Shonwta D. Jackson, Appellant
Commissioner of Human Services, Respondent.
of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts
F. Moriarty, Chief Hennepin County Public Defender, Peter W.
Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.
Ellison, Attorney General, Scott H. Ikeda, Assistant Attorney
General, Heather Kjos, Assistant Attorney General, Saint
Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.
Department of Human Services Background Studies Act, Minn.
Stat. ch. 245C (2018), as applied to appellant's case,
does not create an irrebuttable presumption in violation of
the Due Process Clause.
Department provided appellant sufficient notice of his rights
under the Background Studies Act.
Appellant's challenge to the issue of the
constitutionality of the preponderance of the evidence
standard in the Background Studies Act was forfeited.
Shonwta D. Jackson challenges the constitutionality of the
Department of Human Services (DHS) Background Studies Act
(the Act) as applied to his case. Minn. Stat. ch. 245C
(2018). Chapter 245C governs background studies that DHS
performs to regulate which workers may interact with
vulnerable populations in DHS-licensed facilities.
Respondent, the Commissioner of DHS, determined that Jackson
is permanently disqualified from working in a capacity where
he may have contact with people who access services from a
DHS-licensed program because of the information gathered
during a 2002 child-protection investigation and assessment.
Jackson argues that the intersection of three sections of
chapter 245C creates an "irrebuttable presumption"
in violation of his due process rights. Jackson also argues
that he should be granted relief because of alleged errors by
the Commissioner. Finally, he argues that the preponderance
of evidence standard used in chapter 245C fails to provide
sufficient procedural protections for a disqualified
filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the court of
appeals, which affirmed the decision of the Commissioner. We
sought employment as a residence manager at a DHS-licensed
substance abuse treatment program. As a condition of
employment, he was required to undergo a background study.
Before discussing the facts, we begin with the statutory
framework at issue. Chapter 245C governs background studies
performed by DHS for individuals who seek employment in
certain licensed facilities where the employee may have
contact with people accessing services at that facility.
Minn. Stat. §§ 245C.01–.34 (2018).
purpose of the background studies conducted by DHS is to
ensure the safety of the people who use DHS-licensed
facilities. The Act gives the Commissioner the authority to
disqualify an individual from employment in certain positions
if that individual has a background that indicates a
potential risk to people accessing services. "The
commissioner shall disqualify an individual . . . from any
position allowing direct contact with persons receiving
services from the license holder" if the Commissioner
determines that "a preponderance of the evidence
indicates the individual has committed an act or acts that
meet the definition of any of the crimes listed in section
245C.15 [of the Act.]" Minn. Stat. § 245C.14, subd.
1(a)(2). As part of the background study, the Commissioner
"shall review" information from a variety of
locations, including the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and
the social service information system, which holds records
about "findings of maltreatment of minors." Minn.
Stat. § 245C.08, subd. 1.
individual who has been determined, by a preponderance of
evidence, to have committed acts that meet the definition of
criminal sexual conduct in the first degree is permanently
disqualified, meaning the disqualification may not be
"set aside" for any reason or after any period of
time. Minn. Stat. §§ 245C.14, subd. 1(a)(2), .15,
subd. 1, .24, subd. 2. A person who is disqualified for any
reason may request reconsideration, in writing, by submitting
information showing that the Commissioner relied on incorrect
information. Minn. Stat. § 245C.21, subds. 1, 3(a)(1).
"The commissioner shall rescind the disqualification if
the commissioner finds that the information relied upon to
disqualify the subject is incorrect." Minn. Stat. §
245C.22, subd. 2. In cases where a person is disqualified for
less serious conduct, "[t]he commissioner may set aside
the disqualification" upon a showing that "the
individual does not pose a risk of harm." Minn. Stat.
§ 245C.22, subd. 4.
order to preserve the right to a hearing, a disqualified
person must challenge the disqualification within the
statutory time period. Minn. Stat. §§ 245C.21,
subd. 2; .27, subd. 1(a); .29, subd. 2(a)(2). A person who is
disqualified because DHS determined by a preponderance of the
evidence that the person committed acts that constitute a
crime listed in section 245C.15 (a "preponderance of the
evidence disqualification") may request a "fair
hearing" after a reconsideration decision. Minn. Stat.
§ 245C.27, subd. 1(a). But if that disqualification is
"conclusive" under section 245C.29, the person does
not have the right to request a fair hearing. Id.,
subd. 1(e). "A disqualification is conclusive for
purposes of current and future background studies if: . . .
the individual did not request reconsideration under section
245C.21 . . . ." Minn. Stat. § 245C.29, subd.
Jackson's case, his first background study was performed
after a 2010 request by his employer. In this background
study, DHS discovered a 2002 child-protection report that
Jackson had sexually abused his son during an incident
sometime around 1998. The report stated that Jackson inserted
an object into his son's anus as a punishment for his
son's alleged sexual misconduct with another family
member. The case notes from that report conclude that
"[t]here was a preponderance of evidence to substantiate
both [physical and sexual abuse] by both parents," and
the caseworker made a maltreatment determination.
the child-protection report, in 2003, the Hennepin County
Attorney's Office filed a Petition to Terminate Parental
Rights or Transfer Permanent Legal and Physical Custody of
Jackson's six children, including his son. Under the
heading "Maltreatment Substantiated," the County
stated that it had received a report that "[a]
CornerHouse interview determined [Jackson's son] was
sexually and physically abused by his parents . . . ."
Jackson and the children's mother voluntarily terminated
their parental rights to five of their children (but not the
son), and the judge entered an order to that effect in 2004.
The district court made no findings about abuse because the
parents agreed to a voluntary termination of their rights and
waived the right to a trial. Jackson testified that he
believed it was in the best interests of the children to have
his parental rights terminated, and the court stated that
good cause was shown. The son who had been sexually abused
was placed in long-term foster care, at the age of 14, but
parental rights to him were not terminated.
15, 2010, DHS sent its response to a second request for a
background study on Jackson. In its letter to Jackson, it
stated that it had determined that his "parental rights
were terminated" in 2004 and "there is a
preponderance of evidence that on or around 1998, [Jackson]
committed an act which meets the definition of a
disqualifying characteristic (§609.342-felony first
degree criminal sexual conduct)." It stated that
"this conviction and act" disqualified Jackson from
working in "any position allowing direct contact with,
or access to, persons receiving services from programs
licensed by" DHS, among other agencies. The letter also
stated that "[t]he Commissioner has determined that you
pose an imminent risk of harm to persons receiving
services" from the licensed facility, and listed several
factors that went into that determination. One such factor
was that Jackson had "a disqualification which may not
be set aside regardless of how much time has passed."
The letter informed Jackson that his employer was told to
immediately remove him from his position but was not told
section titled, "Permanent Bar to Set Aside
Disqualification," the letter stated that no
"variance" could be granted, no matter how much
time had passed, and that Jackson may ask for reconsideration
within 30 days of receiving the letter if "the
information used to disqualify [him was] incorrect." The
letter explained that if he did request reconsideration, the
disqualification either could be "rescinded" or he
would continue to be disqualified. If he did not request
reconsideration or if the disqualification was affirmed,
"subsequent background studies [would] result in an