This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-1795

 

Angela Dawn Holt,
Respondent,

County of Becker, intervenor,
Respondent,

vs.

Jamie Holt,
Appellant.

 

Filed July 20, 2004

Affirmed in part and remanded

Peterson, Judge

 

Becker County District Court

File No. F797476

 

Angela D. Weisinger, 631 Southwest Sixth Street, Brainerd, MN  56401 (pro se respondent)

 

James W. Donehower, P.O. Box 476, Detroit Lakes, MN  56502 (for respondent County of Becker)

 

B. Joseph Majors, II, Thorwaldsen, Malmstrom, Sorum, Wilson, LaFlair & Majors, PLLP, 1105 Highway Ten East, P.O. Box 1599, Detroit Lakes, MN  56502-1599 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Anderson, Judge.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

PETERSON, Judge

In this child-support dispute, appellant-father Jamie Holt argues that (1) a statutory assignment of rights to the state limits respondent County of Becker’s ability to participate in expedited child-support proceedings; and (2) the record does not support the calculation of father’s liability to the county for reimbursement of public assistance provided to respondent-mother Angela Dawn Holt, n/k/a Angela Dawn Weisinger, and the children.  We affirm in part and remand. 

FACTS

            Based on the county’s motion, a child support magistrate (CSM) increased father’s child-support obligation, awarded mother judgment against father for support arrears, and awarded the county a judgment for $14,366.50 for reimbursement of cash public assistance provided to mother and a second judgment for $52,765.99 for reimbursement of medical assistance provided to the children.  Father sought review in district court, and the district court affirmed the CSM.  Father appeals, arguing that the statutory nature of mother’s assignment to the state of her rights to receive support, maintenance, and medical support means that the county did not have authority to seek either modification of support or judgments for reimbursement. 

D E C I S I O N

I.

            To receive public assistance, a recipient assigns to the state rights that the recipient may have to receive maintenance, child support, medical support, and child-care support.  Minn. Stat. § 256.741, subd. 2 (2002).  Which rights are assigned to the state depends on the type of assistance received.  Id.  The county is allowed to participate in expedited-child-support-process proceedings related to assigned rights.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 9 (2002); Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 360.01, subd. 1. 

            Father argues that (1) there are two ways that a person can assign rights to the state -- an “actual” assignment of rights, and a statutory assignment that the public-assistance statute “consider[s]” to have occurred when the person applies for public assistance; (2) a statutory assignment of rights to the state allows the county to “intervene” with respect to issues involving current child support and accrued child support; (3) after intervening, the scope of a county’s ability to act is broader following an “actual” assignment than following a statutory assignment; and (4) because mother’s assignment was a statutory assignment, the scope of the county’s ability to act was limited to issues involving current child support and accrued child support, and the county lacked the ability to seek reimbursement for public assistance and modification of father’s child-support obligation.  The CSM rejected this argument, and the district affirmed, which made the CSM’s decision the district court’s decision.  Kilpatrick v. Kilpatrick, 673 N.W.2d 528, 530 n.2 (Minn. App. 2004). 

Determining the meanings of rules, statutes, and the rules of expedited child-support process are legal questions, which we review de novo.  Huntsman v. Huntsman, 633 N.W.2d 852, 854 (Minn. 2001) (rules); Hibbing Educ. Ass’n v. Pub. Employment Relations Bd., 369 N.W.2d 527, 529 (Minn. 1985) (statutes); Reid v. Strodtman, 631 N.W.2d 414, 417 (Minn. App. 2001) (expedited process rules).  Mother received public assistance, and the record contains no formal assignment of rights to the state by mother, which means that mother is statutorily “considered to have assigned” her rights under Minn. Stat. § 256.741, subd. 2.  This statutory assignment means that the county is a party to the case and that the case is a IV-D case.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 9(a) (making county a party); Minn. Stat. § 518.54, subd. 14 (2002) (defining IV-D case); Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 352.01(f) (defining IV-D case).  IV-D cases must be heard in the expedited process.  Minn. R. Gen. Pract. 353.01, subd. 1. 

