This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ' 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Paula Raye Berberich,
County of Stearns,
Imad Abdelsalem Habayeb,
Filed July 2, 1996
Stearns County District Court
File No. F2-90-50484
Roger S. Van Heel, Stearns County Attorney, Richard J. May, Assistant County Attorney, Administration Center, RM 448, 705 Courthouse Square, St. Cloud, MN 56303 (for Appellants)
Gregory S. Walz, 925 South First Street, PO Box 638, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for Respondent)
Considered and decided by Norton, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Stearns County contends the administrative law judge (ALJ) erred in this parentage action when it ordered father to reimburse the county for public assistance paid to the mother two years prior to the county's motion for contribution rather than two years prior to the initial parentage action. In a notice of review, father contends the county's method for calculating his support obligation would violate his constitutional right to equal protection. We affirm.
Appellant Paula Raye Berberich gave birth to S.M.B. on May 12, 1986. Appellant Stearns County provided $22,813 in public assistance to Berberich from May 1, 1988, through September 30, 1993. The county also paid for birthing expenses and blood tests. Respondent Imad Abdelsalem Habayeb (father) admits paternity.
The county served father with a summons and complaint in April 1990, alleging his paternity of S.M.B. and seeking past child support under Minn. Stat. ' 257.66 (1994), an order for present child support under Minn. Stat. ' 518.551 (1994), and reimbursement for expenses arising from the mother's pregnancy, delivery, and blood testing. In the summons and complaint, the county did not request reimbursement for the public assistance it had provided to mother to support the child. The county then took no action until it brought a motion for summary judgment in July 1995 in which it requested, among other things, reimbursement for the public assistance it had paid to support the child. The ALJ awarded the county a $1,661.25 reimbursement of assistance paid to mother from July 1, 1993, which was two years prior to the date the county served its motion for summary judgment, until September 30, 1993, when mother stopped receiving assistance. The ALJ did not order father to reimburse the county for birthing expenses, blood test expenses, or past child support that were incurred more than two years prior to the motion for summary judgment.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from summary judgment, this court must determine whether any material issues of fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. Wartnick v. Moss & Barnett, 490 N.W.2d 108, 112 (Minn. 1992). Whether the ALJ interpreted the statutes correctly is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. In re Welfare of C.M.G., 516 N.W.2d 555, 558 (Minn. App. 1994).
The county contends the ALJ misapplied the statute and erroneously ruled that the county's motion for reimbursement was untimely. It is true that the doctrine of laches is not an available defense in paternity actions. M.A.D. v. P.R., 277 N.W.2d 27, 29 (Minn. 1979). Minn. Stat. ' 256.87, subd. 1 (1994), the statute governing a parent's contribution toward the Aid to Families with Dependent Children that the county provided, however, allows the county reimbursement for only two years immediately preceding commencement of a contribution action. Schaefer v. Weber, 546 N.W.2d 771, 774 (Minn. App. 1996); see also Minn. Stat. ' 257.66, subd. 4 (1994) (imposing same two-year statute of limitations in parentage act). The two years does not begin at the commencement of the parentage action, but rather at the time the county asks for the specific relief of contribution. Schaefer, 546 N.W.2d at 774.
"Actions for contribution or reimbursement of public assistance payments are separate and distinct from actions to set child support." County of Ramsey v. Shir, 403 N.W.2d 714, 716 (Minn. App.. 1987), review denied (Minn. May 28, 1987), quoted in Schaefer, 546 N.W.2d at 773. Consequently, the "triggering event" for the two-year limitations period is the filing of the actual request for reimbursement. Schaefer, 546 N.W.2d at 773 (citing Shir, 403 N.W.2d at 716); see also Isanti County Family Servs. & Welfare Dept. v. Swanson, 394 N.W.2d 180, 183 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding request for contribution is separate action from paternity action and court measures parent's liability from date of request).
The facts of this case are nearly identical to the facts in Schaefer, 546 N.W.2d at 772. In both cases, the county commenced a paternity action, delayed for several years, and then moved for summary judgment. In neither paternity action did the county seek reimbursement for the past public assistance it had provided the mother. Instead, the county in both cases specifically requested reimbursement in the later motion for summary judgment. Although the contribution action should have been a separate action, in the interests of justice, the Schaefer court treated the summary judgment motion that requested contribution as the commencement of a contribution action under Minn. Stat. ' 256.87. Id. at 774; see also Shir, 403 N.W.2d at 716 (treating county's later motion as commencement of action for contribution, in interests of judicial economy, even though county should have brought separate action).
The ALJ here relied on Shir when it determined that the county's motion for summary judgment and request for reimbursement triggered the two-year retrospective limitations period. Shir and Schaefer support that determination. The ALJ properly ordered father to reimburse the county for public assistance rendered to mother from July 1993 through September 1993.
Our decision here obviates discussion of father's equal protection argument.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ' 10.