This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).







In the Matter of the Welfare of: 

J. R. L., Child.



Filed October 3, 2000

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded

Halbrooks, Judge


Cottonwood County District Court

File No. J49950159



John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann Winking, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and


David P. Honan, Cottonwood County Attorney, 1011 4th Street, Windom, MN 56101 (for respondent)



            Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            This appeal stems from a disposition order approving out-of-home placement following adjudication of delinquency for third-degree burglary and felony theft.  Appellant J.R.L. challenges the order, arguing that the disposition is unsupported by the record or adequate written findings.  We affirm the district court’s adjudication, but reverse the disposition and remand for additional findings.


            This case arises out of three separate court files.  Appellant was charged with (1) arson in the fifth degree that was alleged to have occurred on or about September 27, 1999; (2) habitual truancy on November 23, 1999; and (3) 12 counts arising out of the theft of two pickup trucks on the night of November 25, 1999, including burglary in the third degree, two counts of tampering with a motor vehicle, and felony theft of a motor vehicle. 

            Pursuant to a plea agreement, on December 17, 1999, appellant admitted he committed third-degree burglary (a felony) and felony theft of a motor vehicle.  All other charges were dismissed.  The disposition hearing was held on January 3, 2000.  At the hearing, counsel for appellant conceded that an out-of-home placement was necessary.  But appellant’s counsel requested placement in the Chain of Lakes Juvenile Resource Program in Fairmont rather than the Woodfield Treatment Center in Beresford, South Dakota.  Appellant’s chief concern was that Woodfield Center is too distant to permit his mother’s involvement in his treatment.  At the close of the hearing, the court adjudicated appellant delinquent, and placed him on probation for an indefinite period of time subject to several conditions, including a requirement that he be placed at a residential facility. 

            The court transferred appellant into the custody of the Cottonwood County Family Service Agency for placement, and approved placement at the Woodfield Center by order dated January 6, 2000.  On January 28, 2000, appellant and his mother signed and acknowledged their responsibilities for compliance with the out-of-home placement.  In addition, appellant’s mother received assurances that transportation necessary to further the plan’s objectives at Woodfield Center would be provided.  This appeal, challenging appellant’s placement, follows. 



            Respondent disputes that the court of appeals is the proper forum for this appeal, contending that a hearing before the district court, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 5(b) (Supp. 1999), is the proper means of challenging a particular placement location.  Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 5(b) provides that

The court shall review the case plan and, upon approving it, incorporate it into its disposition order.  The court may review and modify the terms of the case plan as appropriate.  A party has a right to request a court review of the reasonableness of the case plan upon a showing of a substantial change of circumstances.


Appellant does not make any claim that there has been a “substantial change of circumstances” since the disposition.  Rather, while conceding that out-of-home placement is appropriate, appellant believes that a facility closer to appellant’s home is more appropriate.  Under these circumstances, Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 5(b), does not mandate review in the district court.  Therefore, respondent’s forum argument is without merit.


            Appellant challenges the district court’s placement in a facility in South Dakota by arguing that the court merely adopted the recommendation of the county agency and court services, without providing adequate written findings to support its decision.  “Trial courts have broad discretion to order dispositions authorized by statute in delinquency cases.”  In re Welfare of M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d 494, 498 (Minn. App. 1990).  The trial court’s broad discretion in delinquency dispositions will be affirmed “so long as the trial court determination is not arbitrary.”  In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 397 (Minn. App. 1985).  Dispositional findings serve three important purposes:  (1) to guarantee that trial courts consider vital standards; (2) to enable parties to understand the court’s decision; and (3) to permit meaningful appellate review.  Id. at 400-01 (citations omitted).  “Because the findings serve these important purposes, it is reversible error to omit them.”  Id. at 401. 

            In this case, the record contains support for the district court’s decision.  For example, LeAnn Baumann, social worker from Cottonwood County Family Service Agency, recommended Woodfield Center in her December 30, 1999 letter to the court as “the most appropriate placement” for appellant.  She indicated that the structured environment would address appellant’s emotional and behavioral difficulties that impair his functioning in a community setting.  She further noted that Woodfield Center provides family aftercare following discharge from treatment. 

            Elaine Lolkus, probation agent, also recommended Woodfield Treatment Center in her January 3, 2000 letter to the court.  Lolkus discussed appellant’s previous experiences with treatment while on probation, concluding that they were unsuccessful due to excessive absenteeism, out-of-control behavior, and a need for a more structured residential environment.  She opined that a more structured environment would address appellant’s behavioral and emotional needs. 

