This opinion will be unpublished and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:† J-L.G., K.A.W., and K.L.W.
Swift County District Court
File No. J70050011
Stephen R. Arnott, Arnott Law Firm, P.A., 311 Ramsey Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellants)
Robin W. Finke, Swift County Attorney, 114 14th Street North, Benson, MN 56215 (for respondent)
Sara J. Runchey, Runchey, Louwagie & Wellman, P.L.L.P., 533 West Main Street, P.O. Box 1043, Marshall, MN 56258 (guardian ad litem and attorney pro se)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N
Appellant parents challenge the termination of their parental rights to their children, J-L.G., K.A.W., and K.L.W.† Appellants contend the district court improperly terminated their rights because the record does not support the district courtís determination that the county made reasonable efforts at reunification and rehabilitation.† Appellant mother also contends the district court erred in finding:† (1) she refused to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship; (2) the children were neglected and in foster care; (3) the children experienced egregious harm in motherís care; and (4) mother is a palpably unfit parent.† Appellant father contends the district court erred by terminating his rights solely because he consented to the medical treatment mother sought for the children.† Finally, appellants contend the district court erred in admitting evidence of motherís alleged psychological disorder that did not satisfy the Frye-Mack standard or Minn. R. Evid. 702 regarding expert testimony.† We affirm.
††††††††††† When a termination case is appealed, reviewing courts determine whether:† (1) the district courtís termination findings address the statutory criteria; (2) the findings are supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the findings are clearly erroneous.† In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).† Although some deference is given to the district courtís 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).
The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (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).† The ďparamount considerationĒ in every termination case is the childís best interests.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. (7).† A district court must make ďclear and specificĒ findings that conform to the statutory requirements.† In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).
††††††††††† In its comprehensive order, the district court made thorough, detailed findings that supported its conclusion that respondent county established the existence of five separate grounds for terminating motherís parental rights.† Appellants contend that these findings are not supported by clear and convincing evidence.† We disagree.
††††††††††† Both appellants argue that contrary to the district courtís findings, the county failed to make sufficient efforts at rehabilitation and reunification.† But the law provides that if a parent has subjected a child to egregious harm, no reunification or rehabilitation efforts are required.† Minn. Stat. ß 260.012 (a)(1)(i) (2000).† Thus, if there is egregious harm, termination is appropriate without efforts at rehabilitation and reunification.† While the evidence supports all of the district courtís findings, because there is overwhelming evidence of egregious harm we conclude that the district courtís findings on this issue are dispositive.†
††††††††††† Appellant mother contends that the evidence does not support a finding that she deliberately exposed the children to egregious harm by subjecting them to unneeded medical treatment.† We disagree.
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 (2000).† This statute further states egregious harm includes ďthe infliction of Ďsubstantial bodily harmí to a child, as defined in section 609.02, subdivision 7a.Ē† Id.† Minn. Stat. ß 609.02, subd. 7a, states substantial bodily harm means:
Bodily injury which involves a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member.
The district court found that respondent county proved by clear and convincing evidence facts sufficient to establish that all three children suffered egregious harm while under the care of mother and father.† Specifically, evidence was presented that:† (1) J-L.G. experienced first-degree heart blockage caused by unneeded medication, and that he had an unneeded medical unit implanted into his body; and (2) as a result of motherís reports of numerous severe seizures, both K.A.W. and K.L.W. were subjected to social and educational isolation, as well as being prescribed the same medications that caused J-L.G.ís heart blockage.
††††††††††† We reject motherís argument that this evidence is not sufficient to support a finding that she was responsible for subjecting her children to egregious harm.† The evidence indicates that:† (1) appellants frequently moved from state to state and therefore the children were treated by several different doctors; (2) the doctors who treated the children over the years based the childrenís diagnoses and treatment almost entirely upon motherís description of the childrenís symptoms; and (3) the medical treatment resulted in dangerous levels of unneeded medication that threatened the well being of the children.
