This opinion will be unpublished and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
In the Matter of the Child of: A. B., Mother.
Filed December 19, 2000
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J199063791
William E. McGee, Fourth District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)
Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Andrew J. Mitchell, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Health Services Building, 525 Portland Avenue, Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Children and Family Services Department)
Jonathan G. Steinberg, Chrastil & Steinberg, P.L.L.P., 1155 Grain Exchange-East Building, 412 South Fourth Street, P.O. Box 15085, Minneapolis, MN 55415-0085 (for respondent guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant A.B. challenges the termination of her parental rights to her child, C.B., contending the district court improperly (1) allowed the supervisor of the child-protection worker assigned to her case to testify; (2) admitted the opinion testimony of the supervisor and C.B.’s guardian ad litem; (3) terminated her parental rights absent clear and convincing evidence at the time of trial that she was an unfit parent; and (4) adopted verbatim the county’s proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. We affirm.
Initially, respondent argues that the evidentiary issues raised by appellant are not properly before this court because she filed her notice of appeal before a posttrial motion hearing was scheduled. We disagree.
The general rule is that
[M]atters such as trial procedure, evidentiary rulings and jury instructions are subject to appellate review only if there has been a motion for a new trial in which such matters have been assigned as error.
Sauter v. Wasemiller, 389 N.W.2d 200, 201 (Minn. 1986) (citation omitted). There is no requirement barring a party who has made a motion for a new trial from filing an appeal before receiving a ruling. Hackett v. State, Dep’t of Natural Resources, 502 N.W.2d 425, 426-27 (Minn. App. 1993) (“Because Sauter requires a party to make a motion for a new trial, but does not require an appeal from an order denying such a motion, timely appeal from the judgment on the merits will present all procedural errors preserved in the motion for a new trial * * *.”). Therefore, because a timely appeal was taken from the district court’s judgment, we may review the evidentiary issues raised in this appeal.
Shortly before trial, appellant’s child-protection worker had surgery that made it impossible for her to participate in the trial. Appellant contends the district court erred by permitting the county to present its case through the supervisor of the child-protection worker because the supervisor lacked firsthand knowledge of the worker’s relationship with C.B. We disagree.
The competence of a witness to testify on a particular matter is a question of fact peculiarly within the province of the trial judge, whose ruling will not be reversed unless it is based on an erroneous view of the law or clearly not justified by the evidence.
Cornfeldt v. Tongen, 262 N.W.2d 684, 692 (Minn. 1977) (citations omitted); In re Welfare of M.B.W., 364 N.W.2d 491, 494 (Minn. App. 1985). “A witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.” Minn. R. Evid. 602.
Here, the supervisor oversaw appellant’s child-protection caseworker, met with her on a weekly basis to discuss her cases, and took notes during these meetings. Thus, appellant’s contention that the supervisor was not as knowledgeable about her case as her child-protection worker goes to the weight of evidence, not its admissibility. We conclude there is sufficient evidence to support the district court’s determination that the supervisor was competent to testify at appellant’s termination hearing.
Appellant also argues that the opinion testimony of the supervisor and C.B.’s guardian ad litem should have been excluded. First, she contends that the supervisor did not have enough knowledge about her case to make a recommendation that she and C.B. should not be reunited. Second, she contends that the guardian ad litem’s opinion that C.B. should be put up for adoption should be disregarded because the guardian ad litem never observed appellant and C.B. together. We disagree.
A district court has broad discretion when deciding whether to admit opinion testimony. Sabasko v. Fletcher, 359 N.W.2d 339, 344 (Minn. App. 1984), review denied (Minn. Mar. 21, 1985). The opinions of a guardian ad litem or any lay witness are admissible if rationally based on their own perceptions and helpful to the determination of a fact in issue. Minn. R. Evid. 701; In re Welfare of R.T., 364 N.W.2d 884, 887 (Minn. App. 1985); see Minn. Stat. § 260C.193, subd. 2 (Supp. 1999) (providing that district court may consider the recommendation of a guardian ad litem in deciding a termination of parental rights case). Under rule 701, the emphasis is on “whether the witness personally knows what he or she is talking about and whether the testimony will be helpful to the jury.” State v. Post, 512 N.W.2d 99, 101 (Minn. 1994) (citation omitted). We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing both the supervisor and C.B.’s guardian ad litem to provide opinion testimony because their testimony was based on their own perceptions and helpful to the district court.
When a trial court’s findings in a termination case are challenged, appellate courts are limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.
In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). This court closely inquires into the sufficiency of evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing. In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998).
The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (Supp. 1999). While only one criterion needs to be proven to support termination, the “paramount consideration” in every termination case is the child’s best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (Supp. 1999). 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); Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8 (Supp. 1999).
Here, the district court found that: (1) appellant failed to correct the conditions leading to C.B.’s placement outside the home, Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5)(iii) (Supp. 1999); (2) appellant was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship, Id., subd. 1(b)(4) (Supp. 1999); (3) C.B. was neglected and in foster care, Id., subd. 1(b)(8) (Supp. 1999); (4) it would be in C.B.’s best interests to terminate appellant’s parental rights so that she might be freed for adoption, Id., subd. 7; and (5) the county used reasonable efforts to address the conditions that led to C.B.’s out-of-home placement and that those efforts failed, Id., subd. 1(b)(5) (Supp. 1999). All of these findings are supported by substantial evidence. But because we affirm the termination of appellant’s parental rights on the ground that she was palpably unfit, we need not address the specific evidence supporting each of the other four grounds. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (only one statutory ground required to terminate parental rights).
Section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(4), provides that
a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of a consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific 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.
Appellant argues that at the time of trial, she was no longer an unfit parent. We disagree.
While the evidence must address the conditions that exist at the time of the hearing, the district court may also make a prediction about a parent’s future ability to care for his or her child. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996). Here, the district court found that appellant was
palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of a consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific 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 completely for the ongoing physical or emotional needs of the child. Specifically, the mother suffers from conditions of chemical dependency and mental illness which directly relate to the parent-child relationship and are of a duration that will render the mother unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for C.B.
Based on the substantial evidence of appellant’s conduct leading up to the termination trial, the district court’s conclusion about her future ability to be a stable parent for C.B. was not clearly erroneous and addresses the criteria set forth in section 260C.301, subdivision 1(b)(4). Thus, the evidence was sufficient to support the district court’s termination decision based on the finding that appellant was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship.
Finally, appellant argues that the district court erred by adopting verbatim respondent county’s proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. We disagree.
We have rejected this argument in the past:
Although federal courts have firmly disapproved of this practice, no decision to our knowledge has held that verbatim adoption of a party’s proposed findings and conclusions is reversible error per se. Rather, the “clearly erroneous” standard remains the proper standard of review.
Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 408 N.W.2d 654, 657 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 1987). We have strongly cautioned that “wholesale adoption of one party’s findings and conclusions raises the question of whether the trial court independently evaluated each party’s testimony and evidence.” Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993). Although we have stated our preference that district courts independently formulate findings of fact and conclusions of law, we conclude that verbatim adoption of one party’s findings alone does not constitute reversible error. Here, based on all the evidence in the record supporting termination, including appellant’s admissions concerning her drug abuse and mental illness, we cannot conclude that the district court failed to evaluate the evidence independently.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.