This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Linda G. Wynn,
Commissioner of Human Services,
Filed September 5, 2000
Affirmed; motion granted
Minnesota Department of Human Services
File No. R01
Linda G. Wynn, 129 West Main Street, Waconia, MN 55387 (pro se relator)
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, William H. Mondale, Assistant Attorney General, 900 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2127 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Linda G. Wynn appeals by writ of certiorari from the Commissioner of Human Services’ decision to disqualify her from a position that allowed direct contact with adults served by an adult foster-care program licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS). Wynn challenges the evidentiary basis for the commissioner’s determination. Because the evidence provides a substantial basis for the commissioner’s determination, we affirm.
In 1999, Lynda Wynn worked at an adult foster-care home licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The home served three disabled adults, one of whom was mentally retarded and had been a victim of physical violence and emotional abuse. In June 1999, Carver County Community Social Services (CCCSS) disqualified Wynn pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d (1998), from working at the home. CCCSS based its disqualification on the Carver County Sheriff’s log, which contained 180 entries involving Wynn. Six of these entries resulted from offenses CCCSS considered to be disqualifying offenses.
Wynn asked CCCSS to reconsider its decision, claiming that the information on which CCCSS relied was incorrect. Because Wynn’s timely reconsideration request challenged the accuracy of county records, CCCSS referred the request to the Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services for a “correctness review.”
In July 1999, the commissioner invited Wynn and the county to submit additional evidence and argument. The commissioner rejected five of the offenses on which CCCSS relied as inconclusive or outside the disqualification period. But the commissioner upheld the disqualification, nonetheless, based on harassing conduct that occurred in 1998.
The evidence showed that Wynn’s oldest daughter had filed a complaint in January 1998, in response to two harassing letters she received from her mother through the mail. In the first letter, Wynn implicitly threatened to let her neighbors know that her daughter had assisted the police with a drug-related raid that resulted in the removal of the neighbors’ child from the home. Wynn also noted that drug-enforcement agents would not believe her daughter after they found out that she was using and supplying drugs. In the second letter, Wynn complained about her daughter’s boyfriend and accused her daughter both of being an informant and of selling drugs. Wynn also chastised her daughter for not taking care of her son and for being involved with the wrong people.
Wynn argued to the commissioner that she wrote the letters out of concern for her daughter and her grandson and noted that the harassment charges had been dismissed. The commissioner, nonetheless, denied Wynn’s reconsideration motion, concluding that the record supported a finding that Wynn had violated Minn. Stat. § 609.795 (1998) by sending her daughter more than one letter intended to distress or harass her. In this appeal, Wynn challenges only whether the evidence provides a substantial basis for the commissioner’s determination.
The Human Services Licensing Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 245A.01-.16 (1998 and Supp. 1999), requires the Commissioner of Human Services to license an individual or an organization wishing to operate a residential or nonresidential program. Minn. Stat. § 245A.03, subd. 1. Before issuing a license, the commissioner must conduct a background study of the applicant and of employees of the applicant who will have direct contact with persons served by the licensed program. Minn. Stat. § 254A.04, subd. 3(c)(3). When a background study shows that (a) an employee has been convicted of or has admitted to one or more of the crimes listed in the licensing act, or (b) a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the employee committed one or more of those crimes, the commissioner must disqualify the individual from any direct-contact position. Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d.
Under subdivision 3d(4), an individual who has violated Minn. Stat. § 609.795 (1998) by repeatedly delivering letters with the intent to abuse, disturb, or cause distress must be disqualified from licensure if “less than seven years have passed since the discharge of the sentence imposed for the offense [ ] and the individual has received a misdemeanor conviction.” Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d(4). Subdivisions 3d(1)-(3) set the disqualification criteria for felonies and gross misdemeanors and, like subdivision 3d(4), measure the disqualification period from the discharge of the sentence imposed upon conviction. Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subds. 3d(1)-(3).
