This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







In the Matter of the Welfare of:

A.J.S., C.A.S., A.R.S., A.P.S., C.A.S., and A.C.S.,



Filed August 28, 2001


Willis, Judge


Winona County District Court

File No. J90050499



Steven K. Murakami, Bagniefski & Murakami, PLLP, 9 First Street Northwest, P.O. Box 6, Rochester, MN  55903 (for appellants K.S. and L.S.)


 Charles MacLean, Winona County Attorney, Susan E. Cooper, Assistant County Attorney, 171 West Third Street, Winona, MN  55987 (for respondent County)


Thomas E. Gort, Bernatz & Gort, LLC, The Choate Building, 53 East Third Street, Suite 303, Winona, MN  55987 (for guardian ad litem)


            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellants challenge the termination of their parental rights, alleging that the district court erred by concluding that (1) they were palpably unfit to be parties to the parent-child relationship, (2) they failed to comply with the duties imposed on them by the parent-child relationship, (3) they failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s out-of-home placement, (4) their children were neglected and in foster care, and (5) termination was in the children’s best interests.  Because the district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous and are supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.


Appellants L.S. and K.S. are the parents of 12 children, five of whom have been in foster care for approximately two years.[1]  In June 1999, appellants’ neighbor called the Winona Police Department to report that one of appellants’ children, C.A.S., then two years old, was found unattended and wandering the street wearing only diapers.  The child was dirty and covered with fleabites.  Because the police were unable to locate appellants, they contacted the county human-services department, which placed C.A.S. in foster care.  Later that afternoon, police officers went to appellants’ home to remove the remaining minor children and place them in the county’s custody. 

            In October 1999, the district court adjudicated A.J.S., C.A.S., A.R.S., A.P.S., C.A.S., and A.C.S. as children in need of protection or services (CHIPS) after determining that (1) L.S. was a perpetrator of child abuse, (2) appellants did not adequately supervise their children, (3) appellants’ residence was unsanitary, (4) appellants failed to provide medical and dental care for their children, (5) appellants failed to meet their children’s educational needs, and (6) the family had a lengthy history of involvement with both the police department and human-services department.

            In a November 1999 dispositional order, the district court determined that it was not in the children’s best interests to be reunited with appellants until improvements were made.  The order described a dispositional plan, which included the following provisions:  (1) appellants were ordered to undergo psychological evaluations and engage in any recommended therapy; (2) L.S. was ordered to successfully complete a counseling program for “abusive males” and take part in “any recommended family and/or individual therapy” programs; (3) appellants were ordered to maintain their residence in a “healthy manner” and wash all clothes and dishes properly; (4) appellants were ordered to provide the necessary information and sign all necessary releases to enable the human-services department to conduct planning and implementation of the order; (5) appellants were ordered to cooperate with the children’s schools by keeping all immunizations current, making certain that the children arrived on time and attended every day unless they were ill, dressing the children properly for school and the weather, and attending any meeting or conference requested by school personnel; and (6) because appellants did not have medical insurance, they were ordered to “provide verification of any applications for Medical Assistance, Minnesota Care, or other insurance coverage,” provide verification of living expenses and income, and cooperate with a financial advisor. 

In July 2000, the Winona County Department of Human Services filed a petition under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301(1) (2000) to terminate appellants’ parental rights, arguing that appellants had failed to abide by the dispositional plan.  The district court terminated appellants’ parental rights to 6 of their 12 children, concluding that the statutory grounds alleged by the county in its petition had been proved by clear and convincing evidence and that it was in the children’s best interests that appellants’ parental rights be terminated.  This appeal follows.


Appellants argue that the district court erred in terminating their parental rights because the record lacked “sufficient evidence to clearly and convincingly show” that termination was appropriate.  “Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.”  In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990). 

            The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2000).  The party petitioning for termination has the burden of proving 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).  This burden is subject to the presumption that the natural parents are suitable to be entrusted with the care of their children and that it is in the children’s best interests to be in their natural parents’ care.  In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980).  Here, the county-petitioner alleged four statutory grounds on which the district court could terminate appellants’ parental rights.  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).

            Reviewing courts determine whether (1) the district court’s termination findings address the statutory criteria, (2) the findings are supported by substantial evidence, and (3) the findings are clearly erroneous.  M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.  Whether the district court’s findings are supported by substantial evidence is determined in light of the fact that “the burden of proof in the district court is ‘clear and convincing’ evidence.”  In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 108 (Minn. App. 1996) (citation omitted).  Similarly, whether the district court’s findings are clearly erroneous is also determined in light of the clear-and-convincing evidentiary burden placed on the party petitioning to terminate parental rights.  See In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 650 (Minn. 1995) (holding the district court’s conclusion that “the county established by clear and convincing evidence the necessary criteria [to terminate parental rights] was not clearly erroneous”); see generally D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d at 107-08 (discussing “substantial evidence” and “clearly erroneous” prongs of standard of review in termination-of-parental-rights cases).  In making these determinations, although some deference is given to the district court’s findings, a reviewing court exercises great caution and closely inquires into the sufficiency of the evidence when determining whether it is clear and convincing.  See In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn. App. 1987).

