This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:† D.W. and R.W., III, Children.
St. Louis County District Court
File No. J299651765
Mark C. Jennings, 309 Board of Trade Building, Duluth, MN 55801 (for appellant father)
Carolyn S. Stoehr, 1000 Torrey Building, 314 West Superior Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for appellant mother)
Alan L. Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, Joanne Vavrosky, Assistant County Attorney, 403 Government Services Center, 320 West 2nd Street, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent St. Louis County Social Services)
John Fillenworth, 301 West 1st Street, Suite 309, Duluth, MN 55802 (guardian ad litem)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N
††††††††††† Appellantsí consolidated appeals challenge the district courtís decision terminating motherís and fatherís parental rights.† We affirm.†
When a [district] courtís 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 it 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. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2000).† While only one criterion needs to be proven to support termination, the ďparamount considerationĒ in every termination case is the childís best interests.† Id., subds. 1(b), 7 (2000).† 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).† And 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).†
A district court may terminate parental rights when:† (1) a pattern of conduct or certain conditions ďrenders [a] parent unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the [childrenís] ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs,Ē Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2000); or (2) a parent has failed to correct conditions that led to the childrenís placement outside the home as evidenced by ďa showing that the parent [has] not substantially complied withĒ the case plan despite reasonable efforts by the county, Id., subd. 1(b)(5)(iii) (2000).† Here, the district court found that both of these grounds for termination existed for both parents.†
Appellant mother contends the district court erred in finding she was palpably unfit to parent because (1) the court impermissibly considered appellantís past conduct; (2) most of the courtís findings relate to A.W., a child for whom motherís parental rights were not terminated; (3) the findings were speculative; (4) the court failed to demonstrate a causal link between motherís behaviors and harm to the children; and (5) the county failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite her with her children.† We disagree.
While the court must consider the parentís present ability to care for the child, see Chosa, 290 N.W.2d at 769 (requiring contemporaneous findings), there is no authority for the proposition that this renders the parentís past conduct irrelevant.† To the contrary, statutory factors explicitly require the court to examine past conduct.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (court considers duration and nature of pattern of conduct or conditions).† Moreover, 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 parentís future ability to care for his or her child.† See In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893-94 (Minn. 1996) (finding the projected duration of appellantís illness would result in the permanent inability to parent).†
We reject appellant motherís argument that the district courtís order was inconsistent because her rights to parent A.W. were not terminated while her rights to parent the other children were.† We find no inconsistency.† Because A.W.ís biological father assumed custody, an action to terminate appellant motherís rights was not brought.† Here, the childrenís father was unable to assume custody.
Appellant mother contends the district courtís findings are inadequate and do not support a conclusion of palpable unfitness.† We disagree.† The district court found that appellantís apartment, with brief exceptions, was chaotic and messy.† Evidence from the social worker indicated that there were piles of clothes and food on the floor, strong odors of cat urine, and various persons staying at the apartment.† Even mother and father testified that the apartment was oftentimes messy.† Moreover, mother was unable to establish regular morning, nighttime, and meal schedules, and she constantly fought with father in the childrenís presence.† An Intensive Family Based Services (IFBS) report stated that father reported that mother had pulled out some of his hair during one violent episode.† Soon thereafter, A.W. pulled out some of D.W.ís hair during a disagreement.† The district court noted the negative behaviors of the children just after their removal from the apartment (destroying property, tantrums, irregular sleep patterns) and subsequent improvements (no property destruction, D.W. sleeping normally).†
Moreover, the record reflects that mother takes medication for her mental health, but does not take it regularly as prescribed.† Both the IFBS report and psychologistís evaluation document motherís anger problem, inability to take responsibility for the current situation, lack of insight as to how her behaviors negatively affect the children, externalization of blame, and inability to put her childrenís needs before her own as exemplified by her decision to not call or visit the children because it would be ďtoo hard.Ē
We reject motherís contention that the county failed to provide reasonable efforts to reunite her with her children.† Mother was offered a variety of interventions from IFBS, early childhood family education, respite care, parenting classes, encouragement to attend therapy, a rule 25 assessment, and transportation to visit her children.† Mother failed to comply with directives to attend therapy regularly, ignored suggestions she attend a momís group or receive respite care.† She missed visitation, and as noted, eventually stopped visitations completely.† At the time of termination mother was recently evicted from her apartment.† We conclude that despite reasonable efforts by the county, mother failed to significantly comply with her case plan for reunification.† See In re Welfare of B.M., 383 N.W.2d 704, 708 (Minn. App. 1986) (holding that when crediting parentís current situation, showing of merely some progress is insufficient), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986).† Mother continues to live in a constant state of stress, tension, and chaos, and her noncompliance and refusal of assistance supports the district courtís finding that this pattern of conduct renders mother unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to appropriately care for her children.
