This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re Guardianship of the
Persons of Wendy Rassier and
Filed May 29, 2007
Aitkin County District Court
File No. P9-05-136/P0-05-137
Jeffrey J. Haberkorn, Haberkorn Law Office, 122 Second Street Northwest, Aitkin, MN 56431 (for appellant Sherri Rassier)
Daniel Rassier, 301 S.E. Second Street, Staples, MN 56479 (pro se appellant)
Shari S. Larson, P.O. Box 456, McGregor, MN 55760 (for respondent Peggy Hudson)
William D. O’Hara, Jr., P.O. Box 624, Brainerd, MN 56401 (for respondents Samantha and Wendy Rassier)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.
Appellants Sherri and Daniel Rassier challenge orders issued by the district court appointing respondent Peggy Hudson as permanent guardian for their two developmentally disabled adult daughters, Wendy and Samantha Rassier. Appellants argue that the district court erred in making this appointment because they were the guardians under prior orders issued in North Dakota and because the court ignored priorities set out in Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309 (2006).
Because the district court had jurisdiction over the matter after the North Dakota district court suspended the guardianships and later transferred jurisdiction to Minnesota, and because the court properly considered statutory priorities and exercised its discretion in appointing respondent as the most suitable and best qualified among the potential guardians, we affirm.
Appellants’ two adopted daughters are developmentally disabled, vulnerable adults. In 1994, when Wendy Rassier was 18 years old, appellants were appointed as her guardians. Four years later, when Samantha Rassier was 19 years old, appellants were also appointed as her guardians. The guardianship proceedings took place in North Dakota, where the family resided.
The family subsequently moved to Aitkin County, Minnesota. In March 2005, county social services found the family living in unhealthy, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions. Emergency guardianship proceedings were commenced after neglect was substantiated by social services. In June 2005, appellants stipulated to the appointment of respondent Peggy Hudson as temporary guardian for Wendy and Samantha Rassier.
Hudson filed petitions in North Dakota district court to terminate the North Dakota guardianships of their daughters. In October 2005, that court issued an order suspending the guardianships.
Prior to expiration of the temporary emergency guardianships in Minnesota, Hudson requested that she be appointed permanent guardian. Appellants objected, arguing that they were the permanent guardians in North Dakota and that the North Dakota orders were entitled to full faith and credit. On November 15, 2005, the Minnesota district court issued orders appointing Hudson as the permanent guardian.
In February 2006, following a hearing and in correspondence with the Minnesota district court, orders were issued by the North Dakota district court transferring jurisdiction to Minnesota. This appeal is from the denial of appellants’ March 2006 motion for a new trial or amended findings with respect to the 2005 orders appointing Hudson as the permanent guardian.
D E C I S I O N
The “appointment of a guardian is uniquely within the discretion of the appointing court.” In re Guardianship of Stanger, 299 Minn. 213, 215, 217 N.W.2d 754, 755 (1974). A reviewing court shall not interfere with the exercise of that discretion except in the case of clear abuse. In re Guardianship of Kowalski, 478 N.W.2d 790, 792 (Minn. App. 1991). A reviewing court is limited to determining whether the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous, giving due regard to the district court’s determinations regarding witness credibility. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; In re Conservatorship of Lundgaard, 453 N.W.2d 58, 60-61 (Minn. App. 1990).
1. Jurisdictional Challenges
Appellants argue that when the district court appointed Hudson as permanent guardian in Minnesota, it ignored the existing guardianship orders in North Dakota. Appellants agree that the district court properly appointed Hudson as “temporary substitute guardian” under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-312 (a) (2006) (allowing court to appoint a temporary substitute guardian for a period not exceeding six months “[i]f the court finds that a guardian is not effectively performing the guardian’s duties and that the welfare of the ward requires immediate action”). They also agree that they stipulated to this appointment, and they assert that they do not object to a continued appointment of a temporary guardian. But they object to the court’s “subsequent decision to appoint Hudson as permanent guardian when they already held that position.”
Appellants, in their briefs to this court, fail to acknowledge that in October 2005 the district court in North Dakota suspended the guardianships in that state “effective immediately.” In argument, they insist that the suspension is unimportant because their authority will be restored when the suspension ends. After contacts between the courts, the North Dakota court transferred jurisdiction to Minnesota.
