This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:† T.M.S.
Norman County District Court
File No. J50150016
Susan Rantala Nelson, Norman County Attorney, P.O. Box 308, Ada, MN 56510 (for appellant Norman County Social Services)
David DeGroat, RR 1, Box 136A, Ogema, MN 56569 (guardian ad litem and attorney pro se)
Jeffrey S. Remick, Odland, Fitzgerald, Reynolds, Remick & Widseth, P.L.L.P., Bremer Bank Building, 201Ĺ North Broadway, P.O. Box 457, Crookston, MN 56716 (for respondent Amanda Simons)
††††††††††† Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N
††††††††††† Appellant Norman County challenges the district courtís denial of its petition to terminate the parental rights of respondent mother of T.M.S.† We affirm.
When a district courtís findings in a parental termination case are challenged, this court is limited to determining whether those findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous.† In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted).† This court gives considerable deference to the district courtís decision because it is in a superior position to assess the credibility of the witnesses.† In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).† We presume that natural parents are suitable to care for their children.† In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980).† And we exercise ďgreat caution in termination proceedings, finding such action proper only when the evidence clearly mandates such a result.Ē† In re Welfare of M.D.O., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).
Appellant Norman County argues that the district courtís findings are clearly erroneous and that it misapplied the statutory factors supporting termination to these erroneous facts.† The county cites numerous alleged errors in the district courtís recitation of the facts and argues that the district court improperly denied the countyís petition to terminate parental rights over T.M.S.† We disagree.
At trial, the county argued that it had evidence sufficient to support five of the nine statutory criteria for termination of parental rights set out in Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2000).† Specifically, the county argued that it had shown:
(1) that respondent had ďsubstantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed * * * by the parent and child relationship.Ē Subd. 1(b)(2);
(2) that respondent was palpably unfit to be a parent, because she consistently engaged in conduct that proved her unable to appropriately care and provide for T.M.S. in the forseeable future.† Subd. 1(b)(4);
(3) that reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that led to T.M.S.ís out-of-home placement had been unsuccessful due to respondentís refusal to comply with the case plan designed for her.† Subd. 1(b)(5);
(4) that there was clear and convincing evidence that T.M.S. had suffered egregious harm in respondentís care of a nature, duration, or chronicity that proved a lack of regard for the childís well-being, making it contrary to her best interests to be in respondentís care.† Subd. 1(b)(6); and
(5) that T.M.S. was neglected and in foster care.† Subd. 1(b)(8).
†The district court acknowledged the countyís evidence, but found it insufficient to prove clearly and convincingly that termination of the motherís rights over T.M.S. was in the childís best interests, and it denied termination.† The county then moved for reconsideration, new trial, amended findings, and a stay of the order denying termination pending a new trial or appeal.† The county submitted the affidavit of the childís guardian ad litem as evidence that the court had erred in its factual findings and misunderstood or misconstrued some of the testimony heard at trial.
The district court denied the countyís motions, concluding that the countyís arguments, many of which are repeated to this court, were disagreements ďas to the interpretation of the factual evidence presented at trial.Ē† After reviewing the errors asserted by the county, we conclude that the district courtís findings that supported its refusal to terminate respondentís parental rights are not clearly erroneous.
The district court here faced a difficult case and conflicting evidence.† The county presented evidence that respondent had, in the past, failed to comply fully with the case plans and services provided to her that were intended to reunite her with T.M.S.† But, the court also heard respondentís testimony that she has substantially changed her lifestyle in a new state and has removed a number of the negative influences from her life that had prevented her from being a proper parent.† The district court specifically found that, at the time of the hearing, respondent (1) was living in a safe, clean environment appropriate for a child; (2) was employed; and (3) had an extensive family support network in her new state of residence.† The district court also found that the county had failed to present clear and convincing evidence that any health problems or physical trauma suffered by T.M.S. in the past were attributable to respondentís actions.†
Significantly, the district court specifically concluded that the county had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that the listed statutory factors existed at the time of the termination hearing.† The district courtís paramount consideration is the best interests of T.M.S.† Minn. Stat. ß 260C.301, subd. 7 (2000).† And in addressing this consideration, the court properly considered not only the evidence of past conduct presented by the county, but also respondentís evidence of her current situation.† At the time of trial in this matter, appellant had been residing in the State of Utah with her younger child, S.S., for approximately six months.† And at the district courtís request, evidence at trial confirmed that no protective action regarding S.S. had been taken in the State of Utah.† The district court stated at trial that based on her testimony it seemed that respondentís situation was completely changed in Utah.† In light of the evidence in the record and our standard of review, we conclude the district courtís findings of fact had sufficient evidentiary support.
The district court was in the best position to evaluate the conflicting evidence.† Thus, we conclude the court did not commit clear error when it denied the countyís petition to terminate respondentís parental rights to T.M.S. because the county had not proved by clear and convincing evidence that the statutory criteria for termination were met at the time of the termination hearing.†††
*† Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ß 10.