Appellant father contends that the district courtís findings were insufficient to support a finding of palpable unfitness because less than three months passed between the time he was formally adjudicated the father of the children and the termination of his parental rights.† He argues that time was not sufficient to determine his fitness as a parent, and it was improper for the district court to suspend his visitation rights until his formal adjudication.† He also claims the county did not provide reasonable efforts to reunite him with his children.† We disagree.†
The record details the countyís involvement with the family, and indicates that a social worker has been working with the family, including father, since 1996.† Specifically father was offered a rule 25 assessment and provided encouragement to attend therapy and parenting classes.† In addition, following his adjudication, visitation was facilitated by the county.† The county also offered IFBS to the family in 1999 while father resided in the home, but those services were terminated due to the chaotic home environment.† We conclude that on these facts the efforts of the county were reasonable.†
Despite the countyís efforts, an IFBS report noted that the parents needed to build better communication skills with each other and establish regular morning, meal, and nighttime schedules for themselves before they would be able to provide the same for their children.† The social worker and father himself testified that the relationship between father and mother was unhealthy.† The two fought continuously regarding household chores, caring for the children, and finances.† The social worker testified that the addition of the two children only added to the stress and tension in the household.††
While no formal plan was written and signed by father until less than three months before the district court terminated his parental rights, the social worker testified that the goals for father have remained consistent since 1996.† Moreover, when mother refused visitation until fatherís formal adjudication, he was unable to stabilize his situation despite the fact that he was not responsible for caring for his children and he had been specifically told that he needed to secure his life before he could properly provide for his children.† The record indicates that fatherís pattern of conduct consists of frequent periods of unemployment, unstable housing, and unhealthy personal relationships that negatively affect his children.
Even after the formal adjudication and restoration of visitation, fatherís unstable pattern continued.† At the time of termination, he missed several visitations and he was unemployed.† And after leaving appellant mother, he began a relationship with a woman who is described by her social worker as vulnerable, and whose parental rights were recently terminated.† Father admitted during testimony that their apartment is cluttered and the womanís social worker described the apartment as unsuitable for children.† Thus, fatherís conduct cannot be characterized as significant compliance with a plan to reunite him with his children.† See id.† Although father expresses intentions to perform better, the record indicates he is unable to follow through.† We conclude that fatherís pattern of conduct renders him unable to appropriately care for his children in the reasonably foreseeable future.
††††††††††† Finally, we find fatherís contention that his equal protection rights were violated when the county provided more services to mother to be without merit.† As discussed above, we have concluded that the services provided to father were reasonable.† Moreover, father and mother were not similarly situated.† Motherís maternity was never questioned, while fatherís paternity was not formally established until 2000.† We thus conclude this claim fails.† See Rocco Altobelli, Inc. v. State, DepítofCommerce, 524 N.W.2d 30, 37 (Minn. App. 1994) (holding Equal Protection Clause of both the state and federal constitutions requires people in similar circumstances be similarly treated under the law).†