This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
C1-00-903

In the Matter of the Welfare of:
L.F., C.F. and L.F.-H.,

Filed January 26, 2001
Affirmed

Toussaint, Chief Judge

Cottonwood County District Court
File No. J69950003

Allen Patrick Eskens, 207 Graif Building, Mankato, MN 56002-3412 (for appellant)

David Paul Honan, County Attorney, 1011 Fourth Avenue, Windom, MN 56101 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Willis, Judge, and Foley, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge

On appeal from a denial of motion to vacate a district court order terminating parental rights, appellant-mother alleges that (1) the rebuttable presumption in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2000) unconstitutionally deprives parents, who contest a termination of their parental rights, of equal protection and due process of law under the state and federal constitutions; and (2) that the district court should have vacated the termination order because her consent to the termination was obtained under duress. Because any harm inflicted upon appellant by section 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) is speculative, we affirm.

F A C T S

In December 1999, the district court issued a termination of parental rights (TPR) order, finding that there was good cause for the termination of appellant's parental rights. In February 2000, appellant filed a motion to vacate; and, in March a hearing was held. Appellant's motion to vacate was denied.

At the hearing on the motion to vacate, appellant testified that when deciding whether to consent to the termination of her parental rights, she was operating under a fear that if she unsuccessfully challenged the termination of her parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2000), she would be presumed “palpably unfit;” and, as a result, any children that she might have in the future might be taken away from her. Therefore, appellant testified that she felt compelled to consent to the termination of her parental rights.

D E C I S I O N

I.

Respondent argues that the district court did not have jurisdiction over appellant's motion to vacate the order terminating appellant's parental rights. Jurisdiction is a question of law, which a reviewing court decides de novo. Kellar v. Von Holtum, 605 N.W.2d 696, 700 (Minn. 2000). Contrary to respondent's assertions, this court and the Minnesota Supreme Court have considered cases where the appellant is appealing from a motion to vacate a TPR order. [1] See, e.g., In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481 (Minn. 1997); In re Welfare of K.T., 327 N.W.2d 13 (Minn. 1982); In re Welfare of J.M.S., 268 N.W.2d 424 (Minn. 1978); In re Welfare of J.T.L., 414 N.W.2d 524 (Minn. App. 1987) review denied (Minn. Jan. 20, 1988); In re Welfare of C.R.B., 384 N.W.2d 576 (Minn. App. 1986). Furthermore, appellant's motion to vacate was timely because it was brought within six weeks of the TPR order. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 60.02 (motion is timely if brought within in one year of order). Therefore, the district court had jurisdiction to hear appellant's motion to vacate the TPR order.

II.

Appellant is appealing from the denial of a motion to vacate a termination of parental rights,

claiming that Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. (1)(b)(4) (2000) is unconstitutional because it violates her equal protection and due process rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 states, in pertinent part:

Subdivision 1. Voluntary and involuntary. The juvenile court may upon petition, terminate all rights of a parent to a child:

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(b) if it finds that one or more of the following conditions exist:

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(4) that a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship ***. It is presumed that a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship upon a showing that the parent's parental rights to one or more other children were involuntarily terminated.

Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd 1(b)(4) (emphasis added).

“In evaluating challenges to the constitutionality of statutes, this court recognizes that the interpretation of statutes is a question of law.” In re Blilie, 494 N.W.2d 877, 881 (Minn. 1993) (citation omitted); see also Estate of Jones by Blume v. Kvamme, 529 N.W.2d 335, 337 (Minn. 1995). Accordingly, this court “is not bound by the lower court's conclusions.” Blilie, 494 N.W.2d at 881 (quoting Sherek v. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 699, 449 N.W.2d 434, 436 (Minn. 1990)).

“Minnesota statutes are presumed constitutional, and our power to declare a statute unconstitutional should be exercised with extreme caution and only when absolutely necessary.” In re Haggerty, 448 N.W.2d 363, 364 (Minn. 1989) (citation omitted). Appellant, as challenger of the constitutionality of the statute, has the burden of `establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates a claimed right.' In re Conservatorship of Foster, 547 N.W.2d 81, 84-85 (Minn. 1996) (quoting In re Schmidt, 443 N.W.2d 824, 826 (Minn. 1989)).

Appellant has not, and cannot, meet her burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(4) violates her rights because appellant has not been harmed by the statutory provisions. At the time of appellant's consent to the termination of her parental rights, it was still speculative as to whether (1) appellant's rights would have been involuntarily terminated by the district court; (2) appellant would have another child; and (3) a termination proceeding would ever be filed seeking the termination of appellant's parental rights to any of her future children. Because the harm imposed upon appellant by section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(4) is purely speculative, appellant cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the statute violates her constitutional rights. See City of Minneapolis v. Wurtele, 291 N.W.2d 386, 393 (Minn. 1980) (challenger must suffer a direct and personal harm from the alleged denial of a constitutional right). Accordingly, appellant's claim that section 260C.301 subdivision 1(b)(4) violates her constitutional rights is without merit.

III.

Appellant asserts that the presumption created in section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(4) unduly influenced her decision to consent to the termination of her parental rights. Because any harm imposed upon appellant by the statute is purely speculative; any duress felt by appellant at the time of her consent was unreasonable. See Snicker v. Byers, 176 Minn. 541, 545, 224 N.W. 152, 154 (Minn. 1929) (a claim of duress or coercion may not be based on an unreasonable belief). Furthermore, appellant was fully counseled as to her options prior to termination her parental rights. See In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484-85 (Minn. 1997) (finding no duress where parent was advised as to her options and the repercussions of her decision). Accordingly, appellant's claim that her consent to terminate her parental rights was obtained under duress is without merit.

Affirmed.


Footnotes

* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] We recognize that the Rules of Juvenile Procedure have been amended, with amendments becoming effective March 1, 2000. The juvenile rules now specifically state that the general rules of civil procedure do not apply to juvenile cases. Minn. R. Juv. P. 39.01. Further, the juvenile rules have been amended so as to permit a motion to vacate a TPR order. Minn. R. Juv. P. 81.02. The order terminating appellant's parental rights was filed December 20, 1999 and the motion to vacate was filed February 4, 2000. Therefore, the 1999 rules and the case law developed under those rules apply.