This opinion will be unpublished and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

C7-01-480

 

 

Aaron Johnson,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Kimberly Letrice Murray,

a/k/a Kimberly Letrice Smith,

Respondent.

 

 

Filed August 7, 2001

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Halbrooks, Judge

 

Benton County District Court

File No. F4-99-1090

 

Aaron Johnson, 10734 West Lake Road, Rice, MN 56367 (pro se appellant)

 

Kimberly Letrice Murray, c/o Austin Diversified Products, 16615 S. Halstad, Harvey, IL 60426 (last known employer address) (respondent)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Hanson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

            After a remand in this custody proceeding, the district court dismissed appellant’s attempt to establish his paternity of the child at issue and ruled that Minnesota lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to address custody.  Because appellant was not required to join the child as a party, we reverse on the issue of paternity and remand to the district court for entry of an appropriate order.  But because appellant does not satisfy the jurisdictional requirements of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, we affirm on the issue of custody.

FACTS

Appellant Aaron Johnson seeks to establish paternity over the minor child, A.J., and to gain custody of him.  The facts of this case are fully discussed in an earlier appeal, Johnson v. Murray, No. CX‑99‑2173 (Minn. App. Aug. 7, 2000).

A.J., the son of respondent Kimberly Murray, was born on June 27, 1991.  No father is listed on his birth certificate.  Appellant and respondent had an intimate relationship from 1988-1995 and worked and lived together in various states.  Appellant lived with respondent and A.J., holding A.J. out as his son until May 1995.  In May 1995, the parties ended their relationship.  Appellant had sole physical custody of A.J. from October-December 1995, until appellant returned A.J. to respondent and moved to Minnesota.  Appellant has concerns about A.J.’s home environment based on his belief that respondent uses drugs.

In July 1999, after learning from respondent’s mother that A.J. was with her in Michigan, appellant retrieved A.J. and brought him to Minnesota.  When respondent was in Minnesota one month later as part of a seasonal sales staff, appellant served her with notice of a custody proceeding.  The district court denied appellant’s request for an ex parte temporary restraining order and respondent, with the assistance of Benton County law enforcement, removed A.J. from appellant’s home. 

            On October 1, 1999, appellant filed an application for an ex parte temporary custody order and served respondent with notice of a default hearing by mail to her employer.  The district court awarded temporary custody of A.J. to appellant until the October 13, 1999 hearing on the motion for default judgment.  Respondent appeared at the hearing through her attorney and sought dismissal on jurisdictional grounds.  The district court granted respondent’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  We reversed and remanded, finding that the district court could exercise personal jurisdiction.

            Following a full evidentiary hearing, the district court denied appellant’s paternity claim on the ground that he had failed to join A.J. as a party under Minn. Stat. § 257.60 (2000) and denied the default-judgment motion for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.  This appeal follows.

D E C I S I O N

I.

Appellant argues that the district court erred in dismissing his paternity adjudication.  The court held that because appellant had failed to join A.J. as a party to the paternity suit, the court lacked the authority to hear the adjudication.  We agree with appellant that joinder is not required here.

Interpretation of the Minnesota Parentage Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 257.51-.74 (2000), is a matter of law, which this court reviews de novo.  In re C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d 555, 558 (Minn. App. 1994).  Under the act, a man alleging to be a child’s father has standing to bring an action to determine the existence of a father-child relationship.  Minn. Stat. § 257.57, subd. 2(1).  He is entitled to a presumption of fatherhood over the child if

[w]hile the child is under the age of majority, he receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his biological child.

 

Minn. Stat. § 257.55, subd. 1(d).  That statutory presumption can be rebutted “in an appropriate action only by clear and convincing evidence.”  Id., subd. 2.

            We agree with the district court that appellant is entitled to the statutory presumption of fatherhood.  Appellant held A.J. out as his biological child at various times in the child’s life and received him into his home in Minnesota.  These findings are supported by appellant’s statements and conduct.

            But the district court erred by dismissing appellant’s claim for failing to join A.J. as a party.  To bring an action to determine paternity, an alleged father must join the child as a party in certain circumstances, including when

an action to declare the existence of the father and child relationship is brought by a man presumed to be the father under section 257.55, or a man who alleges to be the father, and the mother of the child denies the existence of the father and child relationship.

 

Minn. Stat. § 257.60(3).  Both this court and the supreme court have noted that the legislature has decided not to make joinder mandatory in all paternity adjudications.  Johnson v. Hunter, 447 N.W.2d 871, 876-77 (Minn. 1989); R.B. v. C.S., 536 N.W.2d 634, 638 (Minn. App. 1995).  We have held that Minn. Stat. § 257.60(3) should be read to require joinder only where the mother denies the existence of paternity and either the father has a statutory presumption of paternity or alleges paternity.  Spaeth v. Warren, 478 N.W.2d 319, 321 (Minn. App. 1991) (finding statutory requirement did not apply to a man statutorily presumed to be the father where mother failed to deny the existence of the father-and-child relationship), review denied (Minn. Jan. 30, 1992).  There is no indication in this record that respondent disputes appellant’s claim of paternity.  As a result, appellant did not need to join A.J. as a party and should be adjudicated A.J.’s father.  By proceeding in this manner, and not joining A.J., appellant runs the risk that A.J. may choose to bring a paternity action at some later date.  Were A.J. to do so, the result of appellant’s adjudication would not be determinative as to him.  R.B., 536 N.W.2d at 638-39.

II.

Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA), Minn. Stat. ch. 518A (1998).[1]  The district court found that none of the four UCCJA jurisdictional grounds was applicable.  Because the court found that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, it concluded that it could not enter a default judgment for custody on appellant’s behalf.  See Midway Nat’l Bank v. Estate of Bollmeier, 504 N.W.2d 59, 63 (Minn. App. 1993) (“If the judgment is void for lack of jurisdiction, it must be set aside.” (citation omitted)).

