This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare: D.N., Jr.
Filed June 20, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J19961426
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103 (for respondent)
Amy J. Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Julie K. Harris, Assistant County Attorney, C2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)
Jonathan G. Steinberg, 1155 Grain Exchange East, 412 South Fourth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent – Guardian Ad Litem)
William E. McGee, Fourth District Public Defender, Warren R. Sagstuen, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55401-0809 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
The district court terminated appellant V.R.’s parental rights to her infant son D.N., Jr., finding that she had refused to comply with the obligations of the parent-child relationship and that she was palpably unfit as a parent. We conclude that the district court’s findings (1) addressed the statutory criteria, (2) were supported by substantial evidence and (3) were not clearly erroneous. Accordingly, we affirm.
From 1994 to 1997, appellant participated in five chemical dependency treatment programs to deal with her alcohol and cocaine use, but either failed to complete those programs or relapsed. In June 1998, on the petition of the Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services (Hennepin County), the district court terminated appellant’s parental rights to three of her children. In January 1999, appellant became pregnant with another child, D.N., Jr. That infant is the subject of this appeal.
In May 1999, appellant tested positive for cocaine when receiving treatment at a hospital after a fall. She refused chemical dependency treatment services. On July 4, 33-weeks pregnant, her membranes ruptured and she was admitted to the same hospital. A week later, while still hospitalized, she went outside for a cigarette and immediately thereafter tested positive for cocaine. The hospital placed appellant on a medical hold, preventing her from leaving her room. On July 18, D.N., Jr. was born premature and he, too, tested positive for cocaine.
Hennepin County petitioned for termination of appellant’s parental rights to D.N., Jr. Pending the termination hearing, the district court granted Hennepin County interim custody of the child. Hennepin County offered appellant a case plan that would reunite her with her baby. The plan required (1) the completion of chemical dependency treatment and aftercare; (2) random urinalysis (UA) tests; (3) psychological and parenting assessments; (3) safe and stable housing; (4) visitation; (5) support group participation; and (6) maintenance of sobriety and drug-free status. Appellant reviewed the case plan, suggested no changes, and began to follow the plan by entering treatment.
Appellant completed the chemical dependency treatment component of her plan on August 12, 1999, but her discharge summary declared her prognosis to be “[f]air to poor, based on [her] inability to change her behavior significantly while in treatment and repeated treatment exposures.” Appellant left the aftercare program three weeks early, but claimed to have attended a chemical dependency support group on her own. Her attendance could not be verified. She did not cooperate in completing a psychological assessment. Appellant attended most, but not all, of the scheduled visits with the baby.
After she left treatment, Hennepin County offered appellant 23 UA tests duringAugust, September and October, 1999. Ten were negative, and ten were never produced. UAs not produced are treated as positive. The UAs given on August 23rd and 27th were thought to be diluted. The UA given on September 13th was cocaine-positive. The October 28th UA was alcohol-positive.
In mid-September, 1999, appellant attempted to find stable housing by moving to Hill City, Minnesota, where she camped until she rented a house and found a job. She did not inform her social worker of the move. Appellant asked Hennepin County to transfer her case to Aitkin County. Instead, the district court relieved Hennepin County from its duty to provide reasonable efforts to reunite appellant with D.N., Jr. and, following an evidentiary hearing, terminated appellant’s parental rights. Appellant challenges that ruling.
D E C I S I O N
“Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.” In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). There is a presumption that the natural parent is suitable to be entrusted with the care of his or her child. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980). The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221 (1998) (recodified, but not substantively altered, at Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 (Supp. 1999) by 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 4, § 1). While only one criterion needs to be proven to support termination, the “paramount consideration” is the child’s best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subds. 1(b), 4.
The party petitioning for termination must prove one or more of the statutory grounds by clear and convincing evidence. In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991). A district court must make “clear and specific” findings that conform to the statutory requirements. In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980). We determine, after close inquiry, whether the district court’s termination findings (1) address the statutory criteria; (2) are supported by substantial evidence; and (3) are clearly erroneous. M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.
The record supports termination based on appellant’s continuous refusal to comply with her parental duties. Under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2), a court may terminate a parent’s rights to a child if it finds that the parent has “substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected” parental duties, and the “parent is physically and financially able, and reasonable efforts by the social service agency have failed to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the [termination] petition.” Id. Termination under subdivision 1(b)(2) is appropriate “only if it reasonably appears that the condition of dependency or neglect will continue for a prolonged, indeterminate period.” In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 278 (Minn. 1986) (citation omitted).
