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July 17, 2015

COA requires clear and convincing evidence of arbitrary and capricious decision-making to overturn adoption decisions of the Michigan Children's Institute

In In re ASF, Minor, No. 324821, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered what evidence is sufficient to successfully challenge the determination of the superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute withholding consent for adoption.  Because the Court determined that the trial court did not clearly err when it found that petitioners failed to present clear and convincing evidence demonstrating that the superintendent’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, the Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court upholding the superintendent’s decision denying consent for the adoption.
 
Petitioners Samuel and Janet Spann are the grandparents and licensed foster parents of minor child ASF.  In 2011, ASF was removed from her mother’s care and placed with petitioners.  The couple sought to adopt ASF after the parental rights of ASF’s biological parents had been terminated.  However, petitioner Samuel contacted the adoption worker and offered his son and daughter-in-law as alternate potential adoptive parents, citing his age and uncertainty about his ability to provide long-term care for ASF.  Petitioner Samuel then reversed his position and indicated that he now wanted to proceed with the adoption.  After an assessment by the adoption agency, the agency recommended that petitioners’ request for consent to adopt be denied.  The superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute considered the request and after weighing, among other factors, the petitioners’ ages, petitioners’ minor health issues, petitioner Samuel’s vacillation regarding the adoption and his recommendation of his son and daughter-in-law as adoptive parents, the psychological ties between ASF and petitioners, and the potential for petitioners to continue their relationship with ASF by assuming a grandparent role, the superintendent denied consent to the adoption.
 
Petitioners filed a motion in circuit court challenging the superintendent’s decision.  The circuit court upheld the superintendent’s denial, concluding that the petitioners had failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the superintendent’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.  On appeal, the petitioners argued that the trial court clearly erred by granting the superintendent’s motion for involuntary dismissal.  However, the Court of Appeals held that because the family court was not permitted to decide the issue of adoption de novo, it correctly looked to the absence of any good reason to withhold consent, rather than the presence of good reasons to grant it, when deciding that the superintendent had not acted arbitrarily and capriciously. 
 
Petitioners further contended that the superintendent’s consideration of their ages was in violation of Michigan law, however, the court found that it was not improper or discriminatory for the superintendent to consider petitioners’ ages relative to their ability to provide for ASF’s long-term care as one factor in assessing the best interests of ASF.  The court stated that though reasonable minds might well question the wisdom of denying petitioners’ consent to adopt and removing ASF from the continuity of a stable family setting, the courts may not review the matter de novo and so it is not for them to say whether the superintendent made the “correct” decision.  The court held that because the superintendent considered several factors that support the withholding of consent, the decision was not arbitrary or capricious and must be upheld.

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