Shae Mullins and Louis Dominion are the parents of a daughter born on January 5, 2006. Mullins and Dominion never married; the child lived with Mullins. When a court awarded Dominion unsupervised parenting time, Mullins expressed concern about Dominion’s alleged history of violence and substance abuse. She provided Dominion information about caring for the child, including that the child had extremely sensitive skin and could break out in hives if exposed to the wrong products. When her daughter returned home from her first unsupervised visit with Dominion, Mullins noted that the child’s labia were swollen and red, and that the child was ill with nausea and diarrhea. Mullins took the child to the South Haven Urgent Care Clinic. The physician’s report gave a clinic impression of “alleged sexual abuse (very suspicious).” She referred the matter to Children’s Protective Services, a division of the Michigan Department of Human Services. Both CPS and the Michigan State Police investigated. Their investigation, which included a separate medical examination, did not substantiate the sexual abuse allegations.
A similar pattern followed after the child had other unsupervised visits with her father. Mullins took the child for several other medical examinations, sometimes noting redness and swelling in the genital area, and asking about sexual abuse. For the most part, no findings of sexual abuse were made. One physician at the South Haven Urgent Care Clinic did find a red, swollen vaginal opening and some finger-like bruising on the child’s legs; in her report, the physician opined that the child had been sexually abused. A physician who examined the child the next day found no evidence of penetration.
Multiple referrals were made to CPS, but the sexual abuse allegations were not substantiated. At one point, CPS retained a critical care pediatrician to review the child’s medical records and offer an opinion regarding sexual abuse. The physician found no strong evidence for any form of injury, and noted that Mullins appeared to be doctor shopping. He explained: “This is very suspicious to me. It implies not that the child has been sexually molested, but rather that the mother and grandmother are invested in the notion that she has been.”
A CPS worker filed a petition to have the family court take jurisdiction of the child pursuant to MCL 712A.2(b). A preliminary hearing was held, after which the child was placed in foster care. The record indicates that when removed from Mullins’ care, the child, who was not quite three years old, was sleeping in a crib, holding a “security” blanket, using a bottle, and still wearing diapers.
CPS conducted an investigation, which included referring the child and both her parents to be evaluated by a social worker who was experienced in child sexual abuse assessments. The social worker concluded that the child had endured “a form of mental abuse/mental injury” because of Mullins’ continuing search for a medical professional who would state that the child had been sexually abused, and because of Mullins’ destructive comments and efforts to alienate the child from her father.
CPS then filed a supplemental petition, which incorporated the allegations from the original petition and made three specific additional allegations: (1) that Mullins’ “psychological state” interfered with her ability to provide proper care and custody to the child, causing her to take the child for multiple medical exams, but never accepting the findings of CPS and the Michigan State Police, which did not substantiate the allegations of sexual abuse by the father; (2) that Mullins is “emotionally abusive to [the child] by attempting to estrange the father-daughter relationship” and that there was evidence that Mullins was coaching the child to say negative things about her father; and (3) that Mullins “lacks appropriate parenting skills,” noting that when the child was removed from respondent’s care she was using a bottle, wearing diapers, and sleeping in a crib.
The trial court held a jurisdictional trial at which witnesses testified about the medical examinations, the police investigation, and psychological evaluations of the child and Mullins. The trial court ruled that a preponderance of the evidence supported the court taking jurisdiction of the child under MCL 712A.2(b)(1) because Mullins’ actions had caused substantial risk of harm to the child’s mental well-being, and under subsection (b)(2), because the child’s home was unfit.
Mullins appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in a split, unpublished per curiam opinion. The majority criticized the trial court’s review of the record; the trial court overlooked the fact that none of the physicians ruled out sexual abuse, the majority said. Moreover, the trial court held Mullins to too high a standard with regard to understanding the signs of sexual abuse; the trial court was merely speculating in stating that Mullins was “doctor shopping” as part of an effort to deny visitation to the child’s father, the majority concluded. The dissenting judge would have affirmed, concluding that there was sufficient evidence from which the trier of fact could find by a preponderance of the evidence that the child came within the court’s jurisdiction. The Department of Human Services appeals.