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Supreme Court rules in favor of Brown County

Case involved $71,000 in placement costs

May 4, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - The Minnesota Supreme Court published its decision Tuesday in favor of Brown County in a $71,000 matter regarding financial responsibility of Out-of-Home Placement Costs for a juvenile placed in residential treatment in May, 2008.

Justice Alan Page wrote the Supreme Court decision that determined Nobles County was financially responsible when state statutes are applied to the facts and circumstances of the case, according to a press release from Brown County Attorney Robert D. Hinnenthal.

"It's good news, pretty significant to Brown County taxpayers," Hinnenthal said. "We would have had to use all levy money if we had to pay the bill. This decision finally ends this (multi-year) litigation and conclusively determines that Nobles County, not Brown County, is responsible for the $71,000 payment."

Hinnenthal recognized Tom Henderson and Tom Sandberg of Brown County Family Services as well as his assistant county attorneys for their efforts as Brown County pursued the decision that vindicated the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS) ruling and Brown County's interpretation of state laws, according to the release.

Assistant County Attorney Mary Kay Mages presented arguments to the court.

According to Minnesota Supreme Court Case A10-2127, Minnesota counties are responsible to provide services to juveniles in need of them. Responsibility for the costs of these services depends upon the residency of the parent(s) of the child.

The case involved a family in which the parents did not live together. The mother, which whom the child had most recently resided, moved to Minnesota from out-of-state and resided in several Minnesota counties, including Brown and Nobles.

Jackson County initially funded the costs of services, then applied to the MnDHS for a determination of which county was responsible to pay the costs, which determined Nobles County was responsible.

Nobles County challenged the decision in Nobles County District Court which ruled that Brown County was responsible.

After that decision, meetings were held involving the Brown County Attorney, Brown County Family Services, and Brown County Administrator Charles Enter. The meetings resulted in an appeal filed by the Brown County Attorney to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, seeking review of the application of state law which determines responsibility for providing services to needy children.

On May 31, 2011, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the Nobles County District Court decision and Brown County remained responsible for the $71,000 in juvenile placement costs.

The Court of Appeals decision prompted more consultations with Brown County departments before the Brown County Attorney filed an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Minnesota Supreme Court review is discretionary. Not all cases appealed are accepted. The Supreme Court determined that a significant issue existed between the counties involved, which would have important consequences for future cases and accepted the case for review.

The counties prepared and filed brief and oral arguments were made to Minnesota Supreme Court Justices on Jan. 10, according to the release.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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