This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Child of:
D. C., Mother.
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J599056732
Amy J. Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Donna J. Wolfson, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services)
John M. Jerabek, Candace Barr, Niemi, Barr & Jerabek, P.A., 510 Marquette Avenue, Suite 700, Minneapolis, MN 55402-1110 (for guardian ad litem)
William E. McGee, Fourth District Public Defender, Warren R. Sagstuen, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2700 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and† Shumaker, Judge.
Appellant challenges the termination of her parental rights to her infant child B.J., alleging that the evidence does not support the grounds on which the district court relied in ordering the termination.† Because the evidence is sufficient to support the courtís order, we affirm.
††††††††††† The day after appellant Denise Raglund-Coleman gave birth to her sixth child, B.J., the Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services (the county) filed a petition for the termination of Colemanís parental rights to B.J.† The county alleged that another of Colemanís children had experienced egregious harm in her care, that Coleman was palpably unfit to be a parent, and that termination of her parental rights to B.J. would be in the childís best interest.
††††††††††† The district court assumed immediate interim legal custody of B.J. and scheduled a hearing on the countyís petition.† Ultimately the matter went to full trial and the court made findings regarding Colemanís conduct and abilities as a parent.
††††††††††† Coleman moved to Minnesota from Missouri in 1990 with her husband.† In 1994, Coleman left her child J.C. in the care of a friend, Mrs. Adams, for five months.† Coleman visited the Adamsí house daily and detected nothing inappropriate about J.C.ís care.† On April 16, 1994, Mrs. Adams attempted to drown J.C., causing him serious injury.† Mrs. Adams was convicted of attempted murder.
††††††††††† After that incident, the county opened a child protection file and referred Coleman to the Parent Support Project so that she might learn to be a better parent and to protect her children from inappropriate care providers.† A mental health assessment of Coleman showed that she was in the borderline range in cognitive ability.† Coleman felt that she did not learn anything from the Parent Support Project and that she did not need such assistance.
††††††††††† Coleman and her husband divorced in 1995.† In 1998, Coleman and three of her children moved in with her sister-in-law, Marlette Acon.† In July 1998, Colemanís one-year-old son, H.J., suffered serious burn† injuries while in the care of Aconís 13-year-old son, S.C.† Medical personnel reported that the burns looked suspicious.† The county investigated but was not able to conclude that S.C. intentionally burned the child.† Nevertheless, a social worker and a police officer warned Coleman not to allow S.C. to care for H.J.† Coleman agreed.
††††††††††† Despite her agreement, Coleman left H.J. in S.C.ís care on October 20, 1998, while she and others went to pick up Aconís husband from work.† When Coleman returned, she found that H.J. was not breathing.† H.J. was pronounced dead at the hospital.† An investigation revealed that S.C. had killed H.J. by throwing him down a flight of stairs.† Coleman felt that it was safe to leave H.J. and her other children with S.C. because they were asleep and she was going to be away for only a short time.
††††††††††† In October 1998, the county filed a CHIPS petition respecting the two other children living with Coleman, M.J. and J.C.† In April 1999, Coleman voluntarily transferred legal custody of the children to her mother.
††††††††††† During the pendency of the CHIPS petition, the county referred Coleman for a psychological evaluation.† Although she attended three sessions with a psychologist, she did not return for additional sessions necessary to complete the evaluation.† After B.J.ís birth, the county requested that Coleman complete the psychological evaluation.† She agreed, kept one appointment, came 40 minutes late to the next, and failed to keep a third appointment.† She indicated that she had decided to be evaluated by someone else, but she never sought further evaluation.
††††††††††† In July 1999, Coleman became involved in a parenting service on her own but she attended only half the parenting classes and she failed to attend any of the ongoing sessions of the parenting support group.
††††††††††† As an explanation for her failure to follow recommendations, Coleman complained that she was distracted by relationship and housing problems, and that the psychological evaluations provided by the county did not deal with ďrace and culture issues.Ē† The parenting service referred her to two African American women psychologists but Coleman failed to follow through with them.
††††††††††† Various experts expressed doubt that Coleman could parent B.J. and keep him safe.† The guardian ad litem concluded that it was in B.J.ís best interests that Colemanís parental rights be terminated.† Additionally, when Coleman was allowed twice-a-week visits with B.J., she missed three and cancelled two visits and then did not visit at all because she sustained an injury that prevented her from visiting.
††††††††††† The district court concluded that clear and convincing evidence showed that Coleman was palpably unfit to be B.J.ís parent, that H.J. had experienced egregious harm in Colemanís care, and that the best interests of B.J. required that Colemanís parental rights be terminated.† The court ordered the termination and Coleman appealed.
D E C I S I O N
Our review of a termination of parental rights is limited to determining whether the trial courtís findings address the relevant statutory criteria, whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether the findings are clearly erroneous.† In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).† The trial court must find that the termination of parental rights order is supported by clear and convincing evidence.† Minn. R. Juv. P. 59.05 (1998).
