This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C9-00-1541

 

In re the Child of:

B.J.C. and C.J.C.

 

 

Filed March 20, 2001

Reversed and remanded

Willis, Judge

 

Chisago County District Court

File No. JX0050199

 

Glen A. Boyce, Boyce Law Offices, 6349 Main Street, P.O. Box 277, North Branch, MN  55056 (for appellants B.J.C. and C.J.C.)

 

Alfred S. Alliegro, Chisago County Attorney, Janet A. Reiter, Assistant County Attorney, 313 North Main Street, Room 373, Center City, MN  55012 (for respondent)

 

Shellene Johnson, Guardian Ad Litem Services, Inc., P.O. Box 831, South Saint Paul, MN  55075 (guardian ad litem)

 

            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

WILLIS, Judge

Appellants B.J.C. and C.J.C. challenge the district court’s adjudication of their child, L.J.C., to be in need of protection or services pursuant to the child-protection provisions of the Juvenile Court Act.  Appellants argue that (1) the district court was biased against them, (2) the district court’s findings of fact were a mere summary of the testimony and exhibits introduced at trial and do not support the court’s conclusions of law, (3) there is no clear and convincing evidence that the parents lacked emotional or psychological stability and that the child has been the victim of domestic abuse, and (4) the district court erred in concluding that the child is in need of protection because of criminal activity in the home.  Because we conclude that the district court’s findings are inadequate, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

On March 28, 2000, the Chisago County Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition alleging that L.J.C., born June 13, 1999, was a child in need of protection or services.  The petition described (1) allegations by father that mother was suffering from mental illness related to postpartum depression, (2) allegations by mother that father was abusing and selling drugs and that he yelled at and threatened her, (3) a request by father that the Chisago County Attorney charge mother with deprivation of parental rights, and (4) allegations by each parent that the other was “physically abusive.”  The petition also mentioned police reports of 911 calls made from the family home, which noted that, in responding to these calls, police officers observed marijuana cigarettes in the home and smelled alcohol on father’s breath.

            In August 2000, the district court adjudicated L.J.C. to be a child in need of protection or services.  The district court placed the child under the protective supervision of the Chisago County Department of Health and Human Services in the family home on the conditions that “said placement remains in the best interests of the child” and that the parties comply with the protective-services plan adopted by the court.  The plan required (1) each parent to complete a psychological evaluation; (2) the parents to complete a parenting program together; (3) the parents to complete marriage counseling and follow the therapist’s recommendations; (4) father to complete a chemical-health program and follow treatment recommendations; (5) father to complete a domestic-violence program and follow program recommendations; (6) each parent to create a viable safety plan for the family on the basis of input from psychological evaluations, chemical health recommendations, parenting class, marriage counseling, and domestic violence classes; and (7) the parents to cooperate with the agency by meeting with an agency representative monthly.  This appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

1.         Bias

Appellants claim that the district court made statements during the trial indicating that it was biased in favor of the county.  Judges must be sensitive to the appearance of partiality and should take measures necessary “to assure that litigants have no cause to think their case is not being fairly judged.”  McClelland v. McClelland, 359 N.W.2d 7, 11 (Minn. 1984).  Canon 3(D) of Minnesota’s Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to disqualify him or herself from a proceeding “in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”  But appellate courts will not intervene based on a district court’s statements unless those statements were “‘prejudicial, biased or deprived plaintiffs of their right to a fair trial.’”  In re Welfare of D.J.N., 568 N.W.2d 170, 176 (Minn. App. 1997) (quoting Uselman v. Uselman, 464 N.W.2d 130, 139 (Minn. 1990)).  The parents argue that the district court was biased against them because at trial it expressed disappointment that a witness for the county had left her job and commented that “she is as kind and sensitive a human being as you will ever run into,” and that the court had “never known better.”  The parents also cite statements made by the district court that they were a “family replete with domestic violence” and that C.J.C.’s behavior was “outrageous to the extreme.”  We conclude that the statements of the district court cited by appellants do not show that the court was biased against them.

2.         Adequacy of findings

Appellants argue that (1) the district court’s findings do not constitute statutorily required findings of fact because they merely summarize testimony and exhibits and (2) these findings do not, therefore, support the disposition or the case plan ordered by the court.  A district court “has broad discretion in determining the disposition resulting from an adjudication that a child is in need of protection or services.”  In re Welfare of T.P., 492 N.W.2d 267, 268 (Minn. App. 1992).  The Juvenile Court Act provides:

The paramount consideration in all proceedings concerning a child alleged or found to be in need of protection or services is the health, safety, and best interests of the child.

 

Minn. Stat. ­§ 260C.001, subd. 2 (2000).  Any order for a disposition authorized under the Juvenile Court Act must contain “written findings of fact to support the disposition and case plan ordered” and must also set forth, in writing, the following dispositional findings:

(a)               Why the best interests and safety of the child are served by the disposition and case plan ordered;

 

(b)              What alternative dispositions or services under the case plan were considered by the court and why such dispositions or services were not appropriate in the instant case;

 

(c)              How the court’s disposition complies with the requirements of section 260C.193, subdivision 3; and

 

(d)       Whether reasonable efforts consistent with section 260.012 were made to prevent or eliminate the necessity of the child’s removal and to reunify the family after removal.

 

Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 2 (2000).  The parents argue that the district court’s findings are inadequate to support placing L.J.C. under the protective supervision of the Chisago County Department of Health and Human Services and requiring them to comply with the protective-services plan adopted by the court.

Almost all of the district court’s findings of fact merely summarize the testimony and exhibits presented at trial without making credibility and weight determinations regarding their substance.  When factual findings are required for a legal ruling, they must be affirmatively stated as findings of the district court. Dean v. Pelton, 437 N.W.2d 762, 764 (Minn. App. 1989) (noting that statements prefaced with phrases such as “petitioner claims,” “according to petitioner’s application,” and “respondent asserts” are not proper findings).  Here, the district court’s summaries of testimony and exhibits do not constitute findings of fact that support the disposition and case plan ordered, as required by section 260C.201.

In its dispositional findings, the district court determined that “[b]oth parents suffer from lack of emotional or psychological stability, and there have been instances where the child has been negatively affected” and cited “underlying issues, which create the disruptive atmosphere the child has endured.”  The court added that the child is “affected by the conduct or emotional or psychological state of the parents.”  But the court also noted that (1) “there is no apparent immediate harm to the child”; (2) the child’s current functioning and behaviors “do not appear to be immediately jeopardized by remaining in the care of her parents” because “the child has not been noticeably injured or neglected”; (3) the child’s history is “not known to have caused any lasting detrimental effects on the infant, and there does not appear to be immediate danger to the child’s well being”; and (4) the child’s relationship with her parents “is relatively positive and best preserved by allowing the bonding and interaction between the child” and her parents to continue.  The dispositional findings do not explain, as is required by section 260C.201, subdivision 2, why L.J.C.’s best interests and safety are served by putting her under the protective supervision of the Chisago County Department of Health and Human Services and requiring her parents to comply with the protective-services plan adopted by the court.

We conclude that the district court failed to explain why the health, safety, and best interests of L.J.C. are served by the disposition and case plan it ordered.  Because our ability to review the other claims made on appeal is hampered by the inadequacy of the district court’s findings, we reverse and remand for the findings required by section 260C.201.

Reversed and remanded.