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Honigman Pro Bono Work Helps Protect Fundamental Parental Rights in Precedential Michigan Supreme Court Case

June 27, 2019

The Michigan Supreme Court recently issued a landmark decision in In re Ferranti that safeguards fundamental parental rights in child protective proceedings. 

At issue in Ferranti was whether the collateral attack rule applies to bar a parent from challenging a court’s initial exercise of jurisdiction over them on appeal from an order terminating parental rights in that same proceeding. In In re Hatcher, the Court had previously applied collateral estoppel principles to bar a parent from challenging, on appeal from an order terminating parental rights, errors that occurred at an earlier, adjudicative phase of the proceeding. In effect, Hatcher required a parent to appeal midway through a proceeding, without any requirement that the parent be informed of the ability to appeal or that the failure to do so would result in forfeiture of the challenge. If a parent did not file an appeal, he was foreclosed from raising the error, even if the error violated his fundamental, constitutional rights.

In Ferranti, the Court ruled that Hatcher was wrongly decided, overruled it, and in light of the errors that occurred during the adjudication phase in that case, vacated the trial court’s adjudication order and remanded the case for further proceedings. In addition, the Court ruled that a trial court’s use of unrecorded in camera interviews in termination proceedings violates parents’ due process rights. 

Honigman attorneys Sarah Waidelich and Rian Dawson filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on behalf of the Legal Services Association of Michigan (LSAM), which outlined the impropriety of Hatcher and the harm it caused to Michigan families. In addition to Waidelich and Dawson, Honigman attorneys Robert Riley, co-chair of the firm’s Appellate Advocacy practice group, and Andrew Pauwels have frequently filed amicus briefs in various cases on behalf of LSAM in an effort to overturn Hatcher. They have also coordinated several moot arguments for Vivek Sankaran, clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School and director of its Child Advocacy Law Clinic and Child Welfare Appellate Clinic.  Sankaran represented the respondent parents in Ferranti.

“We are ecstatic about this result, which represents an important victory for parental rights in Michigan,” said Waidelich.  “We’re honored to provide pro bono legal assistance to LSAM to help ensure that Michigan families are treated fairly under the law.”

Honigman attorneys have represented clients on a pro bono basis in other seminal family law cases. For example, in 2013 Riley drafted an amicus brief advocating that certain child welfare proceedings under the “one-parent doctrine” violated constitutionally-protected parental rights.  The Michigan Supreme Court agreed and subsequently struck down that doctrine in its hallmark decision in In re Sanders. And in 2016, Riley, Pauwels, and Waidelich filed an amicus brief on behalf of LSAM in In re Gach, in which the Michigan Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional a statute that authorized courts to terminate a parent’s rights based solely on the fact that the parent’s rights to another child had previously been terminated. 

Waidelich earned a J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School and a B.S., magna cum laude, from Trine University.

Dawson earned a J.D., cum laude, from Indiana University Maurer School of Law and a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University. 

Riley, formerly a Michigan Supreme Court clerk, earned a J.D., cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School, an MBA, with high distinction, from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and a B.A. from the University of Michigan.

Pauwels earned a J.D., summa cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame Law School and a B.A. from the University of Notre Dame.