The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.† See Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1 (Supp. 1999).† While only one criterion needs to be proven to support termination, the ďparamount considerationĒ in every termination case is the childís best interests.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subds. 1(b), 7.† The party petitioning for termination must prove by clear and convincing evidence that one or more of the statutory grounds exist.† 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); Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 8.† The childís best interests are ďthe paramount consideration in every termination case.Ē† M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375; Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7.
The district court terminated Colemanís parental rights, finding her palpably unfit and finding that a child had suffered egregious harm while within her parental care.† A juvenile court may terminate a parentís rights upon a finding that
a child has experienced egregious harm in the parentís care which is of a nature, duration, or chronicity that indicates a lack of regard for the childís well-being, such that a reasonable person would believe it contrary to the best interest of the child or of any child to be in the parentís care.
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6).† The court addressed the statutory criteria and indicated:
[s]pecifically, within months of having been told, and having agreed, that S.C. should not provide care for [H.J.], Ms. Coleman left [H.J.] in circumstances that directly led to his death at the hands of S.C.
We agree that Colemanís conduct in this respect fit the definition of egregious harm.
ďEgregious harmĒ means the infliction of bodily harm to a child or neglect of a child which demonstrates a grossly inadequate ability to provide minimally adequate parental care.
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.007, subd. 26 (Supp. 1999).† ďEgregious harmĒ includes
conduct towards a child that constitutes felony neglect or endangerment of a child under section 609.378.†
Minn. Stat. ß 260C.007, subd. 26(5) (Supp. 1999).† Minn. Stat. ß 609.378, subd. 1(b), provides a criminal penalty for a parent who endangers a child by
(1) intentionally or recklessly causing or permitting a child to be placed in a situation likely to substantially harm the childís physical, mental, or emotional health or cause the childís death * * * .
Minn. Stat. ß 609.378, subd. 1(b)(1) (Supp. 1997).† Coleman agreed with child protection that she should not leave H.J. in the care of S.C. again.† She also admitted that she knew, after H.J. was burned, that she should not leave them alone together.† The evidence adequately supports the courtís factual finding that
Ms. Coleman told the child protection worker that she wholeheartedly agreed and promised never to let S.C. care for [H.J.] again.
Just over three months later, however, on October 20, 1998, [H.J.] was again left in the home with S.C. * * * [Coleman left to] pick up [Aconís husband] from work and pick up some food.
††††††††††† * * *
††††††††††† Coleman further admitted that there was no emergency situation which had required her to leave [H.J.] without any adult supervision * * *.
Coleman acknowledged that while she was away from the home, [H.J.] died of violence at the hands of S.C.† She acknowledged that she knew she shouldnít have left [H.J.] with S.C.
There is adequate evidentiary support for the trial courtís legal conclusion that H.J.†
experienced egregious harm in the parentís care which is of a nature, duration, or chronicity that indicates a lack of regard for the childís well-being, such that a reasonable person would believe it contrary to the best interests of any child to be in the parentís care.† Specifically, within months of having been told, and having agreed, that S.C. should not provide care for [H.J.], Ms. Coleman left [H.J.] in circumstances that directly led to his death at the hands of S.C.
Accordingly, we hold that the county did present sufficient evidence to support the courtís finding that a child had suffered egregious harm.† Nevertheless, we must consider whether the record shows that termination is in the childís best interests.† See In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 74-75 (Minn. App. 1996); Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7 (ďwhere the interests of parent and child conflict, the interests of the child are paramount.Ē).
An order for termination of parental rights must explain the district courtís rationale for concluding that termination is in the childís best interests.† In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 110 (Minn. App. 1996).† In analyzing the best interest of the child, the court must balance the childís interests in preserving the parent-child relationship, the parentís interest in preserving the parent-child relationship, and any competing interest of the child, such as stable environment, health considerations and the childís preferences.† In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992).
The district court concluded that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of B.J., relying, in part, on testimony from B.J.ís guardian ad litem, whose testimony the court credited.† The guardian testified that it was in B.J.ís best interest that the parental rights be terminated.† His opinion was based in part on problems Colemanís other children were having as a result of inadequate parenting.† In addition, Colemanís child protection social worker testified that the
parental rights need to be terminated.† He cannot live in limbo in foster care while we, you know, continue over and over to engage his mother in services.† The child deserves permanency which he does not have.
The court found that other children of Coleman are dysfunctional as a result of Colemanís inability to give parental care, that Coleman had not gone to visit B.J. for an extended period, and that B.J. needed to be freed for adoption.††
We find no error in the district courtís determination that termination of Colemanís parental rights was in B.J.ís best interests.† Having found the courtís termination of parental rights valid based on egregious harm, we need not consider whether Colemanís acts after the death of her child should be considered in determining whether she was palpably unfit as a parent.