This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







In the Matter of the Welfare of:  Z.M.M., Child.



Filed December 24, 2002

Reversed and remanded

Huspeni, Judge*


Jackson County District Court

File No. J40150149


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Charlann E. Winking, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant Z.M.M.)


Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and


Mark Steffan, Jackson County Attorney, Jackson County Courthouse, Box 177, 405 Fourth Street, Jackson, MN 56143 (for respondent)



            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Huspeni, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            In this appeal from a disposition following adjudication of delinquency based on the offense of credit card fraud, the sole issue is whether appellant’s out-of-home placement was justified.  Because we agree with appellant that the district court failed to make sufficient findings as required by statute, and because, in any event, the record would not support such placement, we reverse and remand for a less restrictive disposition.


            On June 21, 2001, appellant Z.M.M. possessed credit cards belonging to Sam and Kim Larsen, the parents of Z.M.M.’s girlfriend.  Z.M.M. had stolen Sam Larsen’s wallet from Larsen’s home office and used a credit card ten times between May 22, 2001 and June 4, 2001, to take cash advances totaling $1,814.75.  Z.M.M. was charged with five felonies relating to financial transaction card fraud. 

Pursuant to a plea agreement, Z.M.M. pleaded guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and the other four counts were dismissed.  At the dispositional hearing, several conditions were imposed, including supervised probation until Z.M.M.’s eighteenth birthday, a 30- to 90-day out-of-home placement, 40 hours of sentencing-to-service work, no contact with the victims of the offenses, paying restitution to the victims, abstaining from the use of alcohol and all mood-altering chemicals and drugs not prescribed for him by a licensed physician, submitting to random urinalysis, and obeying all laws.  The sole issue on appeal is the appropriateness of the out-of-home placement.  That placement was stayed pending appeal.

No brief was filed by respondent, and this appeal has proceeded pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 128.02, subd. 2.




            District courts are afforded broad discretion in determining appropriate delinquency dispositions, and this court will affirm dispositions that are not “arbitrary.”  In re Welfare of J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d 412, 414 (Minn. App. 1996).  Absent a clear abuse of discretion, a district court’s disposition will not be disturbed.  Id.  A delinquency disposition is lawful when necessary to rehabilitate the child.  Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1 (2000).

            Written findings are essential to meaningful appellate review.  In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 401 (Minn. App. 1985).  Findings are also required to show that the district court considered vital standards and to enable the parties to understand the court’s decision.  Id. at 400-01.  We have repeatedly emphasized the importance of findings and have found that inadequate juvenile disposition findings constitute reversible error.  See id. (holding insufficient findings are an independent basis for reversal);Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1; In re Welfare of J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d 364, 368 (Minn. App. 2000) (reversing for failure to make sufficient statutorily required written findings of fact); In re Welfare of C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d 494, 499 (Minn. App. 1998) (reversing where district court’s findings did not address the factors necessary to justify out-of-home placement); In re Welfare of M.A.C.,455 N.W.2d 494, 499 (Minn. App. 1990) (explaining that the failure to make statutorily required written findings warrants reversal).

            A district court ordering an out-of-home placement is required to make findings of fact that address five questions:  (1) why public safety is served by the disposition, (2) why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition, (3) what alternative dispositions were proposed to the court and why such recommendations were not ordered, (4) why the child’s present custody is not acceptable, and (5) how the correctional placement meets the child’s needs.  Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1(m); Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A); C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d at 497-98.

Here, the findings of the district court regarding public safety and alternative dispositions were arguably sufficient.[1]  But the district court’s findings regarding the child’s best interests, the child’s present custody, and the suitability of the out-of-home placement were insufficient, as were aspects of the record itself.

1.         Z.M.M.’s Best Interests

The best interests of a child are usually served by parental custody.  J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d at 367.  When an out-of-home placement is considered, the placement should be suitable to the child’s needs.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(B)(3).  The district court did not explain how Z.M.M.’s best interests would be served by the out-of-home placement.  Nor did the court identify the interests of Z.M.M. that would be served by placement in any particular location.  In fact, the court delegated to court services the task of recommending an appropriate out-of-home placement facility.  The only information given to Z.M.M. regarding his future placement was that he could seek review of court services’ recommendation.  The district court was required to do more than merely state that Z.M.M.’s best interests would be served by an out-of-home placement.  A finding of “best interests” with minimal support is inadequate.  In re Welfare of M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d 147, 151 (Minn. App. 1987). 

2.         Present Custody

            To satisfy the statutory requirement for findings on this factor, the district court was required to address the reasons why public safety and the best interests of the child are not served by preserving the child’s current custodial arrangement.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(3)(a).  This factor serves as a reminder of the preference for placing children in their own homes, and it calls for attention to the families of the children.  C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d at 499.  “Correctional placements cannot occur without evidence and findings reflecting consideration of the child’s familial relationships.”  Id.  Here, the district court did not discuss Z.M.M.’s family or his current custodial circumstances at all.  Findings on this factor were nonexistent.

3.         Suitability of Placement

            A dispositional order that places a child out of his home must contain written findings stating the reasons why the placement facility will be suitable to the needs of the child.  Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A)(3)(b) (stating that suitability takes “into account the program of the placement facility and assessment of the child’s actual needs”).

            Z.M.M. argues that because the district court did not select a specific program for the out-of-home placement, there is no evidence to support the conclusion that the placement was suitable for Z.M.M.’s needs.  We agree.  The district court, instead of specifying a particular out-of-home placement facility, chose instead to delegate to court services the task of identifying an appropriate facility.  Therefore, on the record before the court, it was impossible for any finding of suitability to be made.  Nor did the determination that review of a court services’ recommendation could be sought if Z.M.M. did not believe that the location provided him with access to personal and social growth serve to cure the deficiency in both the record and the findings required under the rules.

            Further, the rules require that the district court address how an out-of-home placement meets the child’s needs.  Here, the district court did not address the needs of Z.M.M.  Rather, only a vague reference to his “unique circumstances” without elaboration was contained in the findings, together with a blanket statement that the “consequence program is necessary.”  Moreover, as already noted, it is difficult to understand how the court could address whether an out-of-home placement would serve the child’s needs without a specific out-of-home placement facility having been identified.

            Because the district court did not make sufficient statutory findings, and the record itself is insufficient, we reverse the district court’s order that Z.M.M. be placed in a 30- to 90-day out-of-home placement and remand for a less restrictive disposition. 

Reversed and remanded.


*  Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] In addressing public safety, the district court noted that Z.M.M. had ignored supervised probation in the past and might continue to take advantage of friends and family to obtain money.  These same factors were cited by the court, together with observance of the growing sophistication of Z.M.M’s offenses and the advisability of taking a different approach, in rejecting alternative dispositions.