Circuit Court LC No. 17-006379-01-FC
Before: Murray, C.J., and Gadola and Tukel, JJ. Murray, C.J.
dispositive issue in this appeal is whether a trial
court's specific findings of fact in a child protective
proceeding conducted under the juvenile code have
"cross-over" collateral estoppel effect in a
subsequent criminal proceeding against an individual who was
a party to the child protective proceeding. Although the
Supreme Court strongly discouraged the use of collateral
estoppel between these types of proceedings, it did so in
dicta, People v. Gates, 434 Mich. 146, 157, 161-162;
452 N.W.2d 627 (1990), and since then no Michigan court has
made a definitive holding on the issue. We do so now, and
hold that factual findings made by a court in a child
protective proceeding do not have collateral estoppel effect
in a subsequent criminal proceeding. As a result, we reverse
and remand for further proceedings.
daughter came to the attention of the Department of Health
and Human Services (DHHS) after a Child Protective Services
(CPA) referral was made alleging that defendant had sexually
assaulted her in a motel room. Proceedings to terminate
defendant's parental rights to the child subsequently
commenced in the juvenile court. At the termination hearing,
defendant's attorney argued that the child
"concocted" the allegations against defendant to
avoid being sent to boot camp for prior misbehavior. Both the
child and her mother testified at the termination hearing.
Defendant did not testify, but a letter he had written was
admitted as an exhibit.
trial court found that a preponderance of the evidence
supported its exercise of jurisdiction over the child because
defendant had engaged in conduct that exceeded the normal
bounds of discipline, but found that petitioner failed to
establish by clear and convincing evidence that the child was
sexually assaulted. Therefore, the court denied the request
to terminate defendant's parental rights. The court then
entered a dispositional order finding that the child was not
at risk of harm, releasing the child to the custody of her
mother, and terminating its jurisdiction over the case.
three months after the final order was entered in the child
protective proceeding, the prosecution charged defendant with
two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-I),
MCL 750.520b(1)(b)(ii), and one count of
second-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC-II), MCL
750.520c(1)(b)(ii). The child was the only witness
at the preliminary examination, and the district court bound
defendant over as charged. In the circuit court,
defendant filed a motion to dismiss all
criminal charges based on collateral estoppel, arguing that
the circuit court's findings in the previous child
protective proceedings precluded the state from criminally
prosecuting him. The circuit court, properly focusing on
Gates, nevertheless held that collateral estoppel
applied because the same issue was litigated between the same
parties in the child protective proceeding. It therefore
entered an order dismissing the criminal charges.
Court reviews "a trial court's decision on a motion
to dismiss charges against a defendant for an abuse of
discretion." People v. Nicholson, 297 Mich.App.
191, 196; 822 N.W.2d 284 (2012). We review de novo the
application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel.
People v. Trakhtenberg, 493 Mich. 38, 47; 826 N.W.2d
estoppel precludes relitigation of an issue in a subsequent,
different cause of action between the same parties when the
prior proceeding culminated in a valid final judgment and the
issue was actually and necessarily determined in the prior
proceeding." Porter v. Royal Oak, 214 Mich.App.
478, 485; 542 N.W.2d 905 (1995). "Collateral estoppel is
a flexible rule intended to relieve parties of multiple
litigation, conserve judicial resources, and encourage
reliance on adjudication." Rental Props Owners
Ass'n of Kent Co v. Kent Co Treasurer, 308 Mich.App.
498, 529; 866 N.W.2d 817 (2014). Although in most cases
parties seek to apply collateral estoppel in the context of
two civil proceedings, our Supreme Court has recognized
"the application of collateral estoppel in the
civil-to-criminal context." People v. Zitka,
325 Mich.App. 38, 44-45; 922 N.W.2d 696 (2018) (quotation
marks and citations omitted). That recognition of what is
sometimes referred to as "cross-over" collateral
estoppel has not been much more than that; there has never
been anything close to a ringing endorsement of the concept
by any Michigan court. Instead, the Supreme Court has
cautioned against its use. See id., and the
cases cited therein.
is the most recent and relevant discussion of the issue from
the Supreme Court, and supports the proposition that
collateral estoppel should not be applied in this
context in light of significant public policy
concerns. In Gates, 434 Mich. at 150-151,
the defendant alleged that collateral estoppel barred a
criminal prosecution for sexual misconduct involving his
three-year-old child, because a child protective proceeding
based on the same conduct resulted in a general jury verdict
of "no jurisdiction." Thereafter, a circuit court
dismissed criminal charges against the defendant on grounds
that the jury verdict in probate court determined"
'that the prosecution had not proved a case of sexual
abuse by a preponderance of the evidence.'"
Id. at 154. The Supreme Court, however, held that
collateral estoppel did not bar the subsequent criminal
prosecution because the verdict of "no
jurisdiction" did not "necessarily determine"
the guilt or innocence of the defendant, id. at
150-151, 158, as there were other possible reasons the jury
could have returned its verdict of no jurisdiction,
id. at 160.
its ruling that collateral estoppel was factually
inapplicable, the Gates Court went on to determine
whether as a policy matter cross-over collateral
estoppel should be applied between child protective
proceedings and criminal cases. The Court warned against it,
stating that "the purposes of a child protective
proceeding and a criminal proceeding are so fundamentally
different that application in this instance of collateral
estoppel would be contrary to sound public policy."
Gates, 434 Mich. at 161. Specifically, the Court
pointed out that "[t]he purpose and focus of a neglect
or abuse proceeding in the juvenile division of the probate
court is the protection of children," while "the
focus of criminal proceedings is on the guilt or innocence of
the accused." Id. at 161-162. Because of these
divergent interests, the Court concluded that cross-over
collateral estoppel should not apply between child protective
proceedings and criminal proceedings, as permitting its use
"would invite the risk that the proper functions of the
two proceedings would be compromised." Id. at
Gates Court was also concerned with how use of the
doctrine would impact the bringing of criminal charges:
To avoid the effect of collateral estoppel, if it were to be
made applicable, a prosecutor would be required to develop
criminal charges indicated by the petition and bring them to
trial before a determination concerning jurisdiction could be
reached in the probate proceeding. However, the burden of
proving criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt, added to
problems presented by conflicting procedural and scheduling
requirements of the two courts, would make it extremely
difficult, and often impossible, ...