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Rooney v. Rooney

September 16, 2003

IN RE THE MARRIAGE OF:
PATRICIA L. ROONEY, PETITIONER, RESPONDENT,
v.
MICHAEL T. ROONEY, RESPONDENT, AND CHRIST'S HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH, THIRD-PARTY RESPONDENT, APPELLANT, AND RAMSEY COUNTY, INTERVENOR, RESPONDENT.



Ramsey County District Court File No. F1-87-23807

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. A religious institution providing in-kind benefits to a church member is a"payor of funds" under Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (2002).

2. A district court has subject-matter jurisdiction to determine whether a religious entity is a"payor of funds" for child-support withholding purposes pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 518.6111 (2002), and may apply the statute without violating the Minnesota or federal constitutions.

3. The district court did not err by deciding a remand under a statute replacing the statute under which the remand was originally ordered.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Schumacher, Judge

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Concurring in part, dissenting in part, Randall, Judge

OPINION

Appellant Christ's Household of Faith (CHOF) challenges the district court's determination that it is a"payor of funds" under Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (2002), for child support withholding purposes, contending that the application of that statute to CHOF results in excessive governmental entanglement in CHOF's religious affairs in violation of the federal and state constitutions. CHOF also challenges the district court's determinations that it could decide a remand under the statute replacing the statue under which the remand was ordered, that a religious institution providing in-kind benefits to a church member can be a"payor of funds" under Minn. Stat. §á518.6111, that CHOF's withholding obligation commenced in 1990, and that laches does not apply to this case. CHOF further disputes the amount of the support and maintenance arrears for which it is responsible. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

FACTS

Respondents Patricia L. Rooney and Michael T. Rooney were married in 1964 and became members of CHOF in 1966. The church's doctrine requires that members devote themselves and any property they have to the church, sacrificing all rights to payment for services given and relinquishing rights to all material possessions. In return, the church supports its members.

In 1987 Patricia Rooney left the church. The parties' marriage was dissolved in 1988. Patricia Rooney was awarded custody of four of the couple's minor children, and Michael Rooney (Rooney) was awarded custody of two of the couple's minor children. It is undisputed that Rooney performed and continues to perform services for CHOF and CHOF-related entities. In the dissolution judgment, the district court estimated Rooney's earning capacity to be $24,000. Rooney was ordered to pay monthly child support of $600.52 and monthly spousal maintenance of $250. At the time judgment was entered, Patricia Rooney was receiving welfare assistance from respondent Ramsey County. The judgment imposed on her no obligation to pay support to Rooney.

CHOF is a non-profit corporation operating a number of businesses, including Northstar Services. As a 501(d) corporation, CHOF is required by the IRS to provide each of its members with a partnership K-1 tax form. The K-1 form represents the division of the gross taxable income of CHOF by the number of its members. The record indicates that Rooney does not receive compensation from CHOF for his services other than room, board, certain in-kind benefits, and a $39.80 biweekly stipend that other CHOF members, even those not working, receive. Rooney's 1994 K-1 tax form shows income of $4,342.

In 1990, the district court ruled that CHOF was Rooney's"employer" under Minn. Stat. §á518.611 (1990), and ordered CHOF to perform income withholding to pay Rooney's child support and spousal maintenance obligations. Rooney was in arrears immediately on the $850.52 per month that he was ordered to pay for child support and spousal maintenance. In August 1990, CHOF's attorney sent the county a letter stating that it could not comply with all aspects of the withholding order, that CHOF and other CHOF-related entities and persons named in the withholding order were not parties to the proceeding but were not objecting to the withholding order. Thereafter, CHOF made some payments on Rooney's behalf.

In 1991, the district court affirmed a referee's order directing entry of judgment for support and maintenance arrears against CHOF and other CHOF-related entities and persons. CHOF appealed to this court and argued that it was not"an employer" under Minn. Stat. § 518.611 (1990). This court reversed and remanded for a determination of whether CHOF had waived its right to an evidentiary hearing, whether CHOF was an employer, and what the total amount of CHOF's withholding obligations should be. Rooney v. Rooney, 478 N.W.2d 545 (Minn. App. 1991) (Rooney I). No action was taken on the remand by the district court, CHOF, the parents, or the county until 2002.

In 1996, Rooney brought a motion to amend his child support and spousal maintenance obligations on the grounds that his circumstances had changed. Patricia Rooney moved for contempt based on claimed arrearages and to increase both child support and spousal maintenance. Rooney's motion was denied without a determination of whether CHOF was his employer. In 1997, the legislature repealed Minn. Stat. §á518.611 under which the remand had been ordered and replaced it with Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (Supp. 1997).

The evidentiary hearing ordered by this court in 1991 was held in June 2002. The child support magistrate found that CHOF was an employer as well as a"payor of funds" for purposes of Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (2002), and ordered judgment for arrearages against CHOF back to January 2002, when CHOF was purportedly"joined" as a party to the case. CHOF sought review of this decision by the district court. The district court affirmed the magistrate's"employer" and"payor-of-funds" rulings, ruled that CHOF was responsible for arrearages dating back to the date it was served with the 1990 order for income withholding, and remanded the matter to the child support magistrate for a calculation of all arrearages. The resulting order found that CHOF, as Rooney's"employer" and as a"payor of funds" was responsible for $100,976.82 in support arrearages, and an additional $38,955.00 in maintenance arrearages. All arrearages of child support and maintenance were calculated based on the amounts ordered in the 1988 dissolution. CHOF appeals.

ISSUES

1. Can the district court exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim against a church for compliance with a child-support withholding statute without violating the federal or state constitution?

2. Did the district court exceed the scope of its remand by addressing whether CHOF was a"payor of funds" under Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (2002)?

3. Did the district court err in ruling that CHOF was a"payor of funds" under Minn. Stat. §á518.6111 (2002)?

4. Did the district court abuse its discretion by refusing to invoke laches?

5. Did the district court err in holding that CHOF's liability for withholding started in 1990?

6. Did the district court err in the calculation of Rooney's arrears and the amount to be ...


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