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In re L. F. O. C.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 4, 2017

In re L. F. O. C., Minor.

         Wayne Circuit Court Family Division LC No. 16-000209-AY

          Before: Sawyer, P.J., and Saad and Riordan, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         Petitioners, JAS and AEO, appeal as of right an order denying their motion for special findings on the issue of "special immigrant juvenile" (SIJ) status for the minor child, LFOC, in this stepparent adoption case. We reverse the trial court's determination that it lacked authority to make such findings and remand for consideration of petitioners' motion on the merits.

         LFOC is an undocumented juvenile immigrant from Honduras. AEO, the mother of LFOC, is married to JAS; they live in Michigan. LFOC's biological father is CCO. JAS and AEO filed a petition for stepparent adoption of LFOC by JAS. Following a hearing, the trial court terminated CCO's parental rights to LFOC, granted the request for a stepparent adoption, and placed LFOC in petitioners' home. Petitioners then filed a motion for special findings on the issue of LFOC's SIJ status. In particular, petitioners asked the trial court to make the following findings:

1. That [LFOC] has been declared dependent upon a juvenile court.
2. That reunification with one or both of [LFOC's] parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under State law;
3. That it is not in [LFOC's] best interest to be returned to his country of origin; and
4. Any other relief this Court deems just and proper.

         Petitioners sought these findings so that LFOC could then submit a request to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the United States Department of Homeland Security (USDHS), for SIJ status pursuant to 8 USC 1101(a)(27)(J). The trial court denied the request, stating, in relevant part, that it lacked authority to issue the requested findings.

         On appeal, petitioners argue that the trial court erred in concluding that it lacked authority to make the requested factual findings pertinent to the issue of SIJ status. We agree.

         "Questions of law, including statutory interpretation, are reviewed de novo on appeal." Gorman v American Honda Motor Co, Inc, 302 Mich.App. 113, 116; 839 N.W.2d 223 (2013). This standard of review applies to the interpretation of federal statutes and regulations:

Statutory interpretation is a question of law we review de novo, as is the interpretation of administrative regulations. This standard applies to the interpretation of federal statutes and regulations, though reasonable administrative interpretations of regulations operating as statutory gap-fillers are entitled to deference. Clear and unambiguous statutory language is given its plain meaning, and is enforced as written. [In re Petition of Attorney General for Investigative Subpoenas, 274 Mich.App. 696, 698; 736 N.W.2d 594 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted).]

         Jurisdictional issues are also reviewed de novo. Pontiac Food Ctr v Dep't of Community Health, 282 Mich.App. 331, 335; 766 N.W.2d 42 (2008). A trial court's factual findings are reviewed for clear error. See MCR 2.613(C); In re ALZ, 247 Mich.App. 264, 271; 636 N.W.2d 284 (2001). "A finding is clearly erroneous if, although there is evidence to support it, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake was made." In re ALZ, 247 Mich.App. at 271-272.

         At the hearing on the motion for special findings on the issue of SIJ status, the trial court initially noted that "classification based upon alienage is reserved solely for the federal government, so I'm not supposed to pay attention to that." The trial court went on to recognize that "[h]ere the request I have asks me to do something that's at least slightly different from that." The trial court then described the findings that it was being asked to make and concluded that it had difficulty making those findings with what had been presented to the court. The trial court entered an order finding that the criteria for SIJ status had not been satisfied. At the hearing on petitioners' motion for reconsideration, the trial court again stated that only the federal government may classify on the basis of alienage and stated that the court lacked the "power" or "authority" to make the requested decisions. Given that the trial court stated that it lacked authority to make findings on the issue of SIJ status, we agree with petitioners that it is necessary to address whether the trial court has such authority.

         "The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 (Act) first established SIJ status as a path for resident immigrant children to achieve permanent residency in the United States." In reEstate of Nina L ex rel Howerton, 2015 Ill.App. 152223; 397 Ill. Dec 279, 282-283; 41 NE3d 930 (2015).[1] ...


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