This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed June 14, 2005
Dakota County District Court
File No. F9-97-8518
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.*
The parties have had numerous disputes regarding these unreimbursed medical expenses. In this appeal, the parties challenge the district court’s denial of their cross-motions for review of an order issued by a child support magistrate (CSM). The CSM’s order denied appellant’s request to require respondent to pay a greater percentage of the unreimbursed medical expenses, required respondent to pay $15,103 to appellant as his portion of unreimbursed expenses through December 2003, awarded appellant $500 in attorney fees, and denied the remainder of the parties’ motions.
Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in confirming the CSM’s order, we affirm.
Standard of Review
The district court’s decision
confirming the CSM’s order is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard,
and the CSM’s order is reviewed as if the district court had made the
Notice of Appeal Issues
1. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying her request to modify the medical support award to require respondent to pay a greater percentage of the child’s medical expenses. She insists that the court failed to consider the requisite statutory factors when determining whether modification is appropriate under Minn. Stat. § 518.64, subd. 2(a) (2004).
Contrary to appellant’s claims, the district court expressly considered the statutory factors, as follows:
There has not been a substantial change in circumstances which renders the existing order unreasonable and unfair with respect to the division of unreimbursed medical/dental expenses. The parties had widely disparate incomes at the time that they entered into this agreement, with the assistance of counsel, and they continue to have widely disparate incomes.
[Respondent] gave up control over the medical care of the child with the decision to have [appellant] have legal and physical custody of the child. The parties made a decision regarding a child already diagnosed as autistic and they decided to allocate the unreimbursed expenses in this matter without qualification.
Based on our review of the record, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying appellant’s request that respondent be liable for all, or for a greater percentage, of the child’s unreimbursed or uninsured medical and dental expenses.
2. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion when it awarded her only $500 toward her attorney fees and court costs. She insists that through May 6, 2004, she has incurred over $18,500 to litigate this matter and obtain health insurance documents from respondent.
attorney fees “shall” be awarded “in an amount necessary to enable a party to
carry on or contest the proceeding” if the court finds: (1) the fees are necessary for the good faith
assertion of the party’s rights; (2) the party from whom the fees are sought has
the means to pay them; and (3) the party seeking fees does not have the means
to pay them. Minn. Stat. § 518.14, subd.
1 (2004). The statute also allows
conduct-based fees to be awarded “against a party who unreasonably contributes
to the length or expense of the proceeding.”
The district court questioned at least some of the fees claimed by appellant, when it noted that appellant’s attorney “also seeks an award of attorney fees for attorneys who worked for [appellant] prior to the filing of the pending motions.” The court further concluded that both parties contributed to the length of the proceedings. In denying appellant’s request for attorney fees, the district court found:
That [appellant] does need to follow all procedures to obtain any insurance reimbursement available for the child and the parties need to work together on this issue since she is not the policy holder.
That the parties chose to spend more than $30,000 in attorney fees and other related expenses on this matter. That was the choice that they made and they made the choice to retain counsel knowing that there were costs associated with that choice and knowing their own financial circumstances. The court is awarding $500.00 in attorney fees to [appellant] for the failure of [respondent] to comply with discovery requests and [the] ensuing order.
Because the record supports the district court’s findings,
which suggest that these proceedings were unnecessary, we cannot conclude that
the district court clearly erred or otherwise abused its discretion in denying
appellant’s request for need-based fees and in awarding her only $500 in what
appear to be conduct-based attorney fees.
See Peterka v. Peterka, 675
N.W.2d 353, 360 (
3. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by not ordering respondent to pay her in full within 30 days and by ordering that respondent’s wages be garnished for $1,500 per month until the $15,000 judgment is satisfied. She insists that respondent has the income to pay this judgment in full and that the court failed to explain its decision. But payment of a support judgment through income withholding is allowed by statute and is often preferred. See Minn. Stat. § 518.6111 (2004) (providing for income withholding). We affirm the district court’s decision on this point.
4. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by not granting her request for a monthly medical support award in the amount of $2,715.44, which she claims is the value of the personal care attendant (PCA) service that she provides for the child in lieu of a job. However, it appears that appellant is already eligible for some type of public assistance from a waiver program in which she receives the cash value of PCA hours. At some point, respondent may be expected to reimburse the governmental agency or pay some type of a parental fee. We cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying appellant’s request that respondent pay this amount directly to her.
5. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by failing to include medical bills incurred between January 1, 2004 and March 31, 2004, and by failing to indicate how appellant should collect these expenses from respondent. Appellant, however, chose to not submit expenses incurred during that time frame, because she decided to wait to see what the CSM would decide. Under the terms of the CSM’s order, appellant may follow the procedures set out to submit her claims for unreimbursed and uninsured expenses incurred since January 1, 2004.
6. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by allowing respondent to keep a $35 reimbursement check for a medical expense that appellant paid. Respondent claims that he forwarded this check to appellant many years ago, and that he has so testified and verified in his pleadings. We cannot conclude that the district court clearly erred or abused its discretion in accepting respondent’s testimony and in finding that amount was included and “taken care of in earlier actions regarding unreimbursed expenses.”
7. Appellant argues that the district
court penalized her for not providing it with a denial notice for
Appellant testified that
claims that she tried to obtain the denial for
8. Appellant argues that the district court abused its discretion by placing the burden on her to show that there are no in-network providers to treat the child. We disagree. Appellant, who has sole physical and legal custody of the child, is responsible for making all of the decisions regarding the child’s medical care. As such, she is in the best position to keep costs to a minimum. And, despite respondent’s statement that his “fervent wish is to have minimal contact with [a]ppellant,” he is obligated to provide her with the necessary insurance cards, policies, claim forms, and determination letters from health insurance providers. It will be respondent’s continuing responsibility to cooperate with appellant so that both parties’ liability for unreimbursed and uninsured medical costs will be minimized.
Notice of Review Issues
1. Respondent argues that the district
court erred in finding that the health care provider, ChiroCare, is no longer
in business. While it appears that the district
court may have confused ChiroCare with ChoicePlus, which may no longer be in
business according to appellant’s testimony, that error is harmless because the
parties were directed to continue to attempt to collect any outstanding claims
from the various providers. See
2. Respondent argues that the district court abused its discretion when it ordered him to be responsible for expenses that are “in the nature of medical expenses,” rather than requiring him to be responsible for expenses that are “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses as defined by Minn. Stat. § 518.171, subd. 1(c) (2004). He insists that when he agreed in 1998 to be responsible for one-half of any uninsured or unreimbursed medical or dental expenses for the child, he only agreed to be responsible for “reasonable and necessary” medical and dental expenses.
court found that “the expenses incurred by [appellant] for the child are in the
nature of medical expenses and are subject to reimbursement by
[respondent].” This finding is
reasonably supported by the evidence submitted at the hearing: In particular,
That [appellant] has tried a number of different avenues to treat the child’s varied needs and the varied aspects of his medical situation. Some she has continued and some she has not. The child appears to be doing better although no one treatment or activity can be shown to be the cause of his situation as it exists at this time.
Thus, contrary to respondent’s claims, appellant has made efforts to minimize costs by discontinuing treatments that do not appear to work, by attempting to make sure that providers are in-network, and by utilizing public resources and assistance if available. We therefore affirm the district court’s decision to order respondent to be responsible for expenses that are “in the nature of medical expenses.”
3. Respondent argues that the district
court erroneously found that appellant had not received a “denial of benefits”
letter from his health insurer, ChoicePlus.
Respondent fails to adequately explain how he is prejudiced by this
finding, even if it is incorrect. See
4. Respondent argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for review of the CSM’s order. We disagree. He claims that he “raised several legitimate issues in which the [CSM’s] decision was against logic and the facts on the record,” but he does not fully brief these issues. Moreover, some of the arguments respondent raises under this issue appear to have already been covered in his notice of review issues discussed above.
We therefore affirm the district court’s order confirming the decision of the CSM.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.