Presumption in MN Parental Rights Statute is Constitutional, High Court Holds

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: termination of parental rights.

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: R.D.L. and J.W., Parents. MN termination of parental rights.

Minn. Stat. 260C.301 provides that parents who have previously had their parental rights involuntarily terminated are presumed to be palpably unfit to parent other children. The parents in this Hennepin County case came under that provision, and argued that it was unconstitutional, in that it violated Equal Protection.

Both the Hennepin County Juvenile Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals disagreed, and applied the presumption. The mother then sought review by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which affirmed. In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice Gildea, the high court held:

1. Because the right to parent is a fundamental right, statutes that infringe on this fundamental right are subject to strict scrutiny under the equal protection provisions of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.

2. Assuming, without deciding, that a strict scrutiny analysis applies and that within that analysis a claimant must show at the threshold that he or she is "similarly situated" to challenge a statute on equal protection grounds, parents facing a subsequent petition to terminate their parental rights, whether those rights were terminated voluntarily or involuntarily, are similarly situated.

3. The rebuttable statutory presumption of parental unfitness found in Minn. Stat. 260C.301 is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, and therefore does not violate the equal protection provisions of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions.

No. A13-1820 (Minn. Sept. 10, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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