Michigan Court of Appeals Agrees With Law Office Of Michael Horowitz And Denies DHHS’s Appeal.
In In re Jerome, the Department of Health and Human Services petitioned the trial court to take jurisdiction of a minor child in neglect/abuse proceedings. The case specifically involved the minor’s father, who by most accounts did not appear to have done anything wrong. The department brought the case on less-than-spectacular evidence that was based primarily on an intoxicated, uncredible witness with chronic memory issues. The trial court denied the department’s petition based on the department’s failure to prove any statutory grounds for the court to assert jurisdiction of the child (i.e., DHHS did not present sufficient evidence that the court should open a child protection case). The department moved for reconsideration and trial court denied the motion without additional comment.
DHHS then appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Law Office of Michael Horowitz was hired to represent father on appeal. Attorney Horowitz argued that DHHS had failed to prove any statutory grounds to assert jurisdiction by a preponderance of evidence and that the trial court’s findings about witness credibility were entitled to deference. Ultimately, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Attorney Horowitz that the trial court’s conclusions about DHHS’s lack of evidence were proper.
The Michigan Court of Appeals also included some interesting analysis rejecting an additional claim made by DHHS. During the events leading up to DHHS trying to take jurisdiction of the child, the child’s mother essentially got the child’s father arrested. As the Michigan Court of Appeals explained, “Petitioner on appeal goes so far as to argue that respondent ‘abandoned the minor child (however briefly)’ when the child had to wait 15 to 30 minutes for his grandparents to pick him up after [the child’s parents] were arrested . . . .” In rather strong language, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected that argument:
This argument is simply untenable. Respondent did everything in his power to provide care and custody for [the minor] given the situation; he certainly did not “abandon” [the minor]. The purpose of child protective proceedings is the protection of the child. In re Brock, 442 Mich at 107. This purpose is not served by stretching MCL 712A.2(b)(1) to conclude that [the minor] was without proper custody because, despite respondent’s attempt to arrange proper custody, [the minor] had to wait 30 minutes before his grandparents could pick him up. Such a result punishes respondent for being arrested instead of protecting [the minor]. See id. at 108 (“The juvenile code is intended to protect children from unfit homes rather than to punish their parents.”).
The decision can be found here. The full citation for the decision is In re Jerome, No. 349689, 2020 WL 405390 (Mich. App. Jan. 23, 2020) (unpublished).