Whenever a party wants to appeal a district court’s decision, it is crucial to comply with all the requirements in the Minnesota Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure to do so. One such requirement is Rule 103.01, subd. 1, which requires serving the notice of appeal on “the adverse party or parties within the appeal period.” In most cases, it is clear who is the “adverse party or parties.” But the Minnesota Supreme Court recently addressed a situation in which it was not so clear. The court in Blakey v. Jones, __ N.W.2d __ (Minn. Nov. 1, 2023) held that a former party who has been dismissed from the case is not an adverse party that needs to be served.

Facts of the Case

In Blakey, the appellants had filed a petition for third-party custody of their great-niece. The district court appointed a Guardian ad Litem for the child, ordering that the Guardian ad Litem “shall” be a party. After an evidentiary hearing, the court dismissed the petition for third-party custody. It then discharged the Guardian ad Litem, stating the Guardian ad Litem had “fulfilled the duties and obligations assigned by the Court.”

The appellants appealed the dismissal of their petition for third-party custody, but they did not serve the notice of appeal on the Guardian ad Litem during the 60-day appeal period. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal, holding that serving the Guardian ad Litem was necessary for a timely appeal.

The Supreme Court’s Holding

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ dismissal of the appeal. It discussed the role of Guardians ad Litem, who are appointed by the district court to perform specific duties and may be removed only by order of the court. After removal, the Guardian ad Litem has no further right to participate in the action. Therefore, after the Guardian ad Litem was removed, she was no longer a party to the lawsuit.

The Court then explained that the purpose of the requirement that adverse parties be served with the notice of appeal is to alert those who have an interest in the subject of the appeal. A former party would only have an interest in the appeal if the appeal concerns the order that dismissed the party from the case. Because the Guardian ad Litem was not a party at the time the appeal was filed and the appeal did not challenge the dismissal of the Guardian ad Litem, it was unnecessary to serve her with the notice of appeal under Rule 103.01.

Future Implications

Although the Blakey decision discusses Guardians ad Litem in particular, the effect of this ruling appears to be much broader. For example, suppose a case involves multiple defendants and the court grants a motion to dismiss the claims against some, but not all, of the defendants. If the case proceeds against the other defendants to trial and an appeal is then taken, do the dismissed defendants need to be served? According to Blakey, it appears they would need to be served if the appellant intends to appeal the district court’s order granting the motion to dismiss, but they would not need to be served if the appellant only seeks to challenge matters relating to the trial against the remaining defendant.

For more information on how to properly appeal a district court decision, please contact Michelle Kuhl.