Court of Appeals: Sorry, you can't shave 7 years off your age

Man claimed he had an age identity that is inconsistent with his acutal age

By Minnesota Lawyer
BridgeTower Media Newswires
MINNEAPOLIS — You can’t change your official date of birth just because you don’t identify with your age cohort.

So says the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which recently shot down an unusual petition from an unidentified Minneapolis man who wanted to shave seven years off the birth date that is listed in state records.

In an unpublished opinion, In Re the Matter of the Application of: John Doe for a Change of Birthdate to April 10, 1976, the Court of Appeals panel said it was sympathetic to John Doe’s claim that severe mental health struggles during adolescence delayed his social development and left him with an “age identity” that is inconsistent with his actual age.

But the appeals court concluded that Minnesota Vital Records Act does not authorize the modification of a birth date record that is objectively accurate. In a footnote, the court rejected Doe’s analogy between his circumstance and that of transsexuals who, under Minnesota law, are permitted to have the gender designation on their birth records altered.

“Appellant cites no relevant authority, in any jurisdiction, to support his position, which we decline to adopt,” Judge Denise Reilly wrote.

The opinion affirms a ruling from Hennepin County District Court Judge Mel Dickstein.

In a written memorandum and order last summer, Dickstein was also sympathetic to Doe, saying that his mental health struggles were “real and his developmental delay has been the unfortunate result.”

But like the appeals court, Dickstein concluded there is no basis in Minnesota law for granting Doe’s request.

The petition was opposed by the Minnesota Department of Health, which weighed in as an amici and, because there was no opposing party at the district court, argued the case before the Court of Appeals panel.

In a brief, Assistant Attorney General Caitlin Micko wrote “to be sure, this is a matter of first impression in Minnesota.”

As a practical matter, Micko argued, authorizing such a change to a birth record would create a precedent that is “fraught with opportunity for misrepresentation and fraud” because law enforcement agencies rely on date of birth as a means of identification.

At hearing before Dickstein last summer, Doe insisted that his desire to change his date of birth was “absolutely not a vanity thing.” He said that his petition was inspired in part by the experiences of transsexual friends who successfully amended their birth records to reflect their gender identity.

“There’s like 50 times more in terms of understanding sexism and racism than ageism,” Doe told Dickstein.

Now 48, Doe explained that he “lost” most of his adolescence to an obsessive compulsive disorder which centered on a crippling fear that his parents would soon die, a fear he dealt with by repeating a ritualized prayer for their good health and prosperity.

Ultimately, Doe was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder and anxiety as a student at Stanford University, where he was successfully treated with a combination of cognitive therapy and drugs.
Two doctors submitted letters to the District Court in support of the petition.

Noting that Doe did not have sexual relations until a few years ago, his psychologist wrote that the man was “experiencing situations for the first time in his biological 40s” that most people go through as teenagers. Consequently, he felt “out of place in his current age cohort.”

The psychologist characterized the petition to change the birth date as “an attempt for him to be true to himself.”

“No, the petitioner does not want to be 25 again,” he wrote.

Kathryn Lammers, Doe’s attorney, said the ruling didn’t come as surprise to either her or her client.

“When we first talked about bringing the petition at the District Court, he was well aware of the odds. We were realistic about the obstacles we faced,” said Lammers, a partner at the Twin Cities firm Heimerl & Lammers. “What he was really looking for is an acknowledgment that this type of situation is real.”

“I think both courts did a good job of recognizing the humanity piece [of the petition] and not trivializing it,” she added. “It was an interesting case. He was a great guy to work with, a really cool individual.”

Lammers said she did not know yet whether Doe would seek further review from the Supreme Court.