Michigan Court of Appeals Holds Error in Child Support Case For Dismissing Complaint

On April 15th, 2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals held in a child support case that the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff's complaint for failing to appear at a hearing to enter a default judgment.

In Macomb County DHS v Anderson, Docket No. 313951, the Michigan Court of Appeals addressed an appeal from a trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion for reconsideration concerning the trial court's earlier dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for child support againt the child's father, the noncustodial parent.  The case centered around the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint for support when plaintiff failed to appear at a hearing to enter a default judgment in plaintiff's favor.

The Court of Appeals began with the facts of the case.

Plaintiffs filed a verified complaint for support against defendant. The complaint alleged that defendant did not live with the minor child but had acknowledged that he was the father. It further alleged that defendant had the ability to provide support for the child. 

A default was entered against defendant for his failure to respond to the summons and complaint and thereafter plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgment. At the hearing on plaintiffs’ motion, the assistant prosecuting attorney was present on behalf of DHS; however, Glambin and defendant failed to appear. The following exchange took place: 

THE COURT: Is Jessica Glambin in the courtroom, please.

MS. KIRSHNER: Beth Naftaly Kirshner, assistant prosecuting attorney on behalf of plaintiff.  This is circuit court file number 2010-1202-DS. Excuse me. We’re asking that you enter a default judgement [sic] of support in this matter.

The defendant was personally served by our investigator on March 23rd of 2012. He failed to appear for a support interview in June. A default was entered on June 14th, notice of this hearing, along with a copy of the proposed judgement [sic] were mailed to him on July 27th of 2012. Because he failed to appear, on behalf of DHS and the plaintiff, we’re asking that you enter an order in the amount of $403, effective February 27, 2012.

THE COURT: This matter was set for 9:00 a.m. Plaintiff, Jessica Glambin, having failed to appear, as well as the respondent, defendant, Keith Anderson, the Court’s going to decline the request to enter the support order today, dismiss the matter without prejudice.

MS. KIRSHNER: Again, for the record, I would indicate that we contract with DHS for [Title IV-D] services and we would ask that you enter on behalf of DHS, whether the plaintiff is cooperative or not.

THE COURT: Thank you. Your request is respectfully denied. 

Plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ case based on Glambin’s failure to appear. Plaintiffs argued that, pursuant to MCL 552.452, Glambin was not required to be present at the hearing. Plaintiffs requested that the case be reinstated and that a default judgment of support be entered as originally requested. 

The trial court denied the motion for reconsideration, finding no palpable error . . . [t]herefore, the verified complaint for support remained dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiffs now appeal as of right.

The Court's analysis followed.

On appeal, plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred when it denied their motion for reconsideration. We agree. We review for an abuse of discretion a trial court’s decision on a motion for reconsideration. Sherry v East Suburban Football League, 292 Mich App 23, 31; 807 NW2d 859 (2011). An abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court’s decision falls outside the principled range of outcomes. Woods v SLB Property Mgt, LLC, 277 Mich App 622, 629; 750 NW2d 228 (2008) . . .

[G]iven defendant’s failure to respond to plaintiffs’ complaint, the allegations therein were deemed admitted, including Glambin’s claim that custody was not in dispute. Had defendant appeared at the evidentiary hearing, he may have been permitted to present evidence that he did not have the ability to pay and it would have been his burden to do so. Absent such a claim, his ability to pay was likewise deemed admitted and otherwise uncontested. Moreover, as seen in Arnett, the custodial parent need not attend the hearing in order for the trial court to enter an order of support. The Arnett Court had no trouble resolving the issue before it, even absent proof that the custodial parent attended the hearing. The trial court erred when it dismissed the complaint based on Glambin’s failure to appear at the hearing on plaintiff’s motion for a default judgment. Consequently, the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion for reconsideration.