This opinion will be unpublished and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

C9-03-369

 

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of the

Child of Cherry Demarais, Mother;

and Dale Green, Father.

 

 

Filed August 12, 2003

Affirmed
Forsberg, Judge
*

 

Wright County District Court

File No. J80251169

 

 

Sherri D. Hawley, 1398 Myrtle Street North, St. Paul, MN 55119 (for appellant Demarais)

 

Carol H. Lostetter, 24 East Division Street, P.O. Box 236, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for child)

 

Anne L. Mohaupt, Assistant Wright County Attorney, 10 Northwest Second Street, Buffalo, MN 55313 (for respondent Wright County Human Services)

 

Carol VanderKooi, 10 Northwest Second Street, Buffalo, MN 55313 (guardian ad litem)

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.

 

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

FORSBERG, Judge

            Appellant mother challenges the district court’s order terminating her parental rights to her minor child, G.H.  She claims that the county failed to provide reasonable efforts at reunification, that she is not palpably unfit to be a parent, and that termination of her parental rights is not in her son’s best interests.  We affirm the termination of appellant’s parental rights because the evidence supports the district court’s findings that the county made reasonable efforts to reunite appellant with her son, that appellant is palpably unfit to be a parent, and that termination of appellant’s parental rights are in the best interests of her son.         

FACTS

            Appellant Cherry Demarais is the mother of G.H., born December 24, 1988.  Appellant never married G.H.’s biological father, Dale Green.  He voluntarily agreed to termination of his parental rights to G.H.  Appellant also has three adult children from a previous marriage; a son and two daughters.  

            Appellant has a history of violence and domestic abuse towards her family.  She abused her two older children when they were young.  As a result of physical abuse, appellant’s oldest child, a boy, was placed in foster care when he was about nine years old.  Her oldest daughter was removed from the home temporarily in the seventh grade after being physically assaulted by her mother; the removal became permanent two years later after appellant was charged with hiring someone to kill her then husband, the children’s father.  Thereafter, the youngest child lived most of her childhood with her father.  Appellant was divorced from the children’s father in 1986.

Appellant also has a history of mental illness spanning several decades.  She admits to having depression and she has delusions, such as (1) believing that G.H. was a twin, but that the twin fetus was expelled from her body after G.H. was already one or two years old; (2) seeing in her head the initials of people who are going to die; (3) meeting Oprah Winfrey while incarcerated; and (4) having written country western songs that famous singers stole from her.

 During the county’s involvement in this proceeding, appellant has been diagnosed as having major depression, paranoid personality disorder, and delusional disorder.  A psychological evaluation profiled her as “narcissistic, compulsive, self-defeating, paranoid, and delusional.”  Appellant needs to be on medication to control her mental illness, but frequently fails or refuses to take her medication.  And there are concerns that when she stops taking her medication she will exhibit aggressive behavior towards G.H.  Appellant was also found to be unable to provide G.H. with structure, physical and emotional safety, nurturing, and secure attachment.

            G.H. has been diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ADHD–ODD).  He has physically assaulted appellant and has experienced depression and threatened suicide.  Before G.H. was placed in foster care, he was frequently absent from school.  When at school, he displayed disruptive, non-compliant or inappropriate behaviors; showed anger toward others; and threw temper tantrums when frustrated or criticized.

G.H. was placed in temporary emergency care with the county in April 1998 and October 2000, but reunited each time with appellant.  In January 2001, the county human services department received a report that appellant hit G.H. with a baseball bat.  Appellant admitted hitting him, but claimed that she needed protection from G.H., who had pointed a BB gun at her.  That same month, family members reported that G.H. and appellant were becoming more physically violent towards each other and worried about G.H.’s safety.  In February 2001, G.H.’s biological father called the county and expressed his concern regarding G.H.’s safety.

By March 2001, the county determined that it needed to provide child protective services to monitor G.H.’s safety and his attendance in school.  From March 18 until August 2, 2001, G.H. resided in a group home for youth, during which time the county filed a petition asking the district court to find that G.H. was a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS).  In July 2001, the district court adjudicated G.H. to be a child in need of protection or services.  After G.H.’s stay at the group home, he was placed in foster care with his oldest half-sister. 

When G.H. was placed in the group home, the county provided an out-of-home placement plan with the primary goal of reunifying G.H. with appellant.  This plan was later reviewed and updated.  In each plan, the county listed numerous goals that appellant and G.H. needed to achieve to provide a safe and permanent home environment and stated the various services that the county would provide to help achieve these goals.  The goals included that appellant complete a psychiatric and psychological evaluation and a parenting assessment, cooperate with the group home service providers and child protective services, and comply with her case plan.  G.H.’s goals included that he complete the program at the youth group home and a psychological evaluation.

The county provided appellant with supervised visitation, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, counseling, a parenting capacity assessment, and parenting assistance/counseling.  Throughout the county’s involvement, appellant was verbally aggressive and physically threatening to the county social worker staff members at the group home.  Appellant refused to sign the child protection plan and did not properly comply with her prescribed medication.

The county provided G.H. with education assistance (including special education services and truancy intervention), group home placement, foster care placement, supervised visitation, psychological evaluations, and family and individual counseling. During the time that G.H. has lived with his oldest half-sister and received county services, his behavior and education issues have improved.  He is no longer truant and his aggressive behaviors and ADHD-ODD are under control.

            The county determined that termination of appellant’s parental rights to G.H. would be in his best interests because (1) appellant’s instability, hostility, aggression, and inappropriate actions and words are harmful to G.H.; (2) appellant did not provide an emotionally and physically safe environment for G.H.; and (3) appellant will not gain the necessary skills and mental stability in the future.

