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Graham v. Foster

Supreme Court of Michigan

April 7, 2017

SHAE KEVIN GRAHAM, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SHAREA FOSTER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued on application for leave to appeal January 10, 2017.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

         Syllabus

         Shae K. Graham filed a complaint under the Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA), MCL 722.1431 et seq., against Sharea Foster to establish his alleged paternity and legal fatherhood of Foster's son, BF. Foster married her husband, Christopher, in 2004, and BF was born in 2009 during Foster's marriage to Christopher. Because a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the legitimate child of that marriage, Christopher was BF's father as a matter of law. An action under the RPA must be filed within three years of the child's birth or within one year of the RPA's effective date. Graham timely filed his complaint on May 15, 2013, within the one-year period of limitations in MCL 722.1437(1) that began on June 12, 2012. Graham's complaint asked the court to first determine under MCL 722.1443(2)(d) that BF was born out of wedlock and then, under MCL 722.1443(2)(e), to determine that Graham was BF's biological father after which the court could enter an order of filiation establishing Graham as BF's biological father and naming him BF's legal father. Foster moved for summary disposition after the limitations period expired, asserting that Christopher was a necessary party to the litigation, MCR 2.205(A), but had not been named in Graham's complaint. According to Foster, Graham's action was time-barred because the period of limitations had expired and Christopher had not been made a party to the action. The court, Joan E. Young, J., ruled that Christopher was not a necessary party and denied Foster's motion for summary disposition. The Court of Appeals granted Foster's interlocutory application for leave to appeal the trial court's decision and held that Christopher was a necessary party to the litigation because Graham could not be named BF's father without terminating Christopher's parental rights. However, the Court of Appeals, Cavanagh, P.J., and Meter and Shapiro, JJ., affirmed the trial court's denial of Foster's motion for summary disposition, concluding that Graham's failure to name Christopher in his complaint before expiration of the limitations period was not fatal to Graham's complaint. 311 Mich.App. 139 (2015). The Court acknowledged that generally an action commences as to a party named in a complaint on the date the complaint is filed. Similarly, an action in which a party is first named in an amended complaint ordinarily commences as to that party on the date the amended complaint is filed. In this case, Christopher had not yet been added to the complaint before the limitations period had expired. But the Court of Appeals recognized a necessary-party exception to the general rule. According to the Court of Appeals, the necessary-party exception allowed a party to be added to an action after the limitations period had expired when the party was necessary to fully resolve the litigation. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court to allow Graham to add Christopher to the action even though the statutory limitations period had expired. Foster filed an application for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant Foster's application for leave to appeal or take other action. 499 Mich. 862 (2016).

         In a memorandum opinion signed by Chief Justice Markman and Justices Young, Zahra, McCormack, Viviano, and Larsen the Supreme Court held:

         A person whose parental rights may be terminated as a result of litigation must be made a party to the litigation because he or she is a person having such an interest in the litigation that his or her presence is essential to rendering complete relief. A person timely made a party to an action may not claim on his or her own behalf that the action is time-barred on the basis of the plaintiff's failure to add a necessary party before the limitations period expired. Additionally, a court may not preemptively decide whether a statute of limitations defense is available to a necessary party before he or she has been made a party to the litigation.

         1. A person whose parental rights must be terminated in order to provide a plaintiff with the relief sought is a necessary party that must be added to the litigation before disposition. In this case, Christopher was a necessary party to the action because the relief Graham sought could not have been rendered without terminating Christopher's parental rights. Graham's complaint sought an order of filiation regarding a child born to Foster while she was married to Christopher. Because the child, BF, was born during Foster's marriage to Christopher, Christopher was BF's presumptive father. To name Graham as the father of BF would first require the termination of Christopher's parental rights, and Christopher had to be made a party to the litigation because it could affect his status as BF's legal father. The trial court erred when it held that Christopher was not a necessary party, and the Court of Appeals correctly reversed that determination.

         2. A statute of limitations defense is personal, and a party may not assert a statute of limitations defense on his or her own behalf simply because other necessary parties were not timely sued. Specifically, Foster could not raise the statute of limitations defense potentially available to Christopher if he were added to the complaint because Foster was made a party to the litigation before the period of limitations had expired. Further, the availability to a party of a statute of limitations defense may not be decided before that party has been added to the proceedings. In this case, Christopher was a necessary party but he had not yet been added to the proceedings. Therefore, the Court of Appeals erred by adjudicating the merits of his anticipated statute of limitations defense, and that portion of the Court of Appeals opinion had to be vacated. If, on remand, Graham files an amended complaint naming Christopher as a defendant, Christopher will have the opportunity to raise a statute of limitations defense, and Graham will have the opportunity to litigate whether any exceptions apply to excuse his tardy joinder of Christopher to the litigation.

         Affirmed in part and vacated in part.

          Justice Bernstein would have denied leave to appeal.

          Chief Justice: Stephen J. Markman Justices: Robert P. Young, Jr. Brian K. Zahra Bridget M. McCormack David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Joan L. Larsen

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         In this proceeding under the Revocation of Paternity Act (RPA), MCL 722.1431 et seq., the Court of Appeals erred by prematurely adjudicating a nonparty's anticipated defense. For that reason, we vacate the offending portions of the judgment below, while leaving in place its judgment remanding the case for further proceedings consistent with the remainder of its opinion.

         On September 23, 2009, defendant, Sharea Foster, gave birth to a son, BF. Plaintiff alleges that he is the biological father of BF and therefore should be recognized as BF's legal father. However, defendant has been married to her husband, Christopher Foster, since 2004. Because "a child conceived and born during a marriage is legally presumed the legitimate child of that marriage, and the mother's husband is the child's father as a matter of law, " Pecoraro v Rostagno-Wallat, 291 Mich.App. 303, 305-306; 805 N.W.2d 226 (2011), our law presumes that Christopher is the father of BF notwithstanding plaintiff's assertions.

         Plaintiff, nonetheless, has sought to establish his alleged paternity and legal fatherhood of BF. When a minor child has a presumptive father, the RPA allows an individual to come forward under certain circumstances and allege his paternity and legal fatherhood. See MCL 722.1441(3). A successful plaintiff can obtain a judicial determination that a child was born out of wedlock, a determination of his own biological paternity, and an appropriate order of filiation. MCL 722.1443(2)(d) and (e). On May 15, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint seeking such a determination and order. Ordinarily, an action brought under the RPA must be filed within three years of the child's birth. However, the RPA also allows for actions to be brought within one year of the ...


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