In re: Adult & Family Foster Care License for Susan Ellen Mattson, Relator.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In re: Adult & Family Foster Care License for
Susan Ellen Mattson,
Filed July 22, 2003
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Tina Anne Syring-Petrocchi, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, LLP, Suite 2000, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relator)
Cynthia Beth Noren Jahnke, Attorney General's Office, 445 Minnesota Street, Suite 900, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
Anne L. Mohaupt, Assistant Wright County Attorney, Wright County Courthouse, 10 Second Street NW, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for respondent)
Commissioner of Human Services, Human Services Building, 444 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155 (for Commissioner of Human Services)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
On appeal from an order revoking her license to provide adult foster care and family foster care services, relator argues that (1) she was denied due process of law because in revoking her license, the commissioner of human services relied on previous disqualifications but did not consider subsequent decisions rescinding or setting aside those disqualifications; (2) the commissioner improperly based the revocation on the alleged violation of rule 9555.6235; and (3) the findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Because the record contains substantial evidence to support the commissioner's reasoned decision to revoke relator's license, we affirm.FACTS
Relator Susan Ellen Mattson has been a licensed provider of family foster care and adult foster care services beginning in 1972. Mattson provided family foster care to W.K., a male born in 1965 who suffers from Myotonic Dystrophy and moderate mental retardation. Mattson became W.K.'s legal guardian when W.K. turned 18 years of age.
W.K. moved into a different foster care setting in 1993. The following year, W.K. was charged with, and admitted to, second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a 5-year-old girl. But the charges were dismissed after a rule 20 evaluation concluded that W.K. was not competent to stand trial. Later that year, K.C., a then 17-year-old female with Down Syndrome and Hyperthyroidism, alleged that W.K. made inappropriate sexual contact with her. This event was not prosecuted.
In 1999, W.K. moved into Mattson's residence. At that time, K.C. and two other women with mental and physical disabilities were also living with Mattson. The Wright County Human Services Agency was concerned about W.K.'s living with the three women, but the women's guardians did not share this concern and consented to the arrangement. All parties agreed that K.C. and W.K. would be supervised when they were in the residence together.
In 2000, a criminal background check of W.K. was performed as part of the relicensing process. In light of W.K.'s 1994 admission to criminal sexual conduct, he was disqualified from having contact with persons receiving services in Mattson's home. Mattson was allowed to continue caring for W.K. if he would be continuously in sight or hearing of another adult caregiver when in contact with the women residents.
Throughout the next year, Wright County received negative reports concerning the quality of care and lack of supervision in the Mattson home. In September 2000, although a dentist directed that K.C. return for treatment, she did not receive the treatment while residing in Mattson's home. In several instances from November 2000 to January 2001, when the residents got off the bus, no caregiver was available to assist them in getting home. In three instances between November 2000, and April 2001, Wright County received complaints alleging that the vulnerable adults' lunches contained spoiled or moldy food. Often, one resident attempted to walk up an icy and unplowed driveway without any assistance or appropriate winter attire. A Wright County worker also observed garbage on the floors of the home, dirt and stains on the floor, and strong odors of urine and feces.
In March 2001, the Buffalo Police Department and Wright County received a complaint involving sexual contact between W.K. and K.C. W.K. admitted to having sexual contact with K.C., but the matter was never prosecuted because of the vulnerable status of the parties.
On June 11, 2001, respondent Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) issued an order revoking Mattson's license for adult foster-care services. Mattson appealed, and a four-day hearing was held in October 2001. An administrative law judge (ALJ) issued his report and recommendation on April 2, 2002, concluding that Mattson violated the supervision and sanitation standards of the administrative rules. Mattson also faced parallel DHS proceedings on the issue of whether her conduct constituted maltreatment. Although the ALJ initially found that there was maltreatment, those findings were ultimately reversed, resulting in no further action. The ALJ concluded that the matter at issue here, whether the conduct violated Mattson's license, was substantially different than the matters in the parallel proceedings: whether that conduct rose to the level of maltreatment. The DHS commissioner affirmed and adopted the report of the ALJ on June 27, 2002. Mattson appeals from the commissioner's ruling.
D E C I S I O N
An appellate court may reverse or modify the decision of an administrative agency "only if a party's substantial rights have been prejudiced because the decision exceeded the agency's statutory authority, was made upon unlawful procedure, was affected by other error of law, or was arbitrary or capricious." Rostamkhani v. City of St. Paul, 645 N.W.2d 479, 483 (Minn. App. 2002) (citations omitted); see Minn. Stat. § 14.69 (2002) (describing scope of judicial review of agency decisions). This court need not defer to an agency's decision or expertise in deciding legal questions, although an agency's decisions are to be accorded a "presumption of correctness." St. Otto's Home v. Minn. Dep't. of Human Servs., 437 N.W.2d 35, 39-40 (Minn. 1989).