D E C I S I O N

            On review in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, this court must determine whether the district court’s 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).  Although this court defers to the district court’s findings, this court exercises great caution in proceedings to terminate parental rights.  In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 622 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997). 

The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002).  The party petitioning for termination must prove one or more of the statutory termination criteria 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).  Although a district court may terminate parental rights when only one criterion is proven, the primary consideration in every termination case is the child’s best interests.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(b), 7 (2002).  And the district court must make clear and specific findings that conform to the statutory requirements.  In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).

Here, the district court concluded that reasonable efforts under its direction have failed to correct the conditions leading to G.H.’s out-of-home placement.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).  The district court also concluded that clear and convincing evidence supported termination of appellant’s parental rights on grounds that she was palpably unfit to be a parent.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).

            Appellant argues that the county failed to provide reasonable efforts at reunification, that she is not palpably unfit to be a parent, and that termination of her parental rights is not in her son’s best interests.

I.  Reasonable Efforts

  Each case concerning termination of parental rights “must turn on its own peculiar facts and circumstances.”  In re Welfare of H. M. P. W., 281 N.W.2d 188, 190 (Minn. 1979) (citation omitted).  “Whether efforts are ‘reasonable’ requires consideration of the length of time the county has been involved with the family as well as the quality of effort given.”  In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987) (citing In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 281 (Minn. 1986)).  The nature of the services that the county provides depends on the problem in each particular case.  In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996). 

Here, the district court made extensive findings to support its conclusion that the county made reasonable efforts to reunify appellant with her child.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (requiring county to make reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that formed the basis of the petition).  The district court detailed extensively the various services that the county provided appellant and G.H., and the record supports the district court’s findings. 

The county provided appellant with supervised visitation, psychiatric and psychological evaluations, counseling, a parenting capacity assessment, and parenting assistance/counseling.  Despite the numerous services provided (some of which even predate the current proceedings), appellant refused to comply with the case plan, ignored court orders, and harassed county personnel involved in this matter.  The district court found and the record is replete with examples of appellant’s delusional behavior and of her physically and verbally abusive or threatening behavior towards G.H., her other children, and case workers.  The record also supports the district court’s findings that appellant refused to sign or comply with the case plan and failed to properly maintain her medication and therapy.

Because the record supports the district court’s findings that the county provided reasonable efforts to rehabilitate appellant and reunite her with G.H., and that such efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to G.H.’s placement, termination on this statutory ground is appropriate.  See In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 604 (Minn. App. 1987) (upholding termination of parental rights where the “quantity and quality of assistance provided” established the reasonableness of county’s efforts).  Therefore, the trial court did not err in terminating appellant’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).

II.  Palpably Unfit

            Appellant also argues that there is no evidence in the record to support the district court’s finding that she is palpably unfit to be a parent.  She argues that the court cannot terminate her parental rights on the basis of her mental illness.  See  M.G., 407 N.W.2d at 120 (stating that decision to terminate parental rights cannot be based on parent’s financial condition, mental health, or level of intelligence).

            Here, the record indicates, among other concerns, that appellant refused to properly maintain the medications necessary to treat her mental illness.  She has been diagnosed with having major depression, personality disorder, and delusional disorder.  She has had lifelong depressions and suffered from her mental illnesses for a long time.  The psychiatrist who treated appellant during these proceedings testified that a person with major depression would show some kind of sleep or appetite disturbances, anger, depression, low energy, and difficulty in functioning.  Someone with a paranoid personality disorder would view life suspiciously and tend to misinterpret things around them.  He noted that medication for these types of disorders could be effective in a certain number of cases.  One psychological evaluation states that “[w]ithout treatment for her mental health disorders, [appellant] is at high risk of evidencing aggressive behavior with [G.H.].” 

            The record also indicates that appellant consistently exhibited violent, abusive, and threatening verbal and physical behaviors towards G.H., his care providers, and case workers.  These behaviors did not improve greatly throughout this proceeding despite the various services that the county provided appellant.  Appellant’s long-term pattern of violent and delusional conduct makes her unable to parent G.H. appropriately within the foreseeable future.  See, e.g., In re Welfare of E.L.H., 356 N.W.2d 795, 797 (Minn. App. 1984) (noting that long-term alcoholism that interferes with parent’s ability to provide stable home may justify termination).  Because the district court provided substantial findings that are supported by the record, the district court did not err in terminating appellant’s parental rights on the basis that she is palpably unfit to be a parent. 

III.  Best Interests

            Appellant argues that the district court’s findings do not justify the conclusion that termination of her parental rights is in G.H.’s best interests.  A best-interests’ analysis requires the district court to balance the parent’s and the child’s interests under the specific circumstances to see which interests predominate.  In re Welfare of Udstuen, 349 N.W.2d 300, 304 (Minn. App. 1984).  

            Here, the district court found that G.H. could not remain in appellant’s custody because she is not able to nurture his emotional development and is verbally and physically abusive toward him.  The court noted that G.H. loved and missed his mother, but that he was frustrated and anxious with appellant’s inability to control her behavior and he understood that her behavior would not soon change.  Under the circumstances of this case, the district court determined that G.H.’s need for stability would best be met by terminating appellant’s parental rights. 

            The record supports that while he has lived with his half-sister’s family, his school performance and emotional behavior have improved.  Under the circumstances in this case, the record supports the district court’s determination that G.H.’s best interests are met if appellant’s parental rights are terminated.

            Affirmed.

 



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