This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
A.S. and I.S.
Ramsey County District Court
File No. JX01555564
Robert J. Lawton, 1100 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant LeRoy Clinton Sandlin, Jr.)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Kathryn Eilers, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102; and
Margaret L. Gustafson, 305 Baker Court, 821 Raymond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55114
(for respondent Ramsey County Community Human Services Dep’t)
Paul Bergstrom, 25 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for Guardian ad Litem)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.
In this termination of parental rights proceeding, appellant argues that the district court erred in concluding that (1) he failed to rebut the presumption that he is a palpably unfit parent under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), and (2) the county made reasonable efforts to reunite the family. Because the record reveals sufficient evidence that appellant is unfit to be a party to a parent and child relationship, the district court did not err. We affirm.
The state made out-of-home placements for A.S. (born October 7, 1998) and I.S. (born November 17, 1999) immediately after their respective births in part because the court had previously terminated the parental rights of both parents, appellant L.C.S., Jr., and F.D.R., to older children. Both children were returned to the custody of the mother within three to four months of being removed because the mother complied with her case plan. But, on June 21, 2001, Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD) filed a child in need of protection and services (CHIPS) petition for A.S. and I.S. RCCHSD filed a termination of parental rights petition October 5, 2001. The petition requested that appellant’s rights be terminated because he is palpably unfit to be a parent under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), (5), (7) (Supp. 2001). After the trial on February 27, 2002 and April 19, 2002, the district court terminated appellant’s parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), (5) (Supp. 2001). Appellant now challenges the district court’s order terminating his parental rights to his daughters, A.S. and I.S.
Appellant has seven children. His two youngest daughters, A.S. and I.S., share the same mother, F.D.R., and are the subject of this appeal. Appellant has a history of violence. In November 1991, appellant was convicted of child battery. In 1992, appellant first became involved with RCCHSD due to his intentional scalding of S.O., a girlfriend’s child. In 1993, appellant pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor child endangerment on the basis of the burns sustained by S.O. Appellant committed numerous acts of domestic violence against this girlfriend, also the mother of his son, L.S., in 1992, 1993, and 1994. In February 1993, she obtained an order for protection against appellant. Just months later, appellant’s sons, Y.S. and L.S., were adjudicated CHIPS.
Appellant has a demonstrated history of excessive force with handling his children. In the 1995 termination of his parental rights in the child, the court found that appellant repeatedly physically abused Y.S., and the court placed Y.S. in permanent foster care. In the course of that trial, appellant admitted physically abusing Y.S. by hitting the child with his fists, a stick, and a belt. When the court terminated appellant’s parental rights to L.S. in 1995, and determined that appellant was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship and that reasonable efforts under the direction of the court had failed to correct the conditions that led to the determination that the child was in need of protection and services.
Upon the births of A.S. and I.S. in 1998 and 1999, appellant received case plans from RCCHSD. Although appellant completed an 18-hour men’s group offered through the My Home program, he failed to comply with the aftercare recommendations. Specifically, he did not (1) maintain abstinence from mood-altering chemicals, (2) continue to participate in the program once a week for ongoing support, or (3) participate as recommended in the men’s intensive parenting program also offered through My Home. One month after appellant completed the program, he tested positive for cocaine, and six weeks after he completed the program, he tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. Appellant admitted at trial that he refused to complete all but three UAs (urinalysis) requested by his case plan, and that the three completed were positive for amphetamines and opiates. He also failed to complete a rule 25 assessment.
Early 2000 or 2001, appellant lived with Richardson and completed 12 hours of parent training through the Resource Center for Fathers and Families. In May 2001, Richardson filed a domestic abuse action against appellant, which the court dismissed by default due to her late arrival. In June 2001, the Hennepin County district court issued a reciprocal order for protection against appellant and Richardson. At the hearing, the court concluded that appellant had not been adjudicated the father of A.S. or I.S, and the order excluded him from (1) their home, (2) the daycare of A.S. and I.S., and (3) the workplace of Richardson. Also in June 2001, RCCHSD placed A.S. and I.S. in shelter care when their mother failed to pick them up after leaving them in a crisis nursery.
On October 30, 2001, appellant legally acknowledged that he was the father of A.S. and I.S. by presenting the court with recognition of parentage forms. The RCCHSD social worker then drafted a case plan and established visitation for appellant every other week for one hour. On November 19, 2001, the district court approved the case plans. Appellant continuously asserted that he would not follow the plans and at trial testified that the services were not relevant to his parenting. On one occasion, appellant yelled at the caseworker, stating that he would not cooperate with the plans. On December 27, 2001, the court made a determination that reasonable efforts to bring the family together were not required with appellant due to the prior termination of his parental rights.
In its findings of facts, the district court relied on appellant’s demeanor and testimony to conclude that he “has affection” for A.S. and I.S., but “believes that he has no problems or issues that affect his ability to provide appropriate care for his children.” It noted that after observing and listening to appellant at numerous hearings for a year and a half, appellant’s demeanor “has never included any display of sympathy, regret, or sadness over what has happened to any of his children.” The court concluded that appellant has demonstrated a “specific pattern of conduct,” and there are “specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship” that prevent him from caring for and being an adequate parent now or in the reasonably foreseeable future. Additionally, the court determined that reasonable efforts under the direction of the court, such as the case plan, failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s out-of-home placement. This appeal followed.
The district court terminated appellant’s parental rights on two grounds: (1) appellant is “palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship,” and (2) “reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), (5) (Supp. 2001). The party petitioning for termination need only prove one of the statutory terms 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); In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). On review, “[c]onsiderable deference is due to the district court’s decision because a district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses.” In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted). But this court also closely inquires into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing. In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998); In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996). The “paramount consideration” in every termination case is the child’s best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3 (2001).
