This case concerns three young siblings who were placed with petitioners Valeriu and Karen Martin; a fourth sibling was also placed with the Martins, but she is not involved in this lawsuit. The children have special needs that require medical attention. After the parental rights of the children’s birth parents were terminated, the Martins began the process to adopt the children.
Four years after the children were placed with the Martins, a complaint was filed by Children’s Protective Services after Karen Worden, a disabled adult who lived with the Martins, physically disciplined one of the children. Caseworkers from the Department of Human Services had advised the Martins that Worden should not supervise the children alone. As a result of this incident, the Martins’ names were placed on the statewide Child Abuse and Neglect Central Registry.
After conducting a preliminary assessment of the Martins, a DHS adoption specialist recommended denial of the Martins’ adoption application. The caseworker concluded that the children had bonded with the Martins, but had a number of concerns, including the fact that Worden remained in the Martins’ home and was relied upon for childcare. DHS investigated the complaint involving Worden. It was generally agreed that the children’s placement with the Martins would continue, that Worden would not supervise the children, that the Martins would complete adoption paperwork and submit it in a timely manner, and that a corrective action plan for the Martins would be adopted. It was also agreed that the CPS complaint would not be substantiated, and that the goal remained adoption of the children by the Martins.
Nevertheless, following a case staffing meeting, DHS referred the Martins for services and later ordered removal of the children from the Martins’ home. The Martins requested a review of the removal by the Foster Care Review Board, and learned soon after for the first time that they had been placed on the Central Registry. The FCRB found that this was the sole reason preventing the children from being returned to the Martins. DHS refused to expunge the Martins from the Central Registry. The Martins ultimately obtained this relief from an administrative judge.
Meanwhile, the three children were placed in foster care with Samuel and Judy Raber. Both the Martins and the Rabers petitioned for consent to adopt from William Johnson, superintendent of the Michigan Children’s Institute. Johnson granted the Rabers’ petition; he concluded that it would not be in the children’s best interests to be removed from the Rabers’ home and returned to the Martins for adoption. Among other things, Johnson noted that the children were in their foster home for nearly two years and had established close psychological connections to their current family. The foster parents demonstrated an ability to meet the children’s needs, while the Martins failed to assure the children’s safety and wellbeing, Johnson said.
The Martins filed a petition for review in the family division of Genesee County Circuit Court, pursuant to §45 of the Michigan Adoption Code, MCL 710.45; they alleged that Johnson’s decision to withhold consent to adopt was arbitrary and capricious. A §45 hearing was held at which Johnson was the only witness to testify. The Martins submitted an offer of proof, asserting that various witnesses would testify regarding the good care provided to the children by the Martins and the poor care provided by the Rabers, but the trial court determined that the proffered evidence was not relevant to the question of whether Johnson’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The judge upheld Johnson’s decision and dismissed the Martins’ adoption petition, finding that the Martins had failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Johnson arbitrarily or capriciously withheld consent.
The Martins appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in a split unpublished per curiam opinion. The majority held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it excluded the Martins’ proffered evidence. Moreover, the majority held, the reasons listed by Johnson in his denial of the adoption petition “negate a finding by the trial court that his decision for denial was arbitrary and capricious.” The dissenting judge concluded that the excluded evidence would have changed the outcome of the hearing. He would have reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case to the trial court so that the Martins would have an opportunity to present relevant evidence in support of their case. The Martins appeal.