘serves a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive way.’” The court held that their practice of requiring him to follow the Muslim accommodations for diet and fasting, instead of offering a Rastafarian diet and accommodation, substantially burdened his religious practices. It concluded that after RLUIPA was enacted, defendants could not deny Koger’s requests for an accommodation “‘on the ground that the request is . . . new.’” While they argued that he failed to give them sufficient information about Rastafarian dietary practices, the record did “not indicate that any ODRC official was concerned about the lack of specificity in Koger’s requests prior to this litigation.” The court also held that defendants were improperly granted summary judgment on his First Amendment free exercise claim as it related to his dietary claims where they did “not articulate[] any justification with a valid, rational connection to the denial of Koger’s diet requests.” As to his equal protection claim related to his dietary requests, considering “the evidence and drawing inferences in Koger’s favor, ODRC’s actions violated the Equal Protection Clause.” But the court affirmed summary judgment for defendants on his grooming, right to commune with other inmates, and Rule 35 claims.

    Full Text Opinion

  • Corrections (1)

    Full Text Opinion

    This summary also appears under Constitutional Law

    e-Journal #: 73404
    Case: Koger v. Mohr
    Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ( Published Opinion )
    Judges: White, Clay, and Cook
    Issues:

    Claims under the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) & 42 USC § 1983; Holt v. Hobbs; Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.; Haight v. Thompson; Whether the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation & Correction (ODRC) violated the RLUIPA by denying plaintiff-prisoner’s request to grow dreadlocks; Whether the denial of a special diet violated the RLUIPA; Free exercise claim; U.S. Const. amend. I; Maye v. Klee; Kent v. Johnson; Turner v. Safley; Reasonableness test; Flagner v. Wilkinson; Spies v. Voinovich; Block v. Rutherford; Equal protection claim; U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; Scarbrough v. Morgan Cnty. Bd. of Educ.; Harbin-Bey v. Rutter; City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 35

    Summary:

    The court held that because the defendants-ODRC officials could not justify the denial of plaintiff-prisoner’s (Koger) religious diet requests, the district court erred by granting them summary judgment on his RLUIPA, First Amendment, and equal protection claims relating to his diet. Koger, who is a Nyahbinghi Rastafarian, alleged that defendants’ denial of his requests for various religious privileges based on prison policy “substantially burdens” his religious practice under the RLUIPA. The court affirmed summary judgment for defendants on Koger’s claim based on their denial of his request to grow dreadlocks. The court held that although he could establish that the removal of his dreadlocks would burden his religious practice, the grooming policy would not result in their removal unless it is determined that his hair is “unsearchable.” Because he did not allege or show that it was, the court held that he failed to show the “policy prevents him from growing his locks naturally”; thus, he could not “‘demonstrate that [the] prison policy substantially burdens [his] religious practice.” But the court reversed summary judgment for defendants on Koger’s claim that the denial of his request for a special Rastafarian diet, an ital diet, and the ability to fast, violated the RLUIPA. Defendants had to show that the policy “‘serves a compelling governmental interest in the least restrictive way.’” The court held that their practice of requiring him to follow the Muslim accommodations for diet and fasting, instead of offering a Rastafarian diet and accommodation, substantially burdened his religious practices. It concluded that after RLUIPA was enacted, defendants could not deny Koger’s requests for an accommodation “‘on the ground that the request is . . . new.’” While they argued that he failed to give them sufficient information about Rastafarian dietary practices, the record did “not indicate that any ODRC official was concerned about the lack of specificity in Koger’s requests prior to this litigation.” The court also held that defendants were improperly granted summary judgment on his First Amendment free exercise claim as it related to his dietary claims where they did “not articulate[] any justification with a valid, rational connection to the denial of Koger’s diet requests.” As to his equal protection claim related to his dietary requests, considering “the evidence and drawing inferences in Koger’s favor, ODRC’s actions violated the Equal Protection Clause.” But the court affirmed summary judgment for defendants on his grooming, right to commune with other inmates, and Rule 35 claims.

