IN RE: CHRISTIE, Minors.
The Grand Traverse Circuit Court took jurisdiction over NC and CC when a younger child of respondent-mother was taken into care. NC and CC had lived exclusively with their father in another county for several years. The circuit court lacked jurisdiction over NC and CC and should have granted their father's motion to dismiss them from the petition. We reverse and remand for entry of an order of dismissal.
Respondent-mother and father share two sons, NC and CC, who are now teenagers. When the parents’ relationship ended, they shared joint legal and physical custody of their sons. In 2015, father secured sole physical custody; respondent-mother had only supervised parenting time. NC and CC have not seen their mother since 2018. At the time of these child protective proceedings, NC and CC lived exclusively with their father in Kent County.
At some point, respondent-mother moved to Grand Traverse County and had two more children. On September 1, 2020, respondent-mother's infant daughter died in a co-sleeping incident. Child Protective Services took respondent-mother's three-year-old son into care, and the Department of Health and Human Services (the DHHS) filed a petition to terminate respondent-mother's parental rights to that son, as well as to NC and CC. The DHHS explained that it included NC and CC in the petition even though they did not live with respondent-mother because it was required to do so under MCL 722.638(1).
Father moved to dismiss NC and CC from the petition on jurisdictional grounds. The circuit court denied the motion, reasoning that it could exercise jurisdiction over the out-of-county children because respondent-mother lived in Grand Traverse County and that is where the boys’ half-sister died. We granted father's application for leave to appeal that decision. In re Christie, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered March 3, 2021 (Docket No. 355940).
“To properly exercise jurisdiction, the trial court must find that a statutory basis for jurisdiction exists.” In re BZ, 264 Mich.App. 286, 295, 690 N.W.2d 505 (2004). “Jurisdiction must be established by a preponderance of the evidence,” and “[w]e review the trial court's decision to exercise jurisdiction for clear error in light of the court's findings of fact.” Id. We review de novo underlying issues of statutory interpretation. In re LaFrance, 306 Mich.App. 713, 723, 858 N.W.2d 143 (2014).
MCL 712A.2(b) governs a circuit court's jurisdiction over a minor child in a child protective proceeding. A court's jurisdiction under MCL 712A.2(b) has two components, one pertaining to the child and the other primarily to the parent. The statute provides, in relevant part:
The court has the following authority and jurisdiction:
* * *
(b) Jurisdiction in proceedings concerning a juvenile under 18 years of age found within the county:
(1) Whose parent or other person legally responsible for the care and maintenance of the juvenile, when able to do so, neglects or refuses to provide proper or necessary support, education, medical, surgical, or other care necessary for his or her health or morals, who is subject to a substantial risk of harm to his or her mental well-being, who is abandoned by his or her parents, guardian, or other custodian, or who is without proper custody or guardianship․
(2) Whose home or environment, by reason of neglect, cruelty, drunkenness, criminality, or depravity on the part of a parent, guardian, nonparent adult, or other custodian, is an unfit place for the juvenile to live in․
(3) If the juvenile is dependent and is in danger of substantial physical or psychological harm․ [Emphasis added.]
Respondent-mother lives in Grand Traverse County. The question is whether NC and CC are “found within the county.”
MCR 3.926(A) provides, “As used in MCL 712A.2, a child is ‘found within the county’ in which the offense against the child occurred, in which the offense committed by the juvenile occurred, or in which the minor is physically present.” Neither NC nor CC were “physically present” in Grand Traverse County, and neither committed any offense in that county triggering the Grand Traverse Circuit Court's jurisdiction. Jurisdiction could be established only if Grand Traverse County was the location of an “offense against” them.
The events that resulted in the death of respondent-mother's infant daughter were insufficient, by themselves, to permit the Grand Traverse Circuit Court to exercise jurisdiction over NC and CC. MCR 3.903(C)(9) defines “offense against a child” as “an act or omission by a parent ․ asserted as grounds for bringing the child within the jurisdiction of the court pursuant to the Juvenile Code.” MCR 3.903(C)(3) defines a “child” as “a minor alleged or found to be within the jurisdiction of the court pursuant to MCL 712A.2(b).” The plain language of the court rules requires an act or omission against the child over which jurisdiction is sought. The DHHS did not allege any act or omission committed by respondent-mother directly against NC or CC. The critical acts and omissions cited in the petition were committed only against respondent-mother's younger children. The Grand Traverse Circuit Court could exercise jurisdiction over the surviving child who had been in respondent's care. However, “[t]he fact that there are statutory grounds to assume jurisdiction over one minor child does not automatically mean that there are statutory grounds to assume jurisdiction over a second minor child.” In re Kellogg, 331 Mich.App. 249, 254, 952 N.W.2d 544 (2020).
In the circuit court, the DHHS relied on the theory of anticipatory neglect to bring NC and CC into the petition. The petition alleged that in light of respondent-mother's substance abuse, which allegedly led to the death of her infant daughter, NC and CC could be placed in harm's way if permitted unsupervised contact with respondent-mother. “The doctrine of anticipatory neglect recognizes that [h]ow a parent treats one child is ․ probative of how that parent may treat other children.” In re A.H., 245 Mich.App. 77, 84, 627 N.W.2d 33 (2001) (quotation marks and citation omitted). This doctrine inherently acknowledges that no actual detrimental act has occurred. While the doctrine of anticipatory neglect may satisfy the parental-conduct component of the jurisdictional statute, it does not satisfy the geographic component relative to the child required by MCL 712A.2(b).
The DHHS also suggested below that the provisions of MCL 722.638 conferred jurisdiction over NC and CC on the Grand Traverse Circuit Court. MCL 722.638(1)(a) requires the DHHS to submit a petition for authorization by the circuit court if a parent has abused “the child or a sibling of the child” and that abuse included life-threatening injury. But that statute does dictate where the petition must be filed. Indeed, MCL 722.638(1) provides, “The department shall submit a petition for authorization by the court under ․ MCL 712A.2, if 1 or more of the following apply ․” (Emphasis added.) The Legislature thereby required the DHHS to file a petition in a court that has jurisdiction under MCL 712A.2(b). And while MCL 722.638 may satisfy the parental-conduct component of MCL 712A.2, it does not indicate that the location of the life-threatening injury to one sibling overcomes the geographic component of the jurisdictional statute as it relates to other siblings. Accordingly, the DHHS's reliance on MCL 722.638 is misplaced.
Because neither NC nor CC were “found within” Grand Traverse County pursuant to MCL 712A.2(b), the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over them. The circuit court erred when it denied nonrespondent-father's motion to dismiss them from the petition.
We reverse and remand for entry of an order of dismissal. We do not retain jurisdiction.
Cameron, P.J., and Jansen and Gleicher, JJ., concurred.
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