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A Better Partnership
April 21, 2016

Terminating parental rights because parental rights have previously been terminated violates due process, says the COA

In In re Gach, No. 328714, the Court of Appeals held that MCL 712A.19b(3)(l), which authorizes termination of parental rights where the parent’s rights to another child were previously terminated, violates due process under the state and federal constitutions. 
Respondent is the mother of DG.  The case arose when DG was found wandering outdoors while unsupervised when he was just three years old.  The initial petition requested termination of Respondent’s parental rights because DG was found near two allegedly dangerous pit bulls and his diaper was soaked with urine and feces.  The petition further noted that Respondent had three prior parental terminations and that one of Respondent’s children had died with “suspicious injuries.” Following a hearing, the court terminated Respondent’s parental rights finding that the statutory grounds in MCL 712A.19b(3)(g), (i), (j), and (l) were proven by clear and convincing evidence, and that termination was in DG’s best interests.  Respondent appealed.
The Court of Appeals reversed the order terminating Respondent’s parental rights for several reasons.  First, the Court of Appeals held that under MCL 712A.19b(3)(i), the trial court did not have any evidence on which to base a conclusion that prior attempts to rehabilitate Respondent were unsuccessful, which is required under the statute.  Second, the Court held that the evidence that led to the termination was insufficient to show by clear and convincing evidence that DG would be in danger if he was returned to Respondent.  Finally, the Court held that MCL 712A.19b(3)(l) violates the Due Process clauses of the federal and state constitutions.  Specifically, the Court noted that this statutory provision ensures that a parent who has received an involuntary termination of his or her parental rights can only retain his or her parental rights if the trial court fails to conclude by a mere preponderance of the evidence that the termination is in the child’s best interest.  According to the Court, this was a constitutionally deficient scheme for protecting a parent’s fundamental interest in raising his or her children.
Judge Meter filed a concurrence in which he urged the Legislature to amend MCL 712A.19b(3)(l) to adequately protect a parent’s liberty interest in raising his or her children.

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