    Full Text Opinion

  • Criminal Law (5)

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73362
    Case: People v. Battle
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Borrello, Ronayne Krause, and Riordan
    Issues:

    Motion to suppress the blood alcohol test results from a DataMaster as the product of an unlawful arrest; Whether a preliminary breath test (PBT) or other field sobriety tests were properly administered; MI Admin. R 325.2655(2)(b); People v. Fosnaugh; Probable cause; People v. Lewis; People v. Lyon; Totality of the circumstances; People v. Nguyen; People v. Champion; Terry stops; Terry v. Ohio; Traffic stops; People v. Nelson; People v. Barbarich; Chemical breath tests for alcohol as “searches” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Ass’n; People v. Chowdhury; MCL 257.625a(2); “Reasonable cause”; People v. Freeman; The exclusionary rule; People v. Hawkins; Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI)

    Summary:

    Concluding that R 325.2655(2)(b) does not preclude “PBT operators from making reasonable inferences about the recent past[,]” the court held that the PBT test here was properly administered. Further, given the totality of the circumstances, an officer could reasonably believe that defendant was OWI. Thus, the information the arresting officer (P) had was sufficient to give him reasonable cause to perform a PBT, and probable cause to arrest defendant. As a result, it affirmed the circuit court’s order reversing the district court’s grant of defendant’s motion to suppress the results of a subsequent blood alcohol test using a DataMaster. He argued that they should be suppressed as the product of an unlawful arrest. The issues were whether P’s “alleged failure to comply with the PBT standards invalidated the results and whether [P] had sufficient evidence to support probable cause for defendant’s arrest” when it was made. Nothing in R 325.2655(2)(b) suggests “that a ‘determination’ that the testee had ‘not smoked, regurgitated, or placed anything in his or her mouth for at least 15 minutes’ must be based exclusively on the operator’s own personal uninterrupted monitoring.” Thus, P’s delegation of the observation duty to another officer was “perfectly permissible . . . .” Further, the evidence strongly indicated that he “had an adequate basis to determine that defendant had ‘not smoked, regurgitated, or placed anything in his or her mouth for at least 15 minutes’” before the PBT was administered. P did not smell any smoke or see a lit cigarette in defendant’s car. He stated that he had to be within four car-lengths of the car to see the “license plate tag, and he followed defendant for several minutes, during which, even though it was nighttime and ‘not the best vantage point,’ he did not observe anything to suggest defendant was smoking.” He also testified that it was his standard practice to ask if a testee “had eaten or drank anything, which defendant denied other than” one alcoholic beverage. In addition, P “checked defendant’s mouth before administering the PBT, and he did not otherwise observe anything else to suggest that defendant had recently eaten, drank, smoked, or regurgitated.” The court added that “even without the PBT test, [P] would have had probable cause to arrest defendant, and the arrest was not based on a mere ‘hunch.’”

    Full Text Opinion

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73365
    Case: People v. Gibson
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Tuekel, Servitto, and Beckering
    Issues:

    Sentencing; Scoring of OVs 4, 7, 8, & 10; MCL 777.34(1)(a) & (2); People v. Lockett; People v. White; MCL 777.37(1)(a); People v. Hardy; People v. Rosa; People v. Rodriguez; People v. Walker; MCL 777.38(1)(a); Asportation; People v. Barrera; People v. Chelmicki; People v. Dillard; Right result reached despite faulty reasoning; Klooster v. Charlevoix; MCL 777.40(1)(a)-(c); MCL 777.40(3)(a); People v. Cannon; A domestic relationship; People v. Jamison; “Predatory conduct”; People v. Huston; Remedy; Whether defendant was entitled to resentencing; People v. Francisco; Consecutive sentencing; People v. Ryan; People v. Norfleet; Sentencing for witness tampering; MCL 750.122(11); “Any”; Ionia Educ. Ass’n v. Ionia Pub. Sch.; People v. Harris

    Summary:

    While the court held that the trial court erred in scoring OVs 4 and 10, changing these scores would not change defendant’s guidelines range. Thus, he was not entitled to resentencing. But it remanded for the trial court to explain on the record its reasons for imposing consecutive sentences. He was convicted of CSC III, assault by strangulation of suffocation, and witness tampering in violation of MCL 750.122(7)(b). He was sentenced to 120 to 180 months for CSC III, 60 to 120 months for assault, and 36 to 120 months for witness tampering, with the latter to run consecutive to the CSC III sentence. The court found that OV 4 should have been scored at 0 points. The fact that the victim “stated in effect that it might be a good idea if she sought therapy does not provide evidence of actual serious psychological harm. Although the sexual assault nurse described the victim as being ‘flat,’ staring into space, having minimal facial expressions, and making minimal eye contact, those observations were made only a few hours after the offense, while the victim was still in obvious pain. Without other evidence of actual psychological harm, the nurse’s observations” did not support a finding that she “ended up with a serious psychological injury requiring professional treatment.” Further, given that it was not readily apparent she “was vulnerable, and the evidence did not bring to light any preoffense predatory conduct on defendant’s part,” scoring 15 points for OV 10 was error. But the court upheld the scoring of 50 points for OV 7 as the evidence showed his “physical violence against the victim went well beyond that necessary to commit the offense.” It noted that under Walker, “if a defendant treated a victim with excessive brutality, 50 points should be scored under OV 7 even if the defendant did not intend to substantially increase the victim’s fear and anxiety.” It also upheld that 15-point score for OV 8 where the evidence indicated the victim was moved “from a hallway where defendant choked her, to a bedroom, where” he secluded her from others in the house by closing and barricading the door. Under MCL 750.122(11), the trial court had the discretion to order the witness-tampering sentence to run consecutively to that for CSC III. But it had to “articulate with sufficient particularization the rationale for its decision” to allow appellate review, and it did not do so. Affirmed but remanded. The court retained jurisdiction.