Appellants contend that the district court erred in concluding that appellants are palpably unfit to be parties to the parent-child relationship.  The district court may terminate parental rights if it finds 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.


Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).

The district court found that “it is almost impossible for” K.S. to become an adequate parent.  The court based this finding on the testimony of Dr. William Friedrich, a psychologist, who testified that (1) K.S. suffers from a mixed-personality disorder, which makes it difficult for her to manage children with behavioral problems,[2] (2) her disorder is very difficult to treat, (3) she constantly blames others for her problems, (4) she has no “honest concern for her children” and lacks empathy for others, (5) she has “low average intellectual abilities” and has a decreased ability to make changes in her personality, (6) she exhibits antisocial, aggressive, and paranoid behavior, (7) she is only able to spend 90 seconds at a time of “sustained positive interaction” with her children, (8) neglect is her “primary mode of operation with her children,” (9) she is immature and has problems with intimacy, (10) he saw no willingness on her part to change the “negative and hostile” relationship she has with her children, and (11) the likelihood of her changing is “incredibly remote” and “not likely to occur.”

Dr. Friedrich also testified that L.S. (1) has low average intelligence, (2) has a mixed-personality disorder and exhibits antisocial and paranoid behavior, (3) has an impaired ability to understand his emotions and thoughts, (4) constantly blames others for his problems, (5) is “more prone to assaultive” and “explosive behavior” toward the children than is K.S., and (6) has no motivation to change because he feels that he is not responsible for his problems or his family’s problems.

            The district court’s findings regarding appellants are not clearly erroneous, and there is ample evidence in the record to show that appellants are “unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing needs” of their children.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4); In re Welfare of J.D.L., 522 N.W.2d 364, 368 (Minn. App. 1994) (affirming termination of parental rights where parent had inadequate parenting skills and psychological evaluation showed lack of motivation to parent); In re Welfare of D.I., 413 N.W.2d 560, 565 (Minn. App. 1987) (noting expert testimony by psychologist that parent’s “combined disabilities precluded her from being able to learn to parent.”); see also In re Welfare of M.A., 408 N.W.2d 227, 233 (Minn. App. 1987) (affirming termination of parental rights where parent lacked maturity and parenting skills and child had serious emotional and behavioral difficulties), review denied (Minn. Sept. 18, 1987).  We conclude that the district court did not clearly err in finding that the county proved by clear and convincing evidence that appellants are palpably unfit to be parties to the parent-child relationship.

The district court also found that it was in the children’s best interests to terminate appellants’ parental rights.  While only one of the statutory criteria needs to be proved by a petitioner to support termination, the “paramount consideration” in every termination case is the child’s best interests.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2000). 

Appellants’ contentions that they were meeting the children’s needs while the children were in their care and that appellants have made “reasonable progress” are not supported by the evidence.  The testimony of the foster parents, school officials, and county social workers and counselors shows that, since they have been in foster care, the children have made substantial improvements in school performance, their personalities have changed drastically for the better, and their medical and dental needs are being met.  The record also shows that, while in foster care, A.C.S. was “clean and well dressed” but since being returned to appellants she is usually dressed in dirty clothes and her behavior is deteriorating.  The district court’s findings are not clearly erroneous; there is substantial evidence in the record to show that it is in the children’s best interests to terminate appellants’ parental rights.

Because we find ample evidence to sustain the district court’s decision to terminate appellants’ parental rights under section 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), and because such termination is in the children’s best interests, we need not address the other statutory grounds for termination that the district court found were proved by the county.[3]  See In re Welfare of R.M.M., 316 N.W.2d 538, 541 (Minn. 1982) (noting that “court need find the existence of only one of the statutory conditions in order to terminate parental rights”).


[1] The youngest child, A.C.S., was in foster care briefly but was later returned to her parents.  The order terminating parental rights also applies to A.C.S.

[2] A.J.S. and C.A.S. qualified for special-education services for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children.  The school principal and the county described both children as “selectively mute,” meaning that the children would not communicate with the school staff or their peers, but they would occasionally whisper “maybe one word” to an educational assistant or teacher.

[3] We note, however, that the record contains substantial evidence to support termination on all statutory grounds advanced by the county.