This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of: T.S.
Filed December 24, 2002
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Ramsey County District Court
File No. J700554667
Patrick D. McGee, Assistant Ramsey County Public Defender, 1086 Otto Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55116 (for appellant mother)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Heather McCleery, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 560, 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 Department)
Paul Bergstrom, 25 West Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Minge, Judge.
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
The district court revoked its stay of an order terminating a mother’s parental rights because it found that the mother had not complied with conditions of the stay and that termination would be in the child’s best interests. The mother contends on appeal that, although she fits the statutory criteria for termination, the court erred in finding that she failed to satisfy conditions of the stay and that termination is in the child’s best interests. Because the district court did not err in its determinations, we affirm.
This appeal arises out of proceedings for the termination of parental rights to two and one-half-year-old T.S. When C.B. gave birth to T.S. on January 9, 2000, T.S. tested positive for cocaine. T.S. has lived in foster care since her birth. On January 11, 2000, C.B. signed a voluntary-placement agreement, and St. Paul police placed T.S. in an emergency shelter. From January to May 2000, C.B. was incarcerated for a probation violation. She has an extensive criminal record and was placed under civil commitment for using drugs while she was pregnant with T.S. C.B. has a nine-year history of chemical abuse. She has five other children who live with other family members. T.S.’s father, who was also incarcerated after T.S.’s birth, never married C.B. The state has petitioned to terminate his parental rights to T.S. in separate proceedings.
On May 4, 2000, the state filed an amended CHIPS (Children in Need of Protection or Services) petition, and C.B. admitted that T.S. was in need of protection and services. The state then developed a case plan for C.B. On June 5, 2000, the district court adjudicated T.S. CHIPS, ordered that Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (RCCHSD) obtain temporary legal custody of T.S., and appointed a guardian ad litem. On August 15, 2000, RCCHSD filed a termination-of-parental-rights petition based on C.B.’s chemical dependency, criminal history, and continuing problems upon which the CHIPS petition was based. C.B. poorly complied with her case plan as well. Both RCCHSD and the guardian ad litem recommended that C.B.’s parental rights be terminated.
On April 16, 2001, the district court held a termination-of-parental-rights trial, and C.B. entered into a settlement agreement. As part of the settlement agreement, C.B. admitted the petition, and the parties agreed that the order terminating her parental rights would be stayed for 90 days, subject to another 90-day continuance “on the condition [that] the mother fully complies with the following  conditions.” The district court based its stayed termination order on a finding that she met several statutory termination conditions under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2000); namely, that she “substantially, continuously and repeatedly refused and neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon her as a mother”; that she
is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship with this child because of her consistent pattern of conduct which is permanently detrimental to the physical and mental health of the child;
that reasonable efforts by RCCHSD have failed to correct the conditions that led to the placement; that T.S. is neglected and in foster care; and that RCCHSD has made all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunite this family.
After the first 90-day review hearing on July 26, 2001, the district court stayed its order for another 90 days. But on October 8, 2001, RCCHSD filed a motion for revocation of the stay because C.B. failed to meet several conditions of the settlement agreement. On April 23, 2002, the district court held a contested evidentiary hearing and received evidence regarding C.B.’s compliance with the settlement agreement from a director of C.B.’s chemical-dependency program, a RCCHSD child-protection worker, the guardian ad litem, and C.B. On May 14, 2002, the district court ordered revocation of the stay and terminated C.B.’s parental rights because she violated conditions of the stay by not successfully completing New Dawn, an aftercare program of Four Winds Chemical Dependency Program; not regularly submitting urinalyses; not telling the urinalysis technicians that she used over-the-counter drugs, such as Nyquil, prior to her urinalysis; not following all the conditions of her criminal probation; not abstaining from drug substances; not remaining law abiding; not staying in regular contact with the guardian ad litem; not providing verification of AA attendance to RCCHSD as required; and not following all recommendations for treatment made regarding parenting and anger management. C.B. appealed the termination.
On appeal from a district court’s decision to terminate parental rights, we are limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence and whether or not they are clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997). “Parental rights are terminated only for grave and weighty reasons.” In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990) (citation omitted). We give considerable deference to the district court’s decision because it is in the best position to assess witness credibility. In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996). The best interests of the child remain the paramount consideration in every termination case. Id. at 397. Because of this, we presume that living with the natural parents is in the best interests of the child. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980).