    Full Text Opinion

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73400
    Case: People v. Jennings
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam - Stephens, O'Brien, and Redford
    Issues:

    Reopening of proofs & rebuttal evidence; People v. Figgures; People v. Vasher; People v. Herndon; People v. Solomon; Demonstrative evidence; People v. Unger; Maps; Tanis v. Eding; Photos depicting the victim’s remains; Relevant evidence; MRE 401 & 402; Unfair prejudice; MRE 403; People v. Cameron; People v. Sharpe; People v. Mills; Authentication of videos; MRE 901(a); Cell phone extraction records; Remedy for a discovery violation; People v. Dickinson; MCR 6.201(A)(6); Sentencing; People v. Lockett; Plain error; People v. Chelmicki; People v. Carines; Consideration of the guidelines; People v. Lockridge; OV 3; MCL 777.33(1)(a) & (2)(b); MCL 777.33(1)(c); OV 5; MCL 777.35(1)(a) & (b); MCL 777.35(2); Whether defendant was entitled to resentencing; People v. Francisco

    Summary:

    The court concluded that the trial court properly admitted the additional evidence after allowing the reopening of proofs, and that photos of the victim’s burned remains were not unfairly prejudicial. Also, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by assessing 100 points for OV 3 or 15 points for OV 5. Defendant was convicted of first-degree felony murder, armed robbery, mutilation of a dead body, and felony-firearm. He was sentenced as a fourth-offense habitual offender to life imprisonment without parole for murder, and concurrent prison terms of 40 to 60 years for armed robbery and 30 to 45 years for mutilation of a dead body, to be served consecutive to a 2-year term for felony-firearm. Among other things, he argued “that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the prosecution to reopen the proofs to present additional evidence and that the evidence was not proper rebuttal evidence.” He challenged the admission of Sergeant F’s testimony that he corrected a time line exhibit. The record reflected “that during defendant’s testimony he challenged the time line’s accuracy and denied that the white car in the video footage was his” vehicle. The prosecution recalled F “who testified that the prosecution alerted him to a discrepancy between the video time and the actual time respecting when a white car circled near the crime scene. [F] reviewed the surveillance videos and corrected the mathematical discrepancy without reinterpreting or changing the video. The corrected time line did not give the prosecution an undue or unfair advantage because it merely involved the correction of a miscalculation in the synchronization of the video time and actual time, but did not alter the video evidence.” Thus, the trial court “did not abuse its discretion by permitting the prosecution to introduce this corrected evidence.” Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by admitting the video of his police interview with F. “The prosecution played the video in its case-in-chief but inadvertently did not seek its admission into evidence at that time.” Defendant did “not dispute that the jury could consider the video evidence in their deliberations since the jurors viewed it during the prosecution’s case-in-chief.” The court held that because “the jury had already viewed the video, admitting it into evidence after the prosecution rested and the trial court reopened the proofs did not give the prosecution an undue advantage or prejudice defendant.” Thus, the trial court did not err by admitting this video. Affirmed.

    Full Text Opinion

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73387
    Case: People v. Mims
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Redford, Cavanagh, and Servitto
    Issues:

    Motion for JNOV/new trial; People v. Miller; Craig ex rel Craig v. Oakwood Hosp.; Sufficiency of the evidence; People v. Harverson; Felon in possession (FIP); MCL 750.224f; People v. Bass; Felony-firearm; MCL 750.227b(1); People v. Johnson; Carrying a concealed weapon (CCW); MCL 750.227; People v. Hernandez-Garcia; People v. Nimeth; Intent; People v. Brown; Instructional error claim; People v. Schaefer; People v. Gonzalez; Plain error review; People v. Carines; Waiver; People v. Carter; Credibility determinations; People v. Kanaan; People v. Garcia; Sentencing; Assessing points for OVs 1, 3, & 12 on the basis of a finding defendant was guilty of crimes for which the jury acquitted him; People v. Beck

    Summary:

    Holding that there was sufficient evidence to support defendant’s FIP, CCW, and felony-firearm convictions, the court found that the trial court did not err in denying his motion for JNOV/new trial. It also rejected his claim that his motion should have been granted on the basis of instructional error. However, the trial court erred under Beck in sentencing him when it assessed points for OVs 1, 3, and 12 on the basis of finding by a preponderance of the evidence that he committed crimes for which the jury acquitted him. Thus, while the court affirmed his FIP, CCW, and felony-firearm convictions, it reversed as to his sentences and remanded for resentencing. He asserted “that the jury acquitted him of most of the charges because there was clearly insufficient evidence that he committed an armed robbery upon” the complainant (K) or assaulted him. He argued that there was also insufficient evidence to convict him of FIP, CCW, and felony-firearm because they “were attendant to the acquitted charges and the trial court erred in denying his motion for JNOV/new trial.” The court disagreed. It was stipulated at trial that he had a prior felony, and it was undisputed that he could not legally possess a gun. K “testified that defendant got into [K’s] vehicle” to engage in a drug deal, and then pulled out a gun and shot K. He “positively identified defendant as the shooter, within days of the incident, from a photographic lineup.” The court held that this was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that defendant possessed a gun. As to CCW, there was no evidence that he “was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and, in fact, defendant was not authorized to carry a weapon due to his status as a felon. [K] testified that defendant came out to his vehicle carrying a cell phone. When defendant got into [K’s] car, he pulled out a gun, which had not previously been visible to [K], and shot [K]. Thus, the evidence was sufficient to find” him guilty of CCW. The court next found that he waived his instructional error claim, which also failed on the merits. But it agreed with him that “the trial court could not engage in fact-finding to essentially find that” the offenses for which the jury acquitted him were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and then score “points on OVs 1, 3, and 12 consistent with a finding of guilt.” Due to the incorrect scoring, his guidelines had to be rescored and a different range would result.

    Full Text Opinion

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73398
    Case: People v. Newman
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Murray and Markey; Concurring in part, Dissenting in part - Jansen
    Issues:

    Jurisdiction of law enforcement officers outside their geographical boundaries under MCL 764.2a; People v. Hamilton; People v. Collins; People v. Meyer; Probable cause; Bindovers & motions to quash; People v. Waterstone; Preliminary exams; MCR 6.110(A) & (E); MCL 766.13; People v. Yost; Possession of a gun; People v. Minch; People v. Hill; Felon in possession (FIP); MCL 750.224f; People v. Bass; Felony-firearm; MCL 750.227b; People v. Peals; Possession of illegal drugs; People v. Wolfe; Circumstantial evidence & reasonable inferences; People v. Barbee

    Summary:

    The court held that defendant’s argument under Meyer was unavailing and in fact supported reversal of the circuit court’s ruling reversing the district court’s bindover decision, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by binding him over for trial. Thus, it reversed and remanded for reinstatement of the charges against him. He was charged with possession with intent to deliver 50 grams or more but less than 450 grams of cocaine, possession with intent to deliver less than 50 grams of heroin, FIP, and felony-firearm. He moved to quash the information, claiming that the district court erred in binding him over because probable cause was not established that he “possessed the cocaine, heroin, and firearms that were found at a” home in Inkster. Defendant also argued that Detroit police officers “were acting outside of their jurisdiction when they conducted surveillance on him and the home where the drugs were found and then executed a search warrant on the Inkster residence.” The circuit court granted his motion to quash, agreeing with both arguments. It was “undisputed that the Detroit police officers were acting outside of their jurisdiction when they surveilled and executed a search warrant at the” Inkster home. It was also undisputed that they “were not acting in hot pursuit or in conjunction with the Michigan State Police or the Inkster Police Department on” the dates in question. Thus, there was a violation of MCL 764.2a. But pursuant to Hamilton and Collins, the fact that they “acted outside of their jurisdiction in violation of MCL 764.2a did not render the arrest unconstitutional, did not warrant application of the exclusionary rule under the Fourth Amendment relative to the seized evidence, and did not support quashing the information.” However, citing Meyer, defendant argued that “officers acting outside of their jurisdiction may not utilize the power of their office to gather evidence, investigate, or ferret out criminal activity not otherwise observable and then use the information to obtain a search warrant, all of which occurred here, thereby invalidating the warrant on constitutional grounds.” The court rejected this argument, noting that Meyer concluded that the defendant was not entitled to dismissal of the charges against him as a remedy for an officer acting outside his jurisdiction. The circuit court also abused its discretion in finding that the district court lacked probable casue for the bindover.

