Minn. Stat. §480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed December 30, 1997
Rice County District Court
File No. F0-96-000478
Machell Jacobs, 1642 Jefferson Parkway, Northfield, MN 55057 (Respondent Pro Se)
Jeffrey D. Thompson, Rice County Attorney, Tracey L. Olson, Assistant County Attorney, Rice County Courthouse, 218 N.W. Third Street, Faribault, MN 55021 (for Respondent County of Rice)
Leland Jacobs, 1616 Sloan Street, #3, St. Paul, MN 55101 (Appellant Pro Se)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Randall, Judge, and Norton, Judge.
Appellant challenges the administrative law judge's decision ordering appellant to reimburse Rice County for AFDC payments and to pay child support. Appellant argues the choice of venue is improper and the ALJ's decision is contrary to the evidence presented. Venue in Rice County was proper because appellant did not suffer undue hardship. Additionally, the evidence in the record is sufficient to support the ALJ's determination. We affirm.
On January 23, 1996, mother and father were served with notice of a proposed child support order. As a result of this notice, father requested an administrative hearing, which was scheduled for February 29, 1996. Although the notice informed father that he could appear at the hearing by telephone, neither party appeared.
A child support officer submitted the order for signature to the County Office of Administrative Hearings as a default order, due to the lack of response from both parents. Father moved the court to reconsider this order, arguing that appropriate venue was in Ramsey County, not Rice County. Although an ALJ granted father's motion, another ALJ later vacated that order and denied father's motion for change of venue because "public assistance was placed through Rice County."
Before the contested hearing took place at the Rice County Courthouse, Rice County verified the amount of public assistance transferred to mother, and father submitted a list of itemized expenditures to support his claim that the children were living with him from November 1995 through August 1996.
Mother failed to appear at the contested hearing; father appeared by telephone. The county's position was that father has the ability to earn income and, therefore, has the ability to pay child support. The county attorney presented evidence detailing father's income from January 1995 through January 1996. Father, on the other hand, argued that he could not afford payments because he is a full-time student and only working part time.
The ALJ closed the record for this matter on October 1, 1996, and issued his order and judgment in favor of the State of Minnesota for $3,783 in reimbursement costs for the period of January 1, 1995, through January 31, 1996.
Father challenges the ALJ's denial of his motion for a change of venue from Rice County to Ramsey County on the basis that Rice County is an inconvenient forum. This court reviews a denial of a motion for change of venue under the abuse of discretion standard. County of Nicollet v. Haakenson, 497 N.W.2d 611, 614 (Minn. App. 1993). The law governing venue in family law cases establishes that venue is proper in the county where either spouse resides. Minn. Stat. § 518.09 (1996). The statute also states in pertinent part:
Venue shall be subject to the power of the court to change the place of the hearing * * * when the convenience of the parties or the ends of justice would be promoted by the change.
Id. (emphasis added). Thus, even though a court may have jurisdiction, it need not exercise it if one of the parties would suffer undue hardship as a result of the forum. In re Cary, 313 N.W.2d 625, 628 (Minn. 1982).
Father argues that the forum is inconvenient because he is limited financially, does not have a car, and he and all of his witnesses live in Ramsey County. In an action before an administrative law judge, however, "A party, witness, or attorney may appear or testify by telephone * * * or other electronic means, at the discretion of the administrative law judge." Minn. Stat. § 518.5511, subd. 4(c) (1996). When father appeared at the administrative hearing by way of a conference call, he was not inconvenienced by the fact that he does not have a car to get to Rice County. Furthermore, he did not attempt to have witnesses testify over the telephone, nor did he indicate on the record that he had witnesses ready to testify. Thus, father has failed to show that venue in Rice County caused him undue hardship.
In addition, all actions shall be tried in the county where the action began and where one or more of the defendants reside. Minn. Stat. § 542.09 (1996). In this case, Rice County joined itself as a party to the action by way of Minn. Stat. § 256.87, subd. 1 (1996). More importantly, the action to establish child support and reimbursement of public assistance originated in Rice County. Finally, mother resided in Rice County when this action began. As a result, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying father's motion for a change of venue.
