from the District Court of Stark County, Southwest Judicial
District, the Honorable Rhonda R. Ehlis, Judge.
Theresa L. Kellington, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and
K. Keller (argued) and Steven G. Podoll (on brief), Bismarck,
ND, and Brittney A. Bornemann (on brief), Assistant
State's Attorney, Dickinson, ND, for Statutory Real Party
in Interest and Appellee.
1] S.E.L. appeals from an order dismissing his action seeking
to adjudicate the paternity of the child, J.J.M. We conclude
the district court did not err in concluding S.E.L.'s
action was barred by N.D.C.C. § 14-20-44(2). We affirm.
2] On April 24, 2014, the child was born to the biological
mother, J.A.P. Shortly after the child's birth, J.A.P.
and J.M. executed an acknowledgment of paternity, claiming
J.M. was the child's father.
3] In September 2016, S.E.L. filed a complaint challenging
paternity, alleging the paternity acknowledgment was executed
based on fraud and deceit, and requesting the court order
genetic testing and declare he is the child's father.
S.E.L. filed an affidavit in support of his complaint,
stating he was in a sexual relationship with J.A.P. in
Montana during the period of conception, J.A.P. moved to
North Dakota after the child was conceived and entered into a
relationship with J.M., J.A.P. never informed S.E.L. she was
pregnant, and he learned about the child in the fall of 2015.
He stated he attempted to establish paternity by filing
paperwork with the Child Support Enforcement Division in
Montana, but he learned that J.M. signed an acknowledgment of
paternity on or around April 24, 2014. S.E.L. admitted it had
been more than two years since the acknowledgment of
paternity was signed, but he claimed the acknowledgment was
based on fraud and deceit and should be declared void. S.E.L.
also alleged the child had been removed from J.A.P. and
J.M.'s care and placed in a foster home in February 2016,
J.A.P. was to be released from jail in Nevada in August 2016,
and J.M. was currently incarcerated in North Dakota.
4] The State, through Stark County Social Services, was
served with the summons and complaint by mail. The State,
through the Southwest Area Child Support Unit, answered and
argued the claim was barred by the applicable statute of
limitations and S.E.L. failed to state a claim upon which
relief could be granted.
5] On January 24, 2017, S.E.L. moved for genetic testing,
requesting the district court order genetic testing to
determine whether he is the child's father. On February
23, 2017, the district court denied S.E.L.'s motion. The
court explained that no party who was served with the motion
responded to the motion, and the child is in the custody of
the State but Stark County Social Services was not served
with the motion. The court also explained J.M. is the
child's acknowledged father and S.E.L. is unable to ask
for genetic testing because he did not request testing within
two years of the execution of the acknowledgment of
6] On May 8, 2017, S.E.L. filed a pretrial brief. He argued
the Uniform Parentage Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 14-20, should not
apply to his case. He also claimed a proceeding seeking to
disprove the father-child relationship between a child and
the child's presumed father may be maintained at any
time, no statute of limitations exists to prevent genetic
testing, and genetic testing is authorized under provisions
of the Uniform Parentage Act.
7] On May 15, 2017, the State, through the Stark County
State's Attorney's Office, answered S.E.L.'s
complaint, stating it did not object to genetic testing. The
State also argued S.E.L. failed to sufficiently serve all
parties and his claim was beyond the applicable statute of
limitations for a paternity action.
8] On June 9, 2017, the district court entered an order
appointing a guardian ad litem for the child and to allow
genetic testing. On July 17, 2017, the State, through the
child support unit, moved for reconsideration of the order.
The State argued the court had already denied the first
motion for genetic testing and no relevant facts changed
after that decision, and there was no motion to vacate or
reconsider that prior order. The State also asserted there
was no indication J.A.P. had ever been served, genetic
testing could be refused under the Uniform Parentage Act if
there was an untimely challenge to an acknowledgment of
paternity, and a challenge to the acknowledged paternity is
untimely in this case. S.E.L. opposed the State's motion.
9] After a hearing, the district court ordered S.E.L.'s
action be dismissed. The court found J.A.P. and J.M. were in
default. The court held S.E.L. commenced the proceeding more
than two years after the effective date of the paternity
acknowledgment, challenges to an acknowledgment of paternity
must be commenced within two years after the effective date
of the acknowledgment under N.D.C.C. § 14-20-44(2), and
S.E.L. was not permitted to challenge the acknowledgment
because his action was untimely. The court ruled all other
issues pending before the court were moot and required no
further adjudication because the matter was dismissed.
Judgment was entered.
10] S.E.L. argues the Uniform Parentage Act, N.D.C.C. ch.
14-20, should not be applied in the "very unusual"
circumstances of this case. He claims there is a "very
high probability" that he is the child's biological
father, the child is currently in foster care, and the
"presumed father" and biological mother do not have
a relationship with the child. He contends the purpose of the
Act is to protect biological fathers from interfering with
formed relationships years after the fact and that purpose
does not exist in this case.
11] The interpretation of a statute is a question of law,
which is fully reviewable on appeal. D.E. v. K.F.,
2012 ND 253, ¶ 7, 825 N.W.2d 832. In interpreting a
statute, words are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly
understood meaning, unless they are specifically defined or
contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02.
"Statutes are interpreted to give effect to all of their
provisions, and no part of the statute is rendered
inoperative or superfluous." Altru Specialty Servs.,
Inc. v. N.D. Dep't of Human Servs., 2017 ND 270,
¶ 10, 903 N.W.2d 721; see also N.D.C.C. §
1-02-38(2) and (4). "When the wording of a statute is
clear and free of all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to
be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its
spirit." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-05.
12] Chapter 14-20, N.D.C.C., applies to determine parentage
in North Dakota. N.D.C.C. § 14-20-03. Section 14-20-04,
N.D.C.C., authorizes the district court to adjudicate
parentage under Chapter 14-20. Section 14-20-36, N.D.C.C.,
authorizes a civil proceeding to adjudicate the parentage of
13] An "acknowledged" father is defined as "a
man who has established a father-child relationship under
sections 14-20-11 through 14-20-24." N.D.C.C. §
14-20-02(1). Section 14-20-11, N.D.C.C., authorizes a mother
of a child and a man claiming to be the child's genetic
father to sign an acknowledgment of paternity with the intent
to establish the man's paternity. A valid acknowledgment
of paternity filed with the state health department is
equivalent to an adjudication of paternity and confers upon
the acknowledged father all of the rights and duties of a
parent. N.D.C.C. § 14-20-15. "If a child has an
acknowledged father..., an individual, other than the child,
who is neither a signatory to the acknowledgment of a
paternity... and who seeks an adjudication of paternity of
the child must commence a proceeding not later than two years
after the effective date of the acknowledgment[.]"
N.D.C.C. § 14-20-44(2).
14] Chapter 14-20, N.D.C.C., applies to determinations of
parentage. The district court found J.M. is an acknowledged
father. S.E.L. is attempting to challenge the acknowledged
paternity and to adjudicate his paternity, and the chapter
contains provisions governing this type of proceeding. We
conclude N.D.C.C. ch. 14-20 applies.
15] S.E.L. argues the district court erred in dismissing his