    Full Text Opinion

  • Negligence & Intentional Tort (1)

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73360
    Case: Hassoon v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Tukel, Servitto, and Beckering
    Issues:

    Auto negligence; Action for noneconomic losses suffered as a result of a motor vehicle accident; Whether plaintiff was more than 50% at fault; Negligence; Campbell v. Kovich; Causation; Haliw v. Sterling Heights; Proximate cause; Ray v. Swagger; Rodriguez v. Solar of MI, Inc.; MCL 500.3135(1) & (2)(b); Comparative negligence; Riddle v. McLouth Steel Prods. Corp.; MCL 600.6304; Huggins v. Scripter; Rebuttable presumption of negligence created by violation of a statute; Johnson v. Bobbie’s Party Store; MCL 257.649; McGuire v. Rabaut; MCL 600.6304(1)(b) & (2)

    Summary:

    The court held that because there was “evidence from which reasonable persons could conclude that defendant’s negligence was a cause of the accident,” proximate cause was an issue for the trier of fact, as was comparative negligence. Thus, it found that the trial court erred in granting defendant’s motion for summary disposition based on its finding that plaintiff was at least 51% at fault, reversed the order granting defendant summary disposition, and remanded. Plaintiff sought to recover noneconomic losses suffered as a result of a motor vehicle accident. She argued “that, because she presented evidence raising genuine issues of material fact as to whether she was more than 50% at fault for the accident, the question of comparative fault should have been presented to a jury.” It was undisputed that she “had a duty to come to a complete stop at the stop sign, and she testified that she did come to a complete stop.” The court determined that given “the configuration of the road, reasonable jurors could disagree with the court’s finding that plaintiff had to expect defendant to cut across the solid white lines separating the exit ramp lane from the other” lanes. Also, because the trial court did not expressly address defendant’s fault, it was difficult to tell whether it considered any of defendant’s acts negligent. Further, the trial court appeared “to have been swayed by defendant’s argument that nothing she did after she came down the exit ramp lane was relevant because pulling forward at a stop sign without properly yielding to oncoming traffic with the right of way is a traffic violation.” But this argument erroneously assumed “that defendant did not have a duty to act as a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances.” The court held that she “was entitled to assume that plaintiff was going to stop at the stop sign.” Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, she did stop at the stop sign. Even if she “negligently proceeded to drive forward, a reasonable juror could conclude from defendant’s testimony that she saw plaintiff’s car in her side and rearview mirrors, and that she could have avoided the accident had she simply stayed in the exit ramp lane rather than merging into plaintiff’s lane, but she negligently failed to do so.”

    Full Text Opinion

  • Termination of Parental Rights (1)

    Full Text Opinion

    e-Journal #: 73401
    Case: In re Sales-McCray
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals ( Unpublished Opinion )
    Judges: Per Curiam – Gadola, Stephens, and Shapiro
    Issues:

    Termination under §§ 19b(3)(h), (i), & (j); Child’s best interests; In re Olive/Metts Minors; In re Schadler; In re White; Effect of relative placement; MCL 712A.19a(6)(a); In re Mason

    Summary:

    Holding that termination of respondent-mother’s parental rights was in the child’s (O) best interests, the court affirmed the termination order. She did not challenge the statutory grounds, only whether termination was in O’s best interests. She contended that the trial court erred in light of her strong bond with O and her plan for him to stay with a relative while respondent was incarcerated. The trial court noted that O “was at a point in his development where bonding was critical and at the time of termination, he had spent more time in foster care than he had with respondent.” He went into care when he was five months old “and was in care for approximately nine months at the time of termination.” Although the court did not question that there was a parent-child bond “during his first five months of life, there was no interaction from that point forward.” Thus, it could not find that the trial court erred in determining that O “lacked a significant bond with respondent and was instead bonded to his foster family. [His] foster family was willing to adopt him, and meet his needs including special medical needs[.]” In addition, they were “willing to maintain the connections [he] had with his biological family. These facts supported” that termination was in his best interests. Respondent also argued that his potential placement with his older sister “should have weighed more heavily against termination.” But the court noted that relative placement is only one factor, and found that it was not dispositive here. O “was initially placed with a maternal uncle, but was removed because of personal and financial reasons on the uncle’s part.” At the time of his removal, the DHHS “considered his sister, but she was not yet eligible to take care of [him] as she did not have a job or adequate housing. In the meantime, [he] became bonded to his foster family.” The court appreciated the effort his “sister went through to gain housing and income. However, the determination of the best interests of a child ‘focus[es] on the child rather than the parent.’” It concluded that the trial court did not err in finding that O’s “need for permanency and stability outweighed relative placement in this case.”

    Full Text Opinion

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