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Adler v. Dormio

Court of Appeals of Michigan

March 19, 2015

JENNIFER D. ADLER, Plaintiff-Appellee,
AARON DORMIO, Defendant-Appellant.

Livingston Circuit Court Family Division LC No. 06-038864-DP

Before: Wilder, P.J., and Servitto and Stephens, JJ.

Stephens, J.

Defendant appeals from the circuit court's order denying his motion to vacate a modified universal child support order (UCSO). We vacate and remand.


The underlying case arises from a paternity complaint filed by plaintiff on December 7, 2006, naming defendant as the biological father of her son, who was born on April 14, 2005. Defendant was served by alternate service with the paternity complaint on December 27, 2006, and with an order for genetic testing on January 8, 2007. Plaintiff filed a default application and moved for entry of a default order of filiation after defendant failed to respond to either the complaint or the order for testing. At the April 12, 2007 motion hearing, the trial court entered a judgment of filiation and a UCSO requiring defendant to pay $297 per month in child support, retroactive to the child's date of birth, April 14, 2005. On plaintiff's motion, the court modified the UCSO to include $368 per month for childcare effective from October 6, 2006, bringing defendant's total monthly liability for child support and childcare to $669.

Defendant claims to have first learned about the paternity case when his wages were garnished in the summer of 2009. In 2013 defendant filed a motion to set aside the judgment of filiation under section 1443(3) of the then new Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA), MCL 722.1431 et seq. in which he denied paternity. Genetic tests excluded the defendant as the father. The court held a best interests hearing to set aside the judgment of filiation and terminated his child support obligation effective September 2012, the date of the filing the RPA petition. The over $45, 000 in arrears that had accrued prior to that date were unaffected by the order.

Subsequently defendant attempted to set up a payment plan for the arrears through the Friend of Court. Because only $300 of the arrears was owed to the State, the court declined to enter a discharge plan and instructed defendant to "file a motion for relief of judgment to be heard by the circuit court".

Defendant filed a motion with the circuit court to vacate his support orders and support enforcement orders pursuant to MCR 2.612(C)(1)(f). He argued below, as he argues on appeal, that although MCL 722.1443(3) does not provide a mechanism for relief from arrearages owed for a child the court determined was not his, the Legislature clearly intended such relief to be available. The trial court denied defendant's motion after stating that defendant had failed to meet his burden under MCR 2.612(C)(1)(f). It is from that order that defendant appeals.


Defendant argues that the plain language of MCL 722.1443(3) allows him to seek relief under MCR 2.612(C)(1). We agree.

The proper interpretation of a statute is a legal question that this Court reviews de novo. Gilliam v Hi-Temp Prods, Inc, 260 Mich.App. 98, 108; 677 N.W.2d 856 (2003). The fundamental rule of statutory interpretation is to give effect to the legislature's intent. Klooster v City of Charlevoix, 488 Mich. 289, 296; 795 N.W.2d 578 (2011). The Court accomplishes this by focusing on the language the Legislature adopted in the statute, giving meaning to every word, phrase, and clause in the statute and considering both their plain meaning and their context. Mich Farm Bureau v Dep't of Environmental Quality, 292 Mich.App. 106, 131-132; 807 N.W.2d 866 (2011). Courts may not speculate regarding legislative intent beyond the words expressed in a statute. Mich Educ Ass'n v Secretary of State, 489 Mich. 194, 217-218; 801 N.W.2d 35 (2011). A statute that is clear and unambiguous on its face should be enforced as written. Dep't of Agriculture v Appletree Mktg, LLC, 485 Mich. 1, 8; 779 N.W.2d 237 (2010).

The RPA, became effective June 12, 2012. 2012 PA 159.[1] Among other things, it permits an affiliated father[2] "whose paternity was determined based on the affiliated father's failure to participate in the court proceedings" to "file a motion with the court that made the determination to set aside the determination." MCL 722.1439(1), 1443(2)(b). The judgment of filiation in this case was entered against defendant on a motion for entry of default after defendant failed to respond or appear at proceedings. Typically, a motion under MCL 722.1439 must be filed within 3 years after the child's birth or one year of the order of filiation, ...

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