††††††††††† There is clear and convincing evidence that the medications were unneeded.† There was evidence that while observing the children for several hours in the presence of mother a treating physician observed no seizures.† Moreover, no one has witnessed or reported any seizures by the children in the more than 11 months that they have been in foster care.† Motherís allegation that neither of respondentís medical experts reviewed all of the childrenís medical records does not nullify their testimony, and especially does not change the fact that all the children have been seizure free since being removed from their home.†
††††††††††† Moreover, there was evidence that the abundance and variety of medications all three children were forced to ingest for exaggerated or nonexistent conditions affected their brain functioning and meets the definition of egregious harm.† The course the children were on, coupled with the documented lack of any health problems once they were removed from appellantsí home, clearly and convincingly indicates that termination of motherís parental rights serves the best interests of these children, which is the paramount concern in this case.††
††††††††††† Because substantial evidence supports the district courtís decision that the children suffered egregious harm while in the care of mother, we conclude rehabilitation and reunification were not required and the district court did not err in terminating motherís parental rights.
††††††††††† Father contends the district court erred in terminating his parental rights based on the courtís determination that he consented to motherís treatment of the children and would continue to acquiesce to this treatment in the future.† In addition, father contends that one of respondentís experts who examined him was not a licensed psychologist and had no clinical foundation to render an opinion regarding fatherís amenability to treatment.† Father also contends that the district court erred by failing to make the particularized findings required by statute and caselaw to terminate his parental rights.† We disagree.
††††††††††† The court correctly determined that fatherís parental rights should be terminated because he not only went along with motherís care of the children but actively participated in seeking the care as well.† Clear and convincing evidence supports this determination.† At all relevant times father lived with mother and the children, witnessed their supposed seizures, and never disputed motherís description of the seizures to various doctors.† Moreover, one of respondentís experts stated that she confirmed a written history of the childrenís medical problems with both parents, making a specific point of including father to ďmake sure both parents understand and know whatís happening with their children.Ē†
††††††††††† We reject fatherís argument that he established that he would not acquiesce to everything mother wanted because he did not agree to her pursuit of Wicca (or the cult of witchcraft).† The record establishes that he acquiesced to and participated in seeking unneeded medical care for the children that constituted egregious harm.† By agreeing with his wifeís extensive and detailed descriptions of the childrenís various seizures, he sought unnecessary and dangerous treatment for his children along with mother.† Thus, as we concluded with regards to mother, the childrenís best interests dictate terminating fatherís parental rights.
††††††††††† We also reject fatherís argument that because one of respondentís experts is not a licensed psychologist he had no clinical basis for his opinion that father was not amenable to treatment.† It is the district courtís responsibility to judge the credibility of witnesses.† Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01 (2000).† Respondentís expert is a licensed independent clinical social worker and the district court found him credible.
††††††††††† Finally, the district court included father in its findings and analysis concerning each statutory basis for termination and in its conclusions of law.† Thus the court appropriately addressed the necessary statutory criteria as applied to father.† Because his children suffered egregious harm while in his care, we conclude the district court did not err in terminating fatherís parental rights.
††††††††††† Absent erroneous interpretation of the law, the question of whether to admit or exclude evidence is within the district courtís discretion.† Kroning v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42, 45-46 (Minn. 1997).† ďWe will not reverse the admission of expert testimony unless the trial court abused its discretion.Ē† State v. Jensen, 482 N.W.2d 238, 239 (Minn. App. 1992).†
††††††††††† Appellants contend that the district court committed reversible error in admitting expert testimony indicating that mother suffers from Factious Disorder By Proxy (FDBP) otherwise known as Manchausen Syndrome By Proxy.† We disagree.†
††††††††††† First, we find no error in the district courtís thorough and scholarly Frye-Mack analysis regarding FDBP.† But, more importantly, even if the district court erred in its analysis of how the evidence regarding FDBP should be treated, there was no prejudice to appellants.† Regardless of whether mother had FDBP, there is clear and convincing evidence that she falsely reported medical conditions to doctors, and her children suffered egregious harm because of it.† See State v. Kraushaar, 470 N.W.2d 509, 513 (Minn. 1991) (stating it was not necessary to scrutinize psychiatric evidence under Frye-Mack because even if there was error it was nonprejudicial).
††††††††††† We reject motherís argument that she was prejudiced because the expert testimony stated that FDBP was incurable.† The district court determined that mother was not amenable to treatment based on other expert testimony that made no reference to FDBP.† Moreover, motherís allegation of prejudice goes to the issue of whether appropriate efforts and an appropriate conclusion was made regarding rehabilitation and reunification.† As noted above, because appellants subjected their children to egregious harm, rehabilitation and reunification efforts were not required.