Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

July 2023


Summaries prepared by the Supreme Court Commissioner’s Office

Monday, July 10, 2023

Supreme Court Courtroom, State Capitol Building, Second Floor

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: G.A.H. and S.T., Parents, In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: S.T. and A.D., Parents – Case Nos. A22-1065, A22-1066: S.T. appeals an order terminating her parental rights to one minor child and involuntarily transferring permanent legal and physical custody of two additional children to their father. S.T. personally appeared on the first seven days of trial. She did not personally appear on the eighth day of trial and the district court denied counsel’s request for a continuance. Trial proceeded in S.T.’s absence pursuant to Minnesota Rule of Juvenile Protection Procedure 18.01. That rule provides, in part, that the district court may receive evidence in support of a petition if a party fails to appear for trial after being properly served with notice of the hearing. S.T. called court administration during the hearing. The district court allowed S.T. to be present by phone during the remainder of the trial but did not permit her to appear by phone. S.T. was not permitted to testify, and counsel was not permitted to call witnesses or cross-examine the guardian ad litem (GAL) on her behalf.

S.T. moved for a new trial on the basis that procedural irregularities deprived her of a fair hearing. S.T. argued that trial should not have proceeded in her absence and that her counsel should have been allowed to cross-examine the GAL. She filed an affidavit outlining testimony she had intended to introduce at trial. The district court denied S.T.’s motion.

The court of appeals affirmed, holding (1) S.T. received proper notice of the trial, (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a continuance, and (3) any error in the trial court’s denial of S.T.’s requests to testify by phone, to cross-examine the GAL, or to call witnesses was harmless, and (4) application of Rule 18.01 did not violate due process because the district court found that the county proved its petitions for termination and transfer by clear and convincing evidence.

The supreme court granted review on the following issues: (1) whether S.T.’s due process rights were violated by the district court’s refusal to continue the trial to allow S.T. to testify, (2) whether S.T.’s due process rights were violated by the district court’s refusal to allow counsel to cross-examine the GAL or call other witnesses on S.T.’s behalf, and (3) whether those alleged due process violations were prejudicial. The court also directed briefing on the question of whether the alleged due process violations above are subject to harmless error review. (Otter Tail County)