There are three problems with father’s argument that mother’s statutory assignment limited the county’s ability to intervene, and to act, in this case: First, “[i]ntervention is the process whereby a person who has an interest in the outcome of an action, but is not already a party, may be made a party in order to protect that interest.”  1 David F. Herr & Roger S. Haydock, Minnesota Practice § 24.1 (2002) (emphasis added).  Mother’s assignment of rights was a statutory assignment.  A statutory assignment makes the county a party.  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 9(a).  As a party, the county did not need to intervene to participate.  Therefore, the statutory assignment did not limit the county’s ability to “intervene” or the scope of its ability to act. 

Second, although the relevant provisions of Minn. Stat. § 256.741 indicate that the type of payments a public-assistance recipient assigns to the state varies with the type of public assistance received, the provisions say nothing about limiting the procedural or legal options available to a county in a IV-D proceeding.  Minn. Stat. § 256.741, subd. 2(a)-(b).  In other words, father has not explained how or why Minn. Stat. § 256.741 affects the county’s ability to act in a IV-D proceeding by simply identifying which rights get assigned to the state.  Also, because, under father’s argument, any assignable rights can be assigned by either an actual assignment or a statutory assignment, adopting father’s argument would create problems in determining the proper scope of a county’s substantive and procedural options in cases where multiple rights were assigned, but different rights were assigned by different methods. 

            Third, even if the county is not a real party in interest, the county still “has a pecuniary interest, as well as an interest in the welfare of the children” and “may intervene . . . to ensure that child support orders are obtained and enforced which provide for an appropriate and accurate level of child, medical, and child care support.”  Minn. Stat. § 518.551, subd. 9(b).  Because the county is to “ensure” that appropriate support orders are “obtained and enforced,” the county must be able to seek to establish and modify support obligations.  See Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 1 (2002) (allowing district court to modify support and/or maintenance on motion of public authority).  And the county has independent authority to seek reimbursement for public support that an obligor has had the ability to pay.  Minn. Stat. § 256.87, subd. 1 (2002).  Thus, in this proceeding, the county did not seek anything beyond what was appropriate, and we reject father’s argument to the contrary.  

II.

Parents are liable for “public assistance” provided to and on behalf of their children, including amounts provided to the child’s caretaker, “which the parent has had the ability to pay.”  Minn. Stat. § 256.87, subd. 1.  A parent’s “[a]bility to pay” is “determined according to chapter 518.”  Id.  The “public assistance” for which the parent is potentially liable is assistance provided in the two years “immediately preceding” the action seeking recovery, “except that where child support has been previously ordered,” the parent is liable for “child support payments accruing within ten years preceding the date of the commencement of the action up to the full amount of assistance furnished.”  Id.  Because the 1997 judgment dissolving the parties’ marriage required father to pay support, father is liable for all assistance provided since the parties’ 1997 dissolution that father “has had the ability to pay.” 

            Father argues that the identified amounts due for medical and MFIP assistance are unsupported because the testimony and affidavit of a child support officer (CSO) were hearsay.  “‘Hearsay’ is a statement other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”  Minn. R. Evid.  801(c).  The CSO’s affidavit states that (a) she has access to the state’s child-support computer system and the information system of the Department of Human Services; (b) the information in the affidavit is the most accurate information available to the county; and (c) mother received cash assistance of $14,366.50 and medical assistance of $52,765.99.  At the hearing, the CSO testified about the way the state’s computer system works and its use in all public-assistance cases; that the relevant information came from the state’s computer system; and that there was nothing in the affidavit that needed alteration.  Under these circumstances, any hearsay in the testimony and affidavit is admissible.  See Minn. R. Evid. 803(8) (reciting public-records exception to hearsay rule). 

            In awarding the county $14,366.50 for reimbursement of MFIP public assistance provided between January 1, 2000, and April 30, 2002, the district court (a) found father’s average net monthly income to be $2,232 in 2000, $2,126 in 2001, and $2,338 in 2002; (b) found father had the ability to pay guidelines child support for the period in question, which, when offset against the payments father actually made, generated arrears of $21,991.27; and (c) noted that the county sought to establish arrears of only $14,266.50[1].  The finding of father’s average net monthly incomes addresses his ability to pay.  Therefore, we reject father’s allegation that the district court did not address that point.