Because appellant’s parental rights to L.S. were involuntarily terminated, he is presumed to be palpably unfit to parent A.S. and I.S.
It is presumed that a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent child relationship upon a showing that the parent’s parental rights to one or more other children were involuntarily terminated * * * .
Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (Supp. 2001). Appellant argues that the district court erred in finding that he failed to rebut the statutory presumption of palpable unfitness. We disagree.
On appeal, appellant asserts three facts that he claims rebut the presumption: (1) completion of the My Home men’s program in February 1999, (2) completion of a 12-hour parenting program in 2001, and (3) living with A.S. and I.S. for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years without parenting issues arising.
First, the district court examined evidence that appellant completed the 18-hour My Home program designed to address anger and chemical use. But completion of this program was a minimal step in completing his case plan. See In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 702 (Minn. App. 1991) (concluding that petition to terminate parental rights was supported where parent failed to cooperate with court-ordered requirement), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991); In re Welfare of J.L.L., 396 N.W.2d 647, 651 (Minn. App. 1986) (concluding that although father enrolled in therapy program, continued chemical abuse and violent behavior indicates father had not resolved lack of parenting skills).
Here, although appellant completed this short-term program, he failed to comply with the significant aftercare recommendations. Specifically, the record shows that he did not (1) maintain abstinence from mood-altering chemicals; (2) continue to participate in the program once a week for ongoing support; and (3) participate in an intensive recommended program. Appellant also refused to comply with the order to submit to UAs, and when appellant submitted, he tested positive for amphetamines, opiates, and cocaine. Self-evident “non-program completion” does not rebut the presumption of palpable unfitness.
Second, the district court recognized that appellant completed 12 hours of parent training in the spring of 2001, but that in June 2001 appellant was excluded from the home of A.S., I.S., and their mother due to domestic abuse for which the district court issued a reciprocal order for protection. Appellant failed to abstain from drug use, failed to refrain from acts of domestic violence, and continued to demonstrate problems with anger management. This evidence supports the court’s conclusion that the parent-training program and the My Home men’s program were “insufficient to address the vast parenting deficiencies demonstrated by [appellant]” and “insufficient to rebut the presumption because they have had no effect on [appellant’s] behaviors.”
Finally, a social service agency need not demonstrate actual harm to a child in order to terminate a person’s parental rights. A showing of conduct likely to be detrimental to the child’s physical or mental health is sufficient. In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978). Appellant argues that outside observers found him to be a loving and affectionate parent. But affection for his children cannot rebut the presumption that he is a palpably unfit parent when appellant refuses to cooperate with any case plan or to recognize that his drug abuse and acts of domestic violence harm his children. Evidence shows that on one occasion, during a visitation with his children, appellant became frustrated and upset with A.S. and I.S. when they fought with each other and when his visit with them extended for more than one hour. Although no evidence shows physical abuse, the evidence supports the district court findings that both children demonstrate behavioral and emotional problems consistent with lacking a consistent relationship with a nurturing caregiver. The district court did not err in finding that appellant failed to rebut the presumption that he is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship.
The district court also terminated appellant’s parental rights on the ground that “reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (Supp. 2001). Appellant claims that the district court erred in this finding. We disagree. Generally, when a child is adjudicated CHIPS, the court must determine whether the social service agency made “reasonable efforts” to rehabilitate the parent and to reunite the family. S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 892. But where parental rights to another child have been involuntarily terminated, reasonable efforts are not required. Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a)1(ii) (Supp. 2001). Here, effective December 27, 2001, the district court granted an order to cease reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parent and to shift the burden of proof because appellant’s parental rights to L.S., another child of appellant, were terminated in 1995.
Nonetheless, in this case, the district court concluded that RCCHSD had made “reasonable efforts” at reunification and the efforts “failed to correct the conditions leading to the children’s placement.” We must confirm this finding of fact unless it is clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of A.D., 535 N.W.2d 643, 648 (Minn. 1995).
The nature of the services constituting “reasonable efforts” depends on the type of problem presented within the family. Id. The statutory definition of “reasonable efforts” is
the exercise of due diligence by the responsible social service agency to use appropriate and available services to meet the needs of the child and the child’s family * * * .
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(b) (Supp. 2001).
Here, upon adjudication that appellant was the children’s father, RCCHSD set up visitation and drafted case plans. The case plans documented six goals to deal with appellant’s ten-year history of domestic abuse, violence toward children, and drug abuse. Services to rehabilitate him as a parent included a psychological evaluation, a parenting assessment and program, an anger management program, a domestic violence program, a chemical health assessment, and random UAs to determine his sobriety. Maintaining that the plans were not relevant to the welfare of A.S. and I.S., appellant continued to assert that he needed none of the services set out in the plans, and refused to comply with the plans. Instead of recognizing that the goal of the plans was reunification, appellant believed that the plans were meant to “bamboozle” and harm him.
The services for A.S. and I.S. included medical care, a therapeutic preschool, a neuropsychological assessment, and foster and respite care. The case plans were approved by the district court and appeared to be culturally appropriate, accessible, consistent, timely, and realistic under the circumstances.
Based on this record, the district court properly concluded that reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, failed to correct the conditions that led to the need for an out-of-home placement.
 In re Welfare of the Child of F.W.: R.W., No. C4-00-1074 (Minn. App. Dec. 26, 2000) (holding that where the father attempted to comply with the case plan by attending classes but did not participate in classes, and UAs did not verify sobriety but instead showed use of cocaine and alcohol, father did not rebut the presumption of palpable unfitness).
 Appellant received no case plan for two months based on an allegation by the mother that appellant was not the biological father.