The three issues on appeal are whether the district court clearly erred in finding: (1) that C.B. met four of the statutory conditions for termination of parental rights, (2) that C.B. did not comply with all the conditions in the settlement agreement, and (3) that it was in the best interests of T.S. to terminate C.B.’s parental rights.
The district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that any of the statutory criteria for termination exists. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2000). When revoking a stay of termination of parental rights, the district court must
make specific factual findings concerning current conditions sufficient to show by clear and convincing evidence that a statutory condition justifying termination was satisfied at the time the stay was lifted.
In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 542 (Minn. 2001). The district court cited four statutory conditions for the termination of C.B.’s parental rights. Although C.B. did not contest the finding that she met these statutory conditions, we must determine whether at least one of the statutory conditions existed at the time the court revoked its stay.
The district court found that one of the statutory criteria that C.B. met was that she was palpably unfit under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), when it revoked its stay. The district court could terminate C.B.’s parental rights for being palpably unfit if the evidence showed
a consistent pattern of specific conduct before the child or of specific conditions directly relating to the parent and child relationship either of which are determined by the court to be of a duration or nature that renders the parent unable, for the reasonable foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4). The evidence and the district court’s findings satisfy the statutory criterion of palpable unfitness:
[T]he mother is not presently able to take care of [T.S.]. It is unlikely that she will be successfully and consistently free enough of chemical dependency and mental health problems in the reasonably foreseeable future to regain custody. Her chemical and mental health issues, unstable lifestyle and lack of consistent follow-through of the Settlement Agreement make it impossible for her to provide a permanent home for [T.S.].
We hold that the district court did not err in finding C.B. palpably unfit; its findings are supported by substantial evidence. C.B. did not comply with the condition that she remain drug-free because she tested positive for ethanol on one occasions and cocaine on two occasions. C.B. offered an explanation for these positive tests, but the district court found her explanations not credible. Credibility determinations are deferred to the district court. L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d at 396. Additionally, she hid her frequent use of drugs by missing many urinalysis tests.
Substantial evidence also supports the district court’s finding that C.B. had mental-health problems, such as her anti-social personality disorder and her anger-management difficulties. In additional, she did not have stable housing, steady employment, or appropriate social relationships since T.S.’s birth. In In re Welfare of S.R.A., we held that similar conditions, such as unstable relationships, unstable housing, and chemical abuse were evidence that the parent was palpably unfit. In re Welfare of S.R.A., 527 N.W.2d 835, 838-39 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1995).
Compliance with Settlement Agreement
The next issue is whether the district court clearly erred in finding that C.B. failed to follow the conditions of the stay as stated in the settlement agreement. The parties agreed that if C.B. followed the 32 conditions listed, the court would not terminate her parental rights. The district court expressly required C.B. to comply with every single condition in the settlement agreement. C.B. contends that she followed all the conditions in the settlement agreement. We hold that the district court did not clearly err in finding that C.B. did not comply with several of the settlement agreement conditions.
The district court found that C.B. did not comply with the conditions that required C.B. to successfully complete Four Wind’s Chemical Dependency Program and their aftercare program, New Dawn; remain at and follow all rules of New Dawn, including attending all house meetings, and not be unsuccessfully discharged. C.B. argues that she complied with both conditions because she completed the Four Winds Chemical Dependency Program and its aftercare program at New Dawn. The district court found that C.B. was
unsuccessfully discharged from the aftercare program because she failed to follow the rules regarding weekend visits to the cities and had her oldest daughter stay with her at the New Dawn facility.
We hold that there is substantial evidence that C.B. did not comply with these conditions. Kathy Sauve, New Dawn program director, testified that C.B. had not successfully completed the New Dawn aftercare program because she did not comply with all of New Dawn’s rules when she failed to complete passes to leave, return on time, meet with her sponsor regularly, attend AA meetings at previously scheduled times, and follow the age-limit restriction for children who are permitted to stay at New Dawn with their mothers.