            A district court’s determination of subject-matter jurisdiction is a legal issue, which this court reviews de novo.  McLain v. McLain, 569 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Nov. 18, 1997).  Under the UCCJA, a district court can exercise jurisdiction if one of four conditions exists:

(a) this state is the “home state” of the child or the child’s home within six months before commencement of the proceeding; (b) it is in the child’s best interests that a Minnesota court assume jurisdiction; (c) the child is physically present in the state, and there are “emergency” conditions; or (d) no other court would have jurisdiction or will exercise jurisdiction.

 

Abu-Dalbouh v. Abu-Dalbouh, 547 N.W.2d 700, 704 (Minn. App. 1996); accord Minn. Stat. § 518A.03. 

            We agree with the district court that there is no basis for Minnesota to assume jurisdiction for this custody action.  First, following a full evidentiary hearing, appellant cannot show home-state jurisdiction exists.  Minn. Stat. § 518A.03, subd. 1(a).  As appellant admits, A.J. lived in Minnesota only from July to September 1999.  Because A.J. has not lived in Minnesota for the requisite six months, we agree with the district court that there is no home-state jurisdiction.  See Minn. Stat. § 518A.02(e) (defining “home state” as state in which child lived for “at least six consecutive months”).

            Second, appellant cannot show that jurisdiction exists based on the best interests of A.J.  See Minn. Stat. § 518A.03, subd. 1(b).  Appellant fails to realize that “best interests” has a particular meaning for purposes of UCCJA jurisdiction.  See In re Marriage of Schmidt, 436 N.W.2d 99, 105 (Minn. 1989) (best-interests jurisdiction requires district court to address whether Minnesota is an “inconvenient forum” (citations omitted)).  The statute defines the best-interests-of-the-child test for the purpose of the UCCJA as (1) whether the child and at least one of the parents reside in Minnesota and (2) whether the child and the parent have significant connections with Minnesota so that the state has readily available evidence relating to the child’s care, protection, training, family relationships, and support.  Abu-Dalbouh, 547 N.W.2d at 704.  The court found that A.J.’s connection to Minnesota was too tenuous to be significant.  Among other factors, the court considered how much schooling A.J. has received in Minnesota, whether he has made friends with children here, and appellant’s attitude toward A.J.’s education.  Compare Smith v. Smith, 508 N.W.2d 222, 226 (Minn. App. 1993) (examples of significant connections included children’s regular attendance in Minnesota school and church, well-developed friendships, and establishing personal relationships with appellant, his fiancée, and her extended family). 

The district court found that A.J. was only in Minnesota for three months and established little contact with his classmates or appellant’s new family.  There is little evidence available in Minnesota that would help a court determine what is in A.J.’s best interests.  See Biscoe v. Biscoe, 443 N.W.2d 221, 224 (Minn. App. 1989); see also Abu-Dalbouh, 547 N.W.2d at 704 (availability of local evidence such as hospital and school records placed Minnesota in a “better position” to evaluate children’s best interests).  Given the lack of A.J.’s significant connections to Minnesota, the court did not err in finding that it could not exercise best-interests jurisdiction.

            Third, we agree with the district court that emergency jurisdiction does not exist.  See Minn. Stat. § 518A.03, subd. 1(c).  To exercise such jurisdiction, A.J. would need to be physically present in Minnesota and either abandoned or “subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse or * * * otherwise neglected or dependent.”  Id.; see Bergh v. Bergh, 387 N.W.2d 213, 216 (Minn. App. 1986) (requiring child’s physical presence in the forum state before emergency jurisdiction can be exerted). 

Here, A.J. was not physically present in Minnesota at the time of the default-judgment hearing.  Although appellant challenges the district court’s finding to this effect, the finding is supported by the record and is not clearly erroneous.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01.  Respondent’s supervisor told appellant and police officers that respondent and A.J. left Minnesota on September 30, a day before the effective date of appellant’s ex parte temporary-custody order.  Because A.J. was no longer physically present in Minnesota, the district court correctly determined that it could not exercise emergency jurisdiction.

            Finally, the district court made no determination if another state would have jurisdiction and instead declined jurisdiction under Minn. Stat. § 518A.08.  This statute grants a district court the discretion to decline jurisdiction “[i]f the petitioner * * * has wrongfully taken the child from another state or has engaged in similar reprehensible conduct.”  Id.  Giving courts such discretion is in keeping with the purpose of the UCCJA:  to deter abductions in an effort to obtain a custody award.  Minn. Stat. § 518A.01, subd. 1(b); Nazar v. Nazar, 474 N.W.2d 206, 209 (Minn. App. 1991).  Here, appellant took A.J. from Michigan without first being adjudicated A.J.’s father and with only A.J.’s grandmother’s consent, not respondent’s.  Cf. Schoeberlein v. Rohlfing, 383 N.W.2d 386, 391 (Minn. App. 1986) (upholding a district court’s decision to decline jurisdiction over the birth father’s custody claim when he had retained his children after his visitation period ended).  Regardless of appellant’s intentions, such conduct goes against the UCCJA’s purpose and is tantamount to an abduction.  Therefore, declining jurisdiction was not error even though the district court did not determine whether another state could exercise jurisdiction.

Because the district court had no basis for exercising jurisdiction, it did not err in denying the motion for a default judgment based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.



[1]  In 1999, the state legislature repealed the UCCJA and enacted in its place the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, Minn. Stat. ch. 518D (2000), which contains some significant differences from the previous statute.  Because appellant filed his complaint before the effective date of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the UCCJA is the appropriate statute for resolution of this matter.  See 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 74, § 20.