The full faith and credit clause requires that credit be given in each state to the public acts, records, or judicial proceedings of another state. See U.S. Const. Art. IV, § 1. But the clause is not unqualified and does not require one state to give effect to the proceedings from another without question. See 81 C.J.S. States § 61 (2004) (full faith and credit clause “is not an inexorable and unqualified command” and it “leaves some scope for state control within its borders of affairs which are peculiarly its own”). As respondent Hudson notes, the district court’s actions were in accordance with the stated public policy of this state to “protect adults who, because of physical or mental disability . . . are particularly vulnerable” and to “assist in providing safe environments” for those adults. Minn. Stat. § 626.557, subd. 1 (2006). Given the state of the record in November 2005 and the issues presented to it at that time, the district court in Minnesota did not err in appointing Hudson as permanent guardian.
Moreover, there is no merit in appellants’ disregard for the suspension of their North Dakota appointment. They contend that the district court erred in appointing a permanent guardian when the prior guardianships had not yet been terminated by death, resignation, or removal under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-112 (2006). But the court acted appropriately in appointing Hudson as permanent guardian to insure that the wards would not be left unprotected and without an active guardian. Appellants imagine that a temporary Minnesota appointment, unlike one designated permanent, would give way to restoration of their previous authority, but they state no authority for the notion that any present proceedings would stand in the way of judicial steps, when and if merited, to return guardianship authority to them, nor can we find any.
Appellants finally argue that the district court failed to comply with Minn. Stat. § 524.5-301 (2006), which provides that a guardianship “continues until terminated, without regard to the location of the guardian or ward.” As already discussed, it was necessary for the district court to appoint a guardian after the guardianships in North Dakota had been suspended and when the temporary, substitute guardianships were about to expire. The court properly considered the status of the North Dakota orders and decided to act in the best interests and for the protection of the wards.
2. Statutory Priorities
Appellants argue that Hudson’s appointment as permanent guardian is explicitly prohibited by Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309(a)(1) (2006), which gives highest priority to a guardian, “other than a temporary or emergency guardian.” But the priority statute does not prohibit the appointment of a temporary guardian as permanent guardian. The district court may decline to appoint a person who has priority status if the ward’s best interests would be better served by appointing another. Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309(b) (2006). When deciding between proposed guardians, the overriding concern remains the ward’s best interests. See In re Guardianship of Schober, 303 Minn. 226, 230, 226 N.W.2d 895, 898 (1975) (“best interest of the ward should be the decisive factor in making any choice on his behalf”).
The district court selected Hudson as the best qualified person to act as permanent guardian. The court found that “by all accounts, Peggy Hudson has done a good job as . . . temporary guardian” and that “Peggy Hudson is the most suitable and best qualified among those available and willing to discharge the trust[.]” The record supports these findings. Thus, the court acted in accordance with the statute and did not err or otherwise abuse its discretion by choosing Hudson as permanent guardian.
Appellants next argue that the district court erred when it appointed an unrelated third party over other individuals with higher priority who were ready, willing, and able to serve. See Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309(a). Appellants insist that two persons fit this description and should have been considered: Gail Tveit Kearney, the sister of appellant Sherri Rassier, and Sharon Tveit, the maternal grandmother. Appellants acknowledge that the district court appears to have considered both of these candidates, but they nevertheless insist that the court erred in choosing a person who was expressly excluded from the priority list over Kearney, a family member who the court found was also “well qualified” but whom “the professionals involved all believe . . . may be ‘too close to the situation’ to so serve.”
Although courts generally select someone with family ties or the nominees of such persons when appointing a guardian, this requirement is not mandatory; rather, a court may decline to appoint a family member if his or her interests and those of the ward would conflict. Schmidt v. Hebeisen, 347 N.W.3d 62, 64 (Minn. App. 1984). Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309(b) gives the court the authority to appoint a person having a lower priority or no priority. The district court acted within its discretion by choosing Hudson, a disinterested third party, who the court found was “most suitable and best qualified” to serve as guardian.
Finally, appellants argue that the district court erred in appointing an individual who provides care or services for a fee, which they claim is contrary to Minn. Stat. § 524.5-309(c). Appellants’ argument misinterprets this statute, which states: “Any individual or agency which provides residence, custodial care, medical care, employment training or other care or services, for which they receive a fee, may not be appointed as guardian unless related to the [ward] by blood, marriage, or adoption.” Id. The comment to the uniform act recognizes that this provision, which is directed at appointment of care providers, does not prohibit the appointment of a professional guardian. See Unif. Probate Code § 5-310, 8 pt. II U.L.A. 117-18 (Supp. 2006) (“A professional guardian can still be appointed guardian if no one else with priority is available and willing to serve or if the court, acting in the [ward’s] best interest, declines to appoint a person having priority.”). In addition, as respondent Hudson notes, acceptance of appellants’ argument that a guardian cannot receive compensation is contrary to Minn. Stat. § 524.5-502(c) (2006).
There being no merit in appellants’ contentions, we affirm the district court’s decision to appoint respondent Peggy Hudson as permanent guardian.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.