            At the January 3, 2000 disposition hearing, both appellant’s mother and his attorney acknowledged the need for out-of-home placement.  But they requested placement in Chain of Lakes, a treatment facility closer to appellant’s home that they argue offers a program that is comparable to Woodfield’s.

            The district court concluded that informal diversion or probation to the parent or corrections agent would not be appropriate because such plans have been previously tried without success or are insufficient to meet appellant’s needs.  The court found that appellant’s placement in a residential facility is the least restrictive alternative.  With respect to placement at a specific facility, the district court’s order states:

[T]he Court leaves the actual placement location to the people that work with these agencies; namely, the Family Service Agency and Court Services.  That the Court okays the placement at the Woodfield Center.


            Following the disposition hearing, Cottonwood County Family Service Agency prepared appellant’s case plan.  The plan concluded that previous efforts failed due to appellant’s “uncooperative attitude” and that out-of-home placement at Woodfield is in appellant’s best interests

because it will best be able to meet his emotional and behavioral needs and teach him the necessary skills to be a responsible, productive member of society.


            Respondent argues that non-written findings and other evidence presented at a disposition hearing, such as that outlined above, may substitute for written findings.  Respondent cites to a recent decision by this court, In re Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d 692, 696 (Minn. App. 1999), review granted (Minn. Sept. 28, 1999), and appeal dismissed (Minn. Feb. 15, 2000), contending that it stands for the proposition that a juvenile court’s findings on the record and explanation of reasons for a particular disposition may augment the court’s statutorily required written findings.  This is an incorrect reading of the case.  In J.L.Y., the disposition order consisted of a preprinted form that was completed, and stated that the findings supporting the disposition were “contained in the transcript of these proceedings and incorporated herewith.”  Id. at 694.  Contrary to respondent’s above contention, the court held that the juvenile court “must * * * make written findings of fact in support of the disposition chosen.”  Id. at 696.  The court went on to state that:

            We acknowledge the administrative efficiency of [incorporating the entire transcript record into the disposition] and that in many cases the sound reasons for the disposition ordered are on the record, but incorporating the entire transcript into the order does not satisfy the written-findings requirement


Id. (emphasis added); see also L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 401 (findings that neither “comply with the letter or the spirit of the controlling statute and rule” are insufficient). 

            This court has recently reaffirmed what is required in a juvenile court disposition involving an out-of-home placement:

            Under the combined provisions of the juvenile code and Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A), a juvenile court disposition that removes a child from [his] home must be supported by findings that address five subjects:


(1.)      Why public safety is served by the disposition.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(1).


(2.)      Why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition.  Id.; Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1(i)(5)(a) (Supp. 1997).[1]


(3.)      What alternative dispositions were proposed to the court and why such recommendations were not ordered.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(2); Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1(i)(5)(b) (Supp. 1997).[2]


(4.)      Why the child’s present custody is unacceptable.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(3)(a) (“the reasons why public safety and the best interest of the child are not served by preserving the child’s present custody”); see In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 399-400 (Minn. App. 1985) (reviewing preference under Minnesota law against removal of child from present custody).


(5.)      How the correctional placement meets the child’s needs.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(3)(b) (“suitability of the placement, taking into account the program of the placement facility and assessment of the child’s actual needs”).


In re Welfare of C.A.W. and L.R.M.B., 579 N.W.2d 494, 497-98 (Minn. App. 1998) (numbering added).[3] 

Here, there are no written findings specifically addressing the issue of appellant’s relationship/threat to public safety.  The district court did not explain how appellant’s best interests would be served by an out-of-home placement, nor did it articulate any specific interests that would be served by appellant’s placement at Woodfield Center as opposed to Chain of Lakes.  As discussed above, there is a letter from LeAnne Baumann of Cottonwood County Family Services and a placement plan which briefly address this issue and touch on others.  However, these documents do not satisfy the district court’s obligation to make written findings. 

            We affirm the adjudication.  But the district court’s written findings are insufficient to support the specific placement of appellant.  Therefore, the district court’s disposition is reversed and remanded for written findings consistent with this opinion. 

            Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


[1]  Re-codified as Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(m)(1) (Supp. 1999). 

[2]  Re-codified as Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(m)(2) (Supp. 1999). 

[3]  Effective August 1, 1999, Minn. Stat. § 260.185 was re-codified as Minn. Stat. § 260B.198.  This re-codification left the pre-existing laws essentially unchanged:


The legislature intends this act to be a clarification and reorganization of laws relating to juvenile delinquency and child protection in Minnesota Statutes, chapters 257 and 260.  The changes that have been made are not intended to alter those laws and shall not be construed by a court or other authority to alter them. 


1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 4, § 1.