The defendant in Usitalo v. Landon is the birth mother of a minor child, who was born in 2003. The defendant and plaintiff jointly adopted the child in 2005. When the parties separated in 2007, they continued to jointly parent the child. But the relationship between the parties deteriorated, and in 2009, the parties stopped cooperating regarding the child’s care and custody. Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a complaint seeking sole custody. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the probate court that granted the adoption lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, because Michigan law does not permit same-sex adoptions, so the adoption was void ab initio. Thus, the defendant claimed the collateral attack on the adoption was permissible. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, explaining that subject-matter jurisdiction concerns the right of a court to exercise judicial power over a certain class of cases; it does not concern particular cases or the correctness of a decision within that broad class of cases. Because the probate court had subject-matter jurisdiction over the adoption in 2005, the defendant could not collaterally attack the adoption. Therefore, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff lacked standing to seek custody. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s custody and parenting time order. The court also emphasized that it was not addressing the issue of whether the Michigan adoption code permits same-sex adoptions.
Judge Shapiro concurred in the per curium opinion, but wrote separately to note the internal contradiction in the defendant’s argument. The joint adoption order that granted the plaintiff’s parental rights also granted the same rights to the defendant. If she were correct that the adoption order were void ab initio, then her rights would be eliminated as well.