This court may reverse an agency's fact determinations if they are not supported by substantial evidence in the record, or if they are arbitrary or capricious. Signal Delivery Serv., Inc. v. Brynwood Transfer Co., 288 N.W.2d 707, 709-10 (Minn. 1980); see Minn. Stat. § 14.69. "Substantial evidence" is "[s]uch relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Nat'l Audubon Soc'y v. Minn. Pollution Control Agency, 569 N.W.2d 211, 215 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Dec. 16, 1997). If there is a rational connection between the facts and the agency's decision, the agency should be given judicial deference and affirmed. In re Excess Surplus Status of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minn., 624 N.W.2d 264, 277 (Minn. 2001). If the agency's decision is reasoned, it should be affirmed even if the reviewing court would have reached a different result if it had been the finder of fact. Cable Communications Bd. v. Nor-West Cable Communications P'ship, 356 N.W.2d 658, 669 (Minn. 1984).
Mattson contends that when the DHS revoked her license to provide adult foster care and family foster care services, it deprived her of due process because the license is a property right essential to her livelihood, and because the revocation relates to her good name, reputation, honor, and integrity.
A state may not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; see Minn. Const. art. I, § 7; see also Sartori v. Harnischfeger Corp., 432 N.W.2d 448, 453 (Minn. 1988) (stating that Minnesota's due-process protections are identical to those under United States Constitution). Where an administrative action serves to deprive a person of a license that is essential to his or her livelihood, the agency's action requires adherence to procedural due process. Fosselman v. Comm'r of Human Servs., 612 N.W.2d 456, 461 (Minn. App. 2000) (property interest in working in direct-contact positions and liberty interest implicated in loss of reputation). Due process is also accorded where the action places an individual's "good name, reputation, honor, or integrity" at stake. Id.A. Revocation of License Essential to Livelihood
Mattson argues that she did not receive "meaningful" procedural due process because the revocation of her license to operate an adult foster home is essential to her livelihood. To provide due process, an administrative agency must have an evidentiary hearing, submit written evidence, present oral testimony, subpoena witnesses, and allow cross-examination of witnesses. See id. at 462-63. All of these elements were present here: Mattson received a four-day hearing, presented oral testimony, subpoenaed witnesses, cross-examined all of the state's witnesses, and presented written briefs and motions. Thus, the agency provided Mattson with sufficient due process.B. Other DHS Actions on Disqualification Issues
Mattson next argues that she was denied due process because the ALJ did not consider subsequent DHS actions that modified decisions on which the ALJ relied. But the record shows that Mattson did, in fact, introduce evidence of the parallel DHS proceedings outside of the present case, and the ALJ continued to consider such evidence. Despite the admission of this evidence, the ALJ was not persuaded by Mattson's argument. Rather, the ALJ held that the current case contains different standards and factors than those required by the parallel proceedings.
We agree that the evidence required to find maltreatment in the parallel proceeding is different than the evidence required to show a lack of supervision and sanitation in the current case. The subject of this appeal, whether conduct violated provisions of the license, is substantially different than the other matters: whether conduct constituted mistreatment of the vulnerable adults. Consequently, the ALJ and DHS acted within their discretion in considering the findings and decisions of the parallel proceedings and in ruling that those decisions would not be controlling in the instant case.
C. Violation of Minn. R. 9555.6235
Mattson also contends that the ALJ incorrectly applied and used Minnesota R. 9555.6235 as a ground for revocation. That rule sets out the contents of the "written plan" required for adult foster home programs. Minn. R. 9555.6235 (2001). Mattson argues that the rule only requires the preparation and approval of a plan but does not establish substantive quality standards of care. But Mattson ignores the language in 9555.6105 that states that the rules "establish procedures and standards for licensure." Minn. R. 9555.6105 (2001) (emphasis added). Further, the plain language of rule 9555.6235 requires that the licensee both "develop and implement" the provisions of the written plan. The ALJ acted within its discretion in concluding that Mattson had not properly implemented her written plan.
Further, the license revocation was based on violations of both supervision and sanitation. See Minn. R. 9555.6235(B)(9) (requiring development and implementation of written plan of supervision), 9555.6225, subp. 1 (2001) (requiring residence to be "be clean * * * and free from accumulations of dirt, rubbish, peeling paint, vermin, or insects"). The DHS is charged with administering and enforcing the statutes and rules regarding adult foster care, and it should be given deference in its interpretation of those rules. The record contains sufficient evidence to show that Mattson violated both rules.
Findings of Fact
Mattson next argues that the ALJ's recommendation contains findings of fact not supported by substantial evidence. Minn. Stat. § 14.69(e) (2002). An appellant bears the burden to establish that the agency's findings are not supported by the evidence in the record. Excess Surplus Status of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minn., 624 N.W.2d 264, 278-79 (Minn. 2001).
We conclude that the record contains sufficient evidence to support the findings of fact made by the ALJ. Several witnesses testified regarding the home's lack of cleanliness and sanitation. There is also substantial evidence that lack of supervision resulted in contact between vulnerable adults and a disqualified individual who has formerly perpetrated maltreatment, a failure to provide dental care, and the neglect of vulnerable persons who were often left unassisted in their walks from their house to the bus and back. The record also contains testimony that W.K. and K.C. were often left home alone and that the residents often had improper clothing and poor hygiene.
Because Mattson has not met her heavy burden of demonstrating that the record does not contain substantial evidence to support the findings of the ALJ and DHS, and because those findings are rationally connected to the commissioner's revocation of Mattson's license to provide adult foster care, we affirm.
 Although W.K. is now an adult, the ALJ has issued a protective order requiring that documents refer to all vulnerable adults by their initials. We will follow this practice.