The district court addressed the statutory criteria and found that appellant failed to cooperate with and complete her Hennepin County case plan to eliminate the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement of D.N., Jr. After reviewing the Hennepin County case plan appellant did not dispute any of the eight terms, but complied with only one -- completing chemical dependency treatment. Appellant did not (1) complete aftercare; (2) submit to all of the UA tests; (3) complete the psychological and parenting assessment; (4) establish and maintain safe, stable, drug-free housing; (5) appear for all the scheduled visits with D.N., Jr.; (6) attend support group meetings or (7) maintain sobriety and drug free status. Appellant does not dispute those findings. Instead, she argues that her recent effort to start anew by moving to Hill City is inconsistent with the district court’s finding that additional services would be futile and would not bring about lasting parental adjustment enabling the placement of her child with her in the foreseeable future. We disagree.
It is true that reliance should not be placed wholly on past history but on projected permanency of a parent’s inability to care for the child. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996). But when crediting a parent’s current circumstances, reviewing courts look for significant progress in fulfilling the requirements of an assigned case plan. See In re Welfare of M.H., 595 N.W.2d 223, 227 (Minn. App. 1999). A showing of merely some progress is insufficient. See In re Welfare of B.M., 383 N.W.2d 704, 708 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986); In re Welfare of J.K., 374 N.W.2d 463, 466 (Minn. App. 1985) (deciding that a mother’s claimed recent improvement in light of her whole “negative track record” was not enough to show the trial court clearly erred in finding her poor parenting would continue indefinitely).
There is substantial evidence to support the district court’s findings. The evidence suggests that there is no foreseeable end to appellant’s pattern of substantial and continuous neglect. At the time of the termination hearing, appellant had lived in Hill City for only one month, and her friends and family based their favorable testimony on limited contact with her during that time. The record is replete with evidence that appellant has been unwilling or unable to cooperate with professionally recommended treatment and has repeatedly relapsed after even months-long periods of sobriety.
We hold that the district court did not clearly err by finding that appellant has refused to comply with her parental duties, and that offering further services would not bring about her reunification with D.N., Jr. Those findings support the district court’s decision to terminate appellant’s parental rights.
The record also supports termination based on palpable unfitness. Under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subdivision 1(b)(4), the very nature of the parent’s condition may allow for termination. See In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978) (holding a parent’s chronic mental illness, which detrimentally affected the child, was a proper basis for termination). A finding of palpable unfitness is proper when there is a
pattern of specific conduct before the child or ofspecific conditions directly relating to the parent
and child relationship either of which are determined by the court to be of a
duration or nature that renders the parent unable, for the reasonably
foreseeable future, to care appropriately for
the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child.
Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4).
Chemical abuse, unstable relationships, and unstable housing up to the time of the termination hearing support a finding that a parent is statutorily “palpably unfit.” See, e.g., In re Welfare of C.K., 426 N.W.2d 842, 847 (Minn. 1988) (lack of chemical abuse rehabilitation); In re Welfare of S.R.A., 527 N.W.2d 835, 838-39 (Minn. App. 1995) (uncorrected chemical addiction, past domestic abuse, unstable relationships and housing), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1995); In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. App. 1992) (untreated drug abuse and incarceration).
The district court addressed the statutory criteria and found that appellant has achieved sobriety in the past but always resumed her cocaine abuse, continues to see a boyfriend who uses drugs (allegedly the baby’s father), and has a history of unstable housing. Appellant does not challenge those findings. Instead, appellant disputes the district court’s finding that her inability to care for D.N., Jr. will not change in the foreseeable future. Appellant again claims that her move to Hill City constitutes a substantial step toward recovery. Again, we disagree.
There is substantial evidence to support the district court’s findings. The record shows that appellant has demonstrated a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse and neglect, and has, since 1994, been unwilling or unable to cooperate with professionally recommended treatment. The evidence does not, as appellant contends, support the conclusion that her move to Hill City has allowed her to overcome her chemical dependency problems so that she is able to properly care for her infant son.
We hold that the district court did not clearly err by finding that appellant’s reunification with D.N., Jr. will not be possible in the foreseeable future. The findings of fact support the termination of appellant’s parental rights based on her palpable unfitness as a parent.