The district court found that C.B. also did not comply with a third condition that required her to submit to random urinalysis twice weekly and to disclose all prescribed or over-the-counter drugs prior to testing. C.B. argues that she complied with this condition because she had explanations for missing urinalyses; once she left the state for a family funeral and worked at the state fair. She missed several Monday urinalyses but contended she made them up on the next day. The district court found that
[t]he Settlement Agreement required her to submit to random UA’s twice weekly. She missed twenty-two (22) UA’s between April 30 and August 31, 2001. Since August 31, 2001, she has been erratic in her compliance with UA’s.
We hold that the district court did not err in making its finding because C.B. admitted that she missed three weeks of urinalyses while she worked at the state fair and attended a funeral, and there is no substantial evidence that she ever made up the Monday urinalyses that she admits she missed. Furthermore, the record shows that C.B. did not tell the test administrator prior to taking the urinalysis in December 2001 that she had taken Nyquil, or in January 2002 that she had cut her finger while cutting cocaine. The district court found neither explanation credible.
The district court found that C.B. did not comply with conditions that required her to abstain from chemical substances and remain law-abiding. C.B. argues that she did not violate the condition of abstention because even though she tested positive for ethanol in December 2001, it was because of her use of Nyquil, and when she tested positive for cocaine in January 2002, it was because she cut her finger while cutting cocaine. She had no explanation when she tested positive for cocaine in April 2002, other than the result must have been a false positive. The district court did not find these explanations credible. In addition, by cutting cocaine, C.B. was engaging in an illegal activity. Thus, we hold that the district court had substantial evidence and did not err in finding that C.B. violated these conditions of the stay.
The district court also found that C.B. did not comply with the condition that required her to maintain regular contact with the guardian ad litem. C.B. admitted that she did not maintain contact with the guardian ad litem as often as the agreement required. Thus, the district court did not clearly err in finding that C.B. did not comply with that condition.
Thus, we hold that substantial evidence supports the district court’s findings that C.B. failed to comply with 6 out of 32 conditions of the stay. Most significantly, C.B. failed to remain drug-free, the problem that originally resulted in T.S.’s foster-care placement. The settlement that C.B. agreed to provided that the stay of termination would be revoked if she failed to comply with any of the conditions.
Best Interests of the Child
The best interests of a child are the paramount consideration in termination proceedings. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2000). When determining the best interests of the child, courts must balance three factors: (1) the child’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; (2) the parent’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; and (3) any competing interests of the child. In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992). Competing interests include things like a stable environment, health considerations, and the child’s preference. Id. This balancing process does not require that the needs of the parent and child be given equal weight. Id. Instead,
both the interests of the parent and child are considered along with the circumstances of the particular case in an effort to determine which of these interests is to predominate. Balancing, therefore, is an active process of determining the weight of two potentially opposing interests rather than a static attribution of an equal weight to each interest.
Id. (quotation omitted).
C.B. argues that termination of her parental rights is not in the best interests of T.S. She argues that the district court focused too much on T.S.’s need for a stable environment instead of on T.S.’s interest in maintaining the parent-child relationship. She contends that she has made great progress since she signed the settlement agreement in April 2001. RCCHSD argues that the district court properly found that C.B. would be unable in the foreseeable future to take care of T.S. because of her chemical dependency and mental-health issues and that it is imperative that T.S. have a stable environment. The district court’s order revoking the stay of termination did not specifically indicate that termination of C.B.’s parental rights was in “the best interest” of T.S. But rather, the district court found that
[T.S.] needs permanency. She needs stable, nurturing, drug-free caretakers who are not so overwhelmed by their own needs that they cannot care for her.
And although the evidence shows that C.B. has an interest in maintaining the parent-child relationship, she clearly has subordinated this interest to her continued drug use. T.S. has an interest in having a parent-child relationship with C.B., but she also has a more urgent need to have a drug-free, stable environment, which the evidence shows C.B. has never been able to provide and is not likely to be able to provide in the foreseeable future.
The evidence clearly demonstrates that the court terminated the parent-child relationship because C.B. has been unable to change the conditions that led to T.S.’s placement, and the prognosis for her long-term ability to parent T.S. is poor. T.S. is almost three-years-old, and she needs a stable environment, instead of living in various foster homes for over two and one-half years. See In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 110 (Minn. App. 1996) (holding that it was in the best interest of the children to terminate the parent’s rights because the children had been in foster care for over one year and their mother had been unable to correct the conditions that led to the foster-care placement). Thus, the district court did not err in finding that termination of C.B.’s parental rights was in the best interests of T.S.