In re BGP, Minor. In re JSP, Minor.
Circuit Court Family Division LC Nos. 2015-837535-AD,
Before: SAAD, P.J., and METER and MURRAY, JJ.
these consolidated cases, nonparty American Adoptions, Inc.,
appeals the circuit court's order that disallowed the
payment of administrative and marketing fees by the adoptive
parents related to the adoption of two minors in Michigan.
For the reasons provided below, we reverse in part and
cases arise from the adoption of a minor child under the
Adoption Code, MCL 710.21 et seq. These cases
specifically involve the fees paid by the respective adoptive
parents (petitioners) for services ostensibly related to the
adoption process. American Adoptions is a not-for-profit
adoption agency based in Kansas, petitioners reside outside
of Michigan,  and the adoptee children were born in
required by MCL 710.54(7), the adoptive parents in each case
submitted a verified accounting and a supplement to their
verified accounting, which detailed the payments made
purportedly in connection with their adoption of children
born in Michigan. In both cases, petitioners identified
American Adoptions as the payee of the administrative fee and
American Family Media as the payee of the marketing fee.
Petitioners attached, in addition to other documents, a
letter from American Adoptions that explained its
fees. The letters were written by Wade Morris,
the Director of Community Resources for American Adoptions,
and addressed to petitioners' attorney (same attorney in
each case). We infer that because American Family Media-and
not American Adoptions-received the marketing fee from
petitioners, Morris's letter did not reference any
marketing fee. With respect to the administrative fee, Morris
stated the following, in pertinent part:
This fee covers other general overhead expenses relating to
various administrative functions of American Adoptions or
other Adoption Professionals, including but not limited to
the many and various administrative functions that American
Adoptions or other Adoption Professionals undertake prior to
an adoption opportunity. This fee is fully refundable if the
adoption opportunity is ultimately
explained that American Adoptions's monthly cost for such
overhead expenses totaled approximately $267, 000.
circuit court approved all of the requested fees and costs,
with the exception of the administrative fees and marketing
fees. In Docket No. 333700, the circuit court disallowed $7,
250 in administrative fees and $4, 000 in marketing fees. In
Docket No. 333813, the circuit court rejected $4, 495 in
administrative fees and $10, 000 in marketing fees. The
circuit court in both cases did not provide any explanation
for its denial of these particular fees.
Adoptions argues on appeal that it was denied due process
because it was unable to participate in a hearing related to
the approval of the fees. We review this unpreserved
constitutional issue for plain error affecting substantial
rights. Demski v Petlick, 309 Mich.App.
404, 463; 873 N.W.2d 596 (2015).
United States and Michigan Constitutions provide that
"[n]o person may be deprived of life, liberty, or
property without due process of law." Murphy-DuBay v
Dep't of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs, 311
Mich.App. 539, 558; 876 N.W.2d 598 (2015), citing U.S. Const,
Am V; U.S. Const, Am XIV, § 1; Const 1963, art 1, §
17. Thus, "[d]ue-process protections are only required
when a life, liberty, or property interest is at stake."
Id. "To have a protected property interest, one
must possess more than a unilateral expectation to the
claimed interest; the claimant must have a legitimate claim
of entitlement." York v Civil Serv Comm, 263
Mich.App. 694, 702-703; 689 N.W.2d 533 (2004) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). Here, there is no doubt that
American Adoptions had a property interest in the
administrative fee because the adoptive parents were
contractually bound to pay this fee to it.
core, "[d]ue process requires the opportunity to be
heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner."
Id. at 702 (quotation marks and citations omitted).
Here, American Adoptions cannot show how any plain error
affected its substantial rights. First, although American
Adoptions may not have been formally invited to participate
in the proceedings at the circuit court because it was not a
party to the adoption, it nonetheless was able to
successfully present its views regarding the administrative
fees to the circuit court through the "fee
explanation" letters written by Morris. Thus, the court
received materials to consider petitioners' request to
approve the fees, and among those materials was American
Adoptions's letter outlining what the administrative fees
covered. Importantly, "[a]n oral hearing is not
necessary to provide a meaningful opportunity to be
heard." English v Blue Cross Blue Shield of
Mich, 263 Mich.App. 449, 460; 688 N.W.2d 523
(2004). Consequently, American Adoptions has
failed to prove any plain error by virtue of the fact that no
formal hearing was held.
Adoptions claims that the circuit court erred when it denied
the approval of the administrative fee. We review the circuit
court's decision for an abuse of discretion. See In
re KMN, 309 Mich.App. 274, 294; 870 N.W.2d 75 (2015).
And we review issues of statutory interpretation de novo.
Auto-Owners Ins Co v Dep't of Treasury, 313
Mich.App. 56, 68-69; 880 N.W.2d 337 (2015).
710.54 of the Adoption Code governs authorized charges and
fees in adoption cases." In re MJG, ___
Mich.App. ___; ___ N.W.2d ___ (2017) (Docket No. 332928),
slip op, p 4. The statute provides as follows:
(1) Except for charges and fees approved by the court, a
person shall not pay or give, offer to pay or give, or
request, receive, or accept any money or other consideration
or thing of value, directly or indirectly, in connection with
any of the following:
(a) The placing of a child for adoption.
(b) The registration, recording, or communication of the
existence of a child available for adoption.
(c) A release.
(d) A ...