This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Matter of the Children of:
Filed September 19, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J09871788
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Judith A. Harrigan, Assistant County Attorney, Health Services Building, 525 Portland Ave., Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County)
Jonathan Steinberg, 1155 Grain Exchange East Bldg., 412 South Fourth St., Minneapolis, MN 55415-0085 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
William McGee, Fourth District Public Defender, Warren R. Sagstuen, Assistant Public Defender, Hennepin County Public Defenders Office, 317 Second Ave. South, #200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-0809 (for appellants M.S. and J.S.)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
This appeal concerns termination of parental rights to two children, D.C., born November 26, 1994, and Z.S., born February 23, 1998. On appeal, parents M.S. and J.S. claim that the evidence is insufficient to support the termination of their parental rights for their (1) failure to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship; (2) palpable unfitness to be a party to the parent-child relationship; and (3) failure to correct the conditions leading to the CHIPS determination. Appellants also allege that the termination of their parental rights will not serve the children’s best interests. Because we conclude that the evidence supports the finding that appellants are palpably unfit to parent these children and that the best interests of the children supports termination of parental rights, we affirm.
The termination of a parent’s relationship with a child is a "grave matter," one over which an appellate court will exercise "‘great caution, * * * finding such action proper only when the evidence clearly mandates such a result in accordance with the statutory grounds.’" In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 647 (Minn. 1995) (quoting In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 835 (Minn. 1978)). On review, an appellate court must consider
whether the [trial] court’s "findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether those findings are clearly erroneous."
In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996) (quoting In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990)). The statutory bases applied by the trial court in termination proceedings must be supported by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 260.241, subd. 1 (1998); Minn. R. Juv. P. 59.05. Only one statutory basis for termination is necessary to support a trial court’s decision. See Minn. Stat. § 260.241, subd. 1.
Here, the trial court found three statutory bases to support its decision: (1) failure to comply with the duties of the parent-child relationship; (2) palpable unfitness to parent; and (3) failure to correct conditions leading to the initial CHIPS determination. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2), (4), (5) (1998). Although we conclude that the evidence properly supports all three of the court’s statutory bases for termination, we focus on appellants’ palpable unfitness to parent.
On November 17, 1998, appellants brought Z.S., then nearly nine months old, to the Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) where she was diagnosed with "badly torn ligaments consistent with the [left] leg being badly twisted, and a closed fracture of the femur above the knee." During her examination, it was also discovered that Z.S. had an older fracture of her right tibia, bruises on her back and her right knee, and a fever. Appellants gave three different accounts of the cause of Z.S.’s current leg injury: (1) the child slept wrong; (2) the child toppled over in an infant carrier; and (3) D.C., the child’s older sibling, inflicted the injury on the child when the two were unsupervised. Dr. James Miner, the examining physician, reported that the force required for Z.S.’s injury would require adult strength and "strongly doubted" that the injury could have occurred as appellants suggested. HCMC’s on-call physical maltreatment consultant, Dr. Marjorie Hogan, concluded that "the case is consistent with deliberately inflicted trauma" and discredited appellants’ account of the injury.
During the time that Z.S. was being treated at HCMC, D.C. attacked his mother, appellant M.S., hitting, kicking, and biting her until she sought the assistance of others to disengage him. In addition, the children’s father, appellant J.S., had to be escorted from the hospital by security after he "spewed profanity" and repeatedly hit himself in the head, threw Z.S.’s milk bottle across the examining room, and threatened to remove Z.S. from the hospital. The county intervened after this incident, and the children were removed from appellants’ home.
There are two issues relevant to appellants’ fitness to parent: concerns for the children’s safety and concerns over appellants’ mental health. Appellants claim that the record is inadequate to resolve the cause of Z.S.’s leg injury. But two doctors opined that only an adult could have caused the injury, and appellants admit that they were alone with Z.S. at the time of her injury. This evidence, coupled with the evidence of Z.S.’s other injuries and appellants’ inadequate and changing explanations for the injury, support the conclusion that appellants were responsible for Z.S.’s injury.
With respect to D.C., the record shows that appellant M.S. brought D.C. to HCMC in 1996 for a medical assessment of D.C.’s aggressive behavior. Although the examining psychologist suggested another appointment, M.S. never returned. A psychological evaluation was conducted on D.C. in 1999, and Dr. Ada Hegion concluded that "D.C. demonstrated characteristics consistent with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." In May 1999, D.C. had a psychotic episode immediately after being left unsupervised with appellants in a doctor’s waiting room. Although asked to do so, appellants declined to participate in D.C.’s therapy and did not seek information about his mental health. At the time of the termination proceedings, D.C.’s behavior had improved in all areas, which Dr. Hegion attributed to the change in his environment. Dr. Hegion also stressed that these changes would not continue upon his reunification with appellants because they would not be able to provide the proper care and environment for this special needs child.
The record further includes concerns over appellants’ mental health. Dr. Terry Nelson diagnosed J.S. as having obsessive-compulsive and narcissistic personality feature and diagnosed M.S. as having obsessive-compulsive personality disorder with narcissistic and histrionic personality features. He concluded that "[p]sychological treatment for them as individuals and as parents would be very difficult and with poor prognosis." Others who dealt with appellants noted their extreme passivity and co-dependence upon each other, to the detriment of the children.
On this record, we conclude that there is sufficient evidence to support the termination of appellants’ parental rights for palpable unfitness to parent. See A.D., 535 N.W.2d at 649 (palpable unfitness dependent on projected permanency of parent’s inability to parent); In re Welfare of A.L.F., 579 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. App. 1998) (egregious harm experienced by child’s sibling while in parent’s care sufficient grounds for terminating father’s parental rights to child); In re Welfare of D.D.K., 376 N.W.2d 717, 721 (Minn. App. 1985) (where parent of special needs child had poor prognosis for developing parenting skills and resisted rehabilitation, clear evidence existed of palpable unfitness).
The trial court finally concluded that the children’s best interests would be served by termination of parental rights. Z.S. suffered two unexplained broken bones in the first nine months of her life while residing with appellants, and she did not bond with them. D.C. is a special needs child who is thriving under the care of foster parents. Appellants are unable to meet his needs and D.C. also has not bonded with them. All professionals who dealt with this family, including the guardian ad litem, concluded that parental rights should be terminated. Under these circumstances, the trial court properly concluded that it is in the children’s best interests to terminate appellants’ parental rights.