Marin, Matter of, Docket No. 149986

Decision Date02 March 1993
Docket NumberDocket No. 149986
Citation499 N.W.2d 400,198 Mich.App. 560
PartiesIn the Matter of Veronica MARIN, Minor. DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Efrain MARIN, Respondent-Appellant, and Sylvia Marin Estrada, Respondent.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Andrew J. Marks, Pros. Atty., and Karen Ross Hammond, Asst. Pros. Atty., Allegan, for petitioner-appellee.

Rodger I. Sweeting, Montague, for respondent-appellant.

Before SAWYER, P.J., and HOOD and JANSEN, JJ.

PER CURIAM.

Respondent father appeals from an order of the probate court terminating his parental rights to his minor child on the basis of his abuse of that child. We affirm.

Respondent first argues that the probate court improperly terminated his parental rights because the child was not in foster care at the time of the termination hearing. 1 Respondent argues that the statute only authorizes the termination of parental rights where a child remains in foster care. While respondent's argument is not without some merit, after careful analysis of the statute, we are convinced that the trial court could terminate respondent's parental rights even though the child was not in foster care.

At issue is the application of M.C.L. Sec. 712A.19b(1); M.S.A. Sec. 27.3178(598.19b)(1), which provides as follows:

Except as provided in subsection (4), if a child remains in foster care in the temporary custody of the court following a review hearing under section 19(3) of this chapter or a permanency planning hearing under section 19a of this chapter or if a child remains in the custody of a guardian or limited guardian, upon petition of the prosecuting attorney, child, guardian, custodian, or agency, the court shall hold a hearing to determine if the parental rights to a child should be terminated and, if all parental rights to the child are terminated, the child placed in permanent custody of the court.

Read by itself, this subsection could reasonably be interpreted as providing for the termination of parental rights only in circumstances where a child remains in foster care, particularly in light of the fact that nowhere else in this section does the statute address under what other circumstances a petition for termination of parental rights may be filed. Rather, the remainder of this section addresses the circumstances that justify the termination of parental rights, as well as certain other procedural matters.

The petitioner argues that subsection 1 may be read independently of the remainder of the section, suggesting that respondent's argument would have been stronger under the version of the statute that existed before amendment in 1988. 2 Indeed, the argument that a child had to remain in foster care in order for the court to terminate parental rights was much stronger under the pre-1988 version of the statute inasmuch as the prior version of the statute, M.C.L. Sec. 712A.19a; M.S.A. Sec. 27.3178(598.19a), was structured significantly differently, with an introductory paragraph with language similar to that currently found in Sec. 19b(1) referring to situations where a child remains in foster care, and then having a list of the circumstances that justify termination. We agree that respondent's position would be stronger under the preamendment version of the statute, though we do caution that our analysis of the current statute is not solely based upon the rearrangement of the statute by the Legislature during the 1988 amendment.

While the method by which the Legislature arranges the form of a statute, particularly where the format is changed from a prior version, may be relevant in interpreting the intent of the Legislature in drafting that statute, we must take care not to confuse style with substance. That is, a particular format may be chosen by drafters for purposes of clarity of form, rather than to create a substantive meaning. Similarly, when dealing with an amendment of a statute that revises the structural form of the legislation, a change in format may signal an intent by the drafters to change meaning, or to clarify a meaning that may have been misinterpreted because of the former style of drafting involved, but may also merely reflect a desire to clarify a statute without a change in meaning. 3

Nevertheless, we are satisfied that the petitioner's interpretation of the meaning of Sec. 19b(1) is correct. The real question to be answered is what purpose is served by Sec. 19b(1): (1) to establish those conditions, and only those conditions, under which the probate court may terminate parental rights (i.e., when children remain in foster care) or (2) to impose an obligation upon the probate court to conduct a termination hearing upon request by a party where a child remains in foster care. While either of these interpretations would be reasonable in light of the language employed in Sec. 19b(1), we are persuaded that the second interpretation is the one intended by the Legislature.

The primary goal of interpreting a statute is to give effect to the Legislature's intent in drafting the statute. People v. Hawkins, 181 Mich.App. 393, 396, 448 N.W.2d 858 (1989); Dep't. of Social Services v. Brewer, 180 Mich.App. 82, 84, 446 N.W.2d 593 (1989). Statutory language should be construed reasonably, keeping in mind the objective and purpose of the act. Id. Furthermore, nothing will be read into a statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as gathered from the act itself. Jefferson Schools v. Detroit Edison Co., 154 Mich.App. 390, 393, 397 N.W.2d 320 (1986).

Turning to Sec. 19b(1), there are reasons to support respondent's interpretation of the statute. According to the legislative analysis prepared by the House Legislative Analysis Section in the Senate Fiscal Agency, 4 the bills that ultimately were enacted as 1988 P.A. 224 were introduced to address the problem identified by a commission appointed in late 1982 by Justice Mary S. Coleman to address the problems in the juvenile justice and child welfare system that led to abused and neglected children drifting within the system rather than being placed in permanent and loving homes. In the arguments identified in support of the bill, the analyses recognized that the bills would ensure that abused or neglected children spend as little time as possible in institutions or foster care, that there would be a strong emphasis on keeping a child at home whenever possible and, where the child is removed from the home, to return the child to the home as soon as possible, but where an indefinite stay in foster care was at risk, the parents' parental rights could be terminated so that a permanent adoption could be arranged.

It would be reasonable to interpret Sec. 19b(1) as urged by respondent, namely that termination of parental rights may occur only where a child remains in foster care. It can be reasonably argued that there is no need to terminate the parental rights of one parent where the child remains in the care and custody of the other parent and there is no basis for removing the child from the custodial parent's care. While the noncustodial parent may not be a fit parent and may, in fact, as is the case here, pose a threat to the child, those concerns could be addressed through traditional custody and visitation proceedings in the circuit court, as well as, through the criminal justice system, as occurred here. Because the custodial parent remains fit and there is no intent to remove the child from the custodial parent or to terminate the custodial parent's rights, there will be no permanent placement of the...

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