Although subdivisions 3d(1)-(4) restrict disqualification to individuals convicted of specified offenses, the introductory clause to subdivision 3d provides for disqualification either when the individual has been convicted of a disqualifying offense or when a preponderance of the evidence indicates that the individual committed the offense. This apparent conflict creates an ambiguity that makes it necessary for us to construe the statute.
If possible, we must construe a statute so that no word, phrase, or sentence is superfluous, void, or insignificant. Boutin v. LaFleur, 591 N.W.2d 711, 716 (Minn. 1999); see Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1998) (“Every law shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.”). We must interpret the provisions of a statute in light of each other and presume that the legislature understood the effect of its words and intended the entire statute to be effective. Van Asperen v. Darling Olds., Inc., 254 Minn. 62, 73-74, 93 N.W.2d 690, 698 (1958). When possible, we must also reconcile conflicts in the provisions of a statute to give effect to its purpose. Lowry v. City of Mankato, 231 Minn. 108, 113, 42 N.W.2d 553, 557-58 (1950). Statutes regarded as humanitarian or grounded on a humane public policy must be liberally construed. Nordling v. Ford Motor Co., 231 Minn. 68, 76-77, 42 N.W.2d 576, 581-82 (1950) (construing unemployment compensation statute). We will not adopt a construction that attributes to the legislature an intent to bring about a consequence that is inconsistent with the protective purpose of a statute. In re Peterson’s Estate, 230 Minn. 478, 486, 42 N.W.2d 59, 64-65 (1950).
Because Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d, is grounded on a humanitarian public policy—namely, to protect people who lack the physical or mental capacity to protect themselves—we must construe it liberally to achieve its protective purpose. The provisions of Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d, read liberally in light of each other, suggest that the legislature intended to disqualify an employee not only when the employee had been convicted of a disqualifying offense, but also when a preponderance of the evidence indicated that the employee had committed the offense. A different reading would frustrate the statutory purpose, because a person who has committed a disqualifying offense according to the preponderance of the evidence is as likely to pose a risk of harm to the county’s clients as is a person who has been convicted of the offense. A reading of the statute that allows disqualification only upon conviction would thus render subdivision 3d void and frustrate the protective purpose of the statute.
Our determination that the introductory provision in Minn. Stat. § 245A.04, subd. 3d applies to offenses listed in subdivisions 3d (1)-(4) that are proved by a preponderance of the evidence brings us to the final question of whether the evidence is sufficient to support the commissioner’s disqualification decision. On certiorari review from a quasi-judicial agency decision that is not subject to the Minnesota Administrative Procedures Act, we review issues relating to the agency’s jurisdiction and the regularity of its proceedings, and we review the agency’s determination to determine if it was arbitrary, oppressive, unreasonable, fraudulent, legally erroneous, or factually unsupported. Rodne v. Commissioner of Human Servs., 547 N.W.2d 440, 444-45 (Minn. App. 1996) (quoting Dietz v. Dodge County, 487 N.W.2d 237, 239 (Minn. 1992)). A reviewing court will reverse when the evidence does not provide a substantial basis for the agency’s decision as a matter of law. Crookston Cattle Co. v. Minnesota Dep’t of Natural Resources, 300 N.W.2d 769, 777 (Minn. 1980).
The evidence in this case provides a substantial basis for the commissioner’s decision to affirm CCCSS’s disqualification decision. The record supports both the commissioner’s finding that Wynn wrote more than one letter intended to cause her daughter distress and his conclusion that this conduct violated Minn. Stat. § 609.795. The letters referred repeatedly to Wynn’s daughter’s role in the removal of Wynn’s neighbors’ child from the home and contained an implicit threat of disclosure designed to cause her daughter fear or distress. Although the harassment charges against Wynn were dismissed, a preponderance of the evidence shows that Wynn committed the offense. Additionally, given the nature of the offense and the vulnerability of the people with whom Wynn would have come in direct contact, the commissioner did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Wynn posed a risk of harm to the county’s clients. We, therefore, affirm. We also grant the commissioner’s motion to strike a letter contained in Wynn’s appendix but not contained in the agency file.