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In re Welfare of Child of R.K.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

September 13, 2017

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: R.K., Parent.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Kenneth R. White, Law Office of Kenneth R. White, P.C., Mankato, Minnesota, for appellant L.A.

          Patrick R. McDermott, Blue Earth County Attorney, Mark A. Lindahl, Assistant County Attorney, Mankato, Minnesota, for respondent Blue Earth County Human Services.

         SYLLABUS

         Because appellant timely appealed from the district court's order terminating his parental rights based on the court administrator's service of notice by mail, the court of appeals erred by dismissing the appeal as untimely.

         Vacated.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         This appeal presents the question of how to calculate the filing deadline for an appeal in a juvenile protection proceeding when a party is served with notice of the filing of the district court's order by two different forms of service that result in two different deadlines for the filing of a notice of appeal. Based on the plain language of the relevant rules, we conclude that the deadline for this appeal is based on the district court's service of notice by mail. Because the appeal was filed by that deadline, we issued an order on June 28, 2017, vacating the court of appeals' order dismissing the appeal as untimely, with this opinion to follow. This opinion confirms our order.[1]

         FACTS

         On August 4, 2016, Blue Earth County Human Services filed a petition, alleging that the child of appellant L.A. was in need of protection or services (CHIPS).[2] L.A. filed an application with the district court requesting appointed counsel to represent him, and on August 17, 2016, the district court appointed an attorney to represent him in the CHIPS proceeding. See Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 25.02, subd. 2 (requiring appointment of counsel for a parent "as soon as practicable after the request is made"). Thereafter, the district court's orders from the CHIPS proceedings that were filed between August and December 2016 were served, separately, on both L.A. and his appointed attorney.[3]

         On November 16, 2016, Blue Earth County Human Services filed a petition to terminate L.A.'s parental rights to the child. The County personally served L.A. with a copy of the petition on November 18, 2016, when he appeared, along with his appointed attorney, for a previously scheduled hearing in the CHIPS proceeding. The attorney appointed to represent L.A. in the CHIPS proceeding continued to represent him in the termination proceeding. The trial on the County's petition was held on January 19, 2017; both L.A. and his appointed attorney were present. In an order filed on March 2, 2017, the district court granted the County's petition and terminated L.A.'s parental rights. On that same date, the district court administrator electronically served L.A.'s attorney with notice of the filing of the district court's order. L.A. was separately served on the same date, by mail, with the same notice.[4] See Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 10.03, subd. 1 (requiring the court administrator to serve court orders "upon each party").

         An appeal must be filed in a juvenile protection proceeding within 20 days after service of notice of the district court's order. Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 47.02, subd. 2 ("Any appeal shall be taken within twenty (20) days of the service of notice by the court administrator of the filing of the court's order."). On March 21, 2017, L.A. filed a request with the district court for appointment of counsel for an appeal. See Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 25.02, subd. 2 (requiring appointment of appellate counsel within three days of the request). On March 24, 2017, the district court appointed a new attorney as L.A.'s appellate counsel, and on March 27, 2017, L.A., through his appellate attorney, filed a notice of appeal with the court of appeals.

         The next day, the court of appeals directed the parties to address whether the appeal was timely in light of the date and method of service of the district court's notice.[5] L.A., in response, argued in part that the appeal was timely because he was separately served with the district court's March 2 order by mail, in addition to the electronic service on his appointed trial counsel. Thus, he contended, the appeal was timely based on the three additional days allowed for mail service. See Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 4.02 (stating that "three (3) days shall be added to the prescribed period" when "service of a notice or other document" is made by mail). L.A. also argued that the appeal period in a juvenile protection proceeding should be tolled once an application for appointment of appellate counsel is filed, to allow time to complete the attorney-appointment process.

          The court of appeals dismissed L.A.'s appeal as untimely, concluding that "the appeal period expired on March 22, 2017, " five days before L.A.'s notice of appeal was filed. In re Welfare of Child of R.K., No. A17-0497, Order at 2 (Minn.App. filed Apr. 18, 2017). The court also concluded that the appeal period "was not stayed by [L.A.'s] motion for appointment of appellate counsel." Id.

         We granted L.A.'s petition for review, directing the parties to address in their briefs "the timeliness of the appeal in light of the methods of service and the procedural history of the case." In re Welfare of Child of R.K., No. A17-0497, Order (Minn.).

         ANALYSIS

         This appeal requires us to interpret several provisions of the Rules of Juvenile Protection Procedure. "We interpret procedural rules de novo." In re Welfare of S.M.E., 725 N.W.2d 740, 742 (Minn. 2007). We begin with a review of the relevant rules.

         A district court's order terminating parental rights must be filed "with the court administrator, " Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 39.05, subd. 3(a), who must serve the order "upon each party" by "U.S. mail, through the E-Filing System, by e-mail or other electronic means agreed upon in writing, . . . or as otherwise directed by the court, " Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 10.03, subd. 1. "If a party is represented by counsel, . . . service shall be upon counsel, " Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 10.03, subd. 1, which is deemed to be service on the party, Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 31.04 (stating that "service upon counsel for a party . . . shall be deemed service upon the party"). Service made through the district courts' eFile System "is complete upon completion of the electronic transmission of the document" to the system. Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 14.03(e); see also Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 31.06 (relying on Minn. Gen. R. Prac. 14.03(e) to define completion of electronic service). Service made "by U.S. mail is complete upon mailing, " Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 31.06, but three additional days are added to the 20-day appeal period when service is completed by mail, see Minn. R. ...


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