2. Sufficiency of the Evidence
Father also argues that the evidence in the record is insufficient to sustain the ALJ's ruling. We disagree. A trial court's decision with respect to child support will not be reversed unless it is clearly erroneous. Strauch v. Strauch, 401 N.W.2d 444, 447 (Minn. App. 1987) (citing Rutten v. Rutten, 347 N.W.2d 47, 51 (Minn. 1984). This same standard applies to contested administrative hearings regarding child support and reimbursement of public assistance. Lee v. Lee, 459 N.W.2d 365, 368-69 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. Oct. 18, 1990). If the child support determination of a court or an ALJ has a reasonable basis in fact, the decision must be affirmed. Strauch, 401 N.W.2d at 447.
Father claims the record is inadequate because the transcript is "unintelligible." As a general rule, the appellant bears the burden of providing an adequate record. Mesenbourg v. Mesenbourg, 538 N.W.2d 489, 494 (Minn. App. 1995). Even though a transcript is useful in determining exactly what arguments are made at trial, an inadequate transcript does not require an automatic dismissal. Id. As long as the record is adequate, this court can render a decision. Id.
In this case, even though there are times in the transcript where the court reporter indicates that the record is "unintelligible," this does not occur during the most critical stages of the hearing. The majority of the transcript is discernable, and father's testimony can be followed and understood. In some instances the evidence was neither relevant nor essential to the ALJ's determination. Therefore, while the record in this case may not contain a verbatim transcript, it is, nevertheless, sufficient for review.
Father also claims the ALJ's decision was erroneous because it was based on insufficient evidence. It is well established that, as between the parent and the public, it is the primary obligation of the parent is to support the child and "the County should only be expected to contribute to the extent that the parent is unable." Isanti County v. Formhals, 358 N.W.2d 703, 706 (Minn. App. 1984) (quoting County of Anoka v. Richards, 345 N.W.2d 263, 267 (Minn. App. 1984). This philosophy is further reiterated in Minn. Stat. § 256.87.
Reimbursement is governed by the parent's ability to pay and the amount of assistance provided for the benefit of the child. Nicollet County v. Larson, 421 N.W.2d 717, 720 (Minn. 1988). In order to determine the parent's ability to pay, there must be a hearing where evidence is presented regarding the parent's income, resources, expenses, liabilities, and other pertinent data. Id. At that point, the court should draft detailed findings of fact in support of the parent's ability to pay. Id.
In this case, an administrative hearing occurred regarding father's obligation to reimburse Rice County for AFDC payments and child support. At the hearing, father argued Rice County was not entitled to reimbursement because the children were living with him from November 1995 through late August of 1996. The only notable evidence father submitted to support this claim was an itemized list of expenditures. A majority of the expenditures are not related to child support, however, and the list does not prove that the children were, in fact, residing with father. Since father failed to provide any further documentation that the children were living with him, or any witnesses to substantiate his claims, he cannot now complain that the record is inadequate.
Finally, father challenges the ALJ's decision concerning his ability to pay reimbursement costs and child support from January 1995 through January 1996. In this case, the ALJ relied on the available information regarding father's past and current income status. The ALJ determined that father should pay $3,783 in reimbursement for public assistance from January 1, 1995, to January 31, 1996. The ALJ based his detailed findings of fact on father's ability to pay.
From January 1995 through August 1995, the ALJ calculated father's net monthly income at $1,272. Based on father's income, the ALJ found that father had the ability to pay $381 per month in child support during the eight-month period, for total arrearages of $3,048. From September 1995 through January 1996, the ALJ determined father's net monthly income to be $669. Therefore, father was able to pay the guideline level of child support at $147 per month, for five months, totaling $735. Adding this to the $3,048 father owes for January through August, the total is $3,783 in reimbursement costs.
The ALJ's method of valuation must be affirmed "if it has an acceptable basis in fact and principle even though a reviewing court may have adopted a different approach." Mitterhauser v. Mitterhauser, 399 N.W.2d 664, 666 (Minn. App. 1987). Here, the ALJ factored in father's current income and expenses in making his determination. Furthermore, the evidence in the record does nothing to substantiate father's claim that he is unable to reimburse or maintain child support. Because the evidence supports the ALJ's detailed findings that father has the ability to pay, the decision is not clearly erroneous.