            In awarding the county $52,765.99 for reimbursement of medical assistance provided for the children and mother between March 1, 1999, and April 30, 2003, the district court stated (a) the parties disagreed about whether father provided medical insurance for the children, but agreed that father told mother that the children could get care at Native American Health Services (NAHS); (b) NAHS “bills Medical Assistance for medical care provided, so the same money would have been spent for the children’s health care if [mother] had availed herself of those services”; and (c) “[father] failed to provide the health insurance as ordered, and, when he did so, he failed to promptly and adequately inform [mother].  (See Christenson v. Christenson, 490 N.W.2d 447 (Minn. Ct. App. 1992))[.]”  Thus, apparently, the district court ruled that whether mother took the children to NAHS or received medical assistance would not have affected the amount of medical assistance expended, and that, under Christenson, father was liable for the entire amount that was expended.

There are two related problems with this ruling: The district court failed to make findings for part of the period during which medical-assistance reimbursement was sought, and the findings it made for the rest of the period do not explain why a $52,765.99 judgment is appropriate.  Specifically, Minn. Stat. § 256.87, subd. 1, makes parents liable for reimbursement of public assistance that the parent “has had” the ability to pay, but the only thing that the district court said about father’s ability to pay was that during the period January 1, 2000, to April 30, 2003 (the period for which MFIP reimbursement was awarded), father had the ability to pay guidelines child support. Despite the fact that medical-assistance reimbursement was awarded for a period starting ten months earlier than the period for which MFIP reimbursement was awarded, the district court made no findings regarding that earlier period.  The district court (a) calculated guidelines child support for the MFIP period to be $25,911; (b) found that father paid $4,919.73; and (c) awarded mother and the county judgments for $472.27 and $14,366.50, respectively.  Thus, of the $25,911 that the district court found that father had the ability to pay during the MFIP reimbursement period, $19,758.50 is accounted for by payments father actually made or by judgments awarded against him, meaning that, for the MFIP reimbursement period, father apparently had the ability to pay $6,152.50 more than is accounted for by his payments and the judgments against him.  Because the district court did not explain how an (apparent) ability to pay an additional $6,152.50 during the MFIP reimbursement period justifies a judgment for $52,765.99 for the medical-assistance-reimbursement period, we remand this question for the district court to re-address father’s liability for medical-support reimbursement and to make findings explaining its ruling[2].

            Father argues that in setting his reimbursement obligations, “[t]here was no evidence presented with regard to [the] practical effect of the parents’ shared custody arrangement.”  But mother was awarded sole physical custody of the children.  Thus, to the extent father is seeking a below-guidelines support obligation for the period(s) in question, it was his duty to present the evidence that he claims was not presented.  Rouland v. Thorson, 542 N.W.2d 681, 684 (Minn. App. 1996); see Taflin v. Taflin, 366 N.W.2d 315, 319 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating party “cannot complain” when party’s own failure to provide documentation leads, at least in part, to denial of his request for support modification).  Because he did not do so, the reimbursement obligations need not be recalculated because of the amount of time the parties spent with the children. 

            Whether to reopen the record on remand shall be discretionary with the district court.

            Affirmed in part and remanded.



[1] We note what appears to be a clerical error in the recitation that the county sought a $14,266.50 judgment and was awarded a $14,366.50 judgment.  On remand, this inconsistency should be resolved.

 

[2] Because we remand the question of the amount of father’s liability for medical-assistance reimbursement, we need not address the district court’s apparent reliance on Christenson v. Christenson, 490 N.W.2d 447 (Minn. App. 1992), review granted (Minn. Jan. 15, 1993), review dismissed (Minn. Feb. 16, 1993).  We note, however, both that the district court’s citation to Christenson was summary and that Christenson (a) did not involve reimbursement of public assistance; (b) involved insurance premiums rather than the actual cost of medical care, which appears to be at issue here; and (c) involved maintenance rather than child support. Id. at 447-51.  Any continued reliance on Christenson should be fully explained.