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142566, 142568 - In re: MAYS, Minors

In re: MAYS, Minors
 
William Ladd
___________________________
 
 
Department of Human Services,
 
Jennifer L. Gordon
 
Plaintiff-Appellee,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals
 
 
(Wayne – Hartsfield, J.)
 
Ursula Mays and Wali Phillips,
 
Elizabeth Warner
 
Respondents-Appellants.
Vivek S. Sankaran

​Minor Children's [142568] Brief on Appeal>>
Minor Children's [142566] Brief on Appeal>>

Petitioner-Appellee's [142566, 142568] Brief on Appeal>>

Respondent-Appellant's [Mays-142568] Brief on Appeal>>
Respondent-Appellant's [Mays-142568] Reply Brief>>

Respondent-Appellant's [Phillips-142566] Brief on Appeal>>
Respondent-Appellant's [Phillips-142566] Reply Brief>>

Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

National Association of Counsel for Children's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

Legal Services Association of Michigan and the Michigan State Planning Body for the Delivery of Legal Services to the Poor's Amici Curiae Brief>>

Center for Individual Right's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

American Civil Liberties Union Fund of Michigan's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

State Bar of Michigan Family Law Section's Amicus Curiae Brief>>

Summary

​In March 2009, Ursula Mays left her daughters, aged seven and nine, alone at home at about 7:00 p.m.; she did not tell the girls where she was going or how to reach her. Around midnight, Mays’ former boyfriend stopped by the house and found the girls alone; just after 1:00 a.m., he took them to the police station. Children’s Protective Services worker James Taylor interviewed the girls, who reported that this was not the first time that their mother had left them alone at home. Taylor asked the court to take temporary jurisdiction of the children and to authorize their removal from Mays’ home. The court agreed, and the children were placed with their maternal grandmother. In April, Mays appeared in court and entered a plea to the allegations in the petition.

Based on Mays’ plea, the family court ordered Mays and the girls’ father, Wali Phillips, to comply with a treatment plan. Mays’ plan required her to attend individual counseling and parenting classes, attend an evaluation, maintain suitable housing, and obtain a legal source of income. Mays was also to be referred for domestic violence counseling and substance abuse services. Phillips’ treatment plan required him to attend individual counseling and parenting classes, obtain suitable housing, and obtain a legal source of income. Both parents were allowed to visit the children at the maternal grandmother’s home.

After several months, the Department of Human Services advised the family court that neither parent was complying with the treatment plan. The court ordered DHS to file a supplemental petition seeking termination of both parents’ parental rights.

At the termination trial, a foster care worker testified that Mays did not substantially comply with the treatment plan. Among other things, Mays admitted drinking and using marijuana, but did not follow through with drug screens; she was unemployed, failed to maintain suitable housing, and missed parenting classes and therapy sessions, the social worker said. Mays testified that she was able to care for her children, explaining that her attendance at business school affected her ability to complete the treatment plan. The maternal grandmother testified that Mays visited the children at her home about once a week.

As for Phillips, the foster care worker testified that he eventually received a certificate of completion for parenting classes, but that she did not believe that Phillips had benefited from the classes. Phillips attended a few counseling sessions, but did not appear to benefit from those either, the worker said. Phillips provided some financial support to the children but, according to the foster care worker, was not able to provide the children with a home. Phillips testified that he had nothing to do with the incident in March 2009 when Mays left the children home alone. He stated that he and Mays had been separated for about eight years, but he maintained regular contact with the children. Whenever Mays asked him to provide financial support for the children, he did so, Phillips asserted. Phillips testified that he was aware he needed to complete the treatment plan in order to avoid having his parental rights terminated. He admitted that he did not attend individual counseling and had missed some court hearings, but attributed these lapses to work and scheduling errors. Phillips explained that he never visited the children at the maternal grandmother’s home because of his work and transportation concerns, and also because he thought the grandmother did not like him. He said that Mays’ sister would usually bring the children to Mays’ house so that he and Mays could visit with them; he had last seen the children two weeks earlier at Mays’ house.

DHS argued that clear and convincing evidence supported terminating Mays’ and Phillips’ parental rights. DHA asserted that Mays had placed her own needs and desires above those of the children and had also shown poor judgment that placed her children at risk. As for Phillips, he had merely gone through the motions and not benefited from any of the services provided to him, DHS contended. A juvenile court referee agreed, adding “it is in the best interests of the children that the parents’ rights be terminated, and another plan, other than reunification, be sought.” The family court judge agreed, and terminated both Mays’ and Phillips’ parental rights.

Mays and Phillips appealed, but the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The trial court did not clearly err in finding that petitioner had established by clear and convincing evidence sufficient grounds for termination of both parents’ parental rights, the Court of Appeals said; both parents failed to comply with the treatment plan. The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that termination of both parents’ parental rights was in the children’s best interests. Both parents were aware that the only way toward reunification was to comply with the terms of the treatment plan, yet neither did so, the appellate court stated. The trial court reasonably concluded that the children had been in care for a year and were entitled to permanence and stability, the Court of Appeals concluded. Mays and Phillips appeal.