This opinion will be unpublished and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 the
Child of Melissa Kuschill: T.K.
Filed September 23, 2003
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J102058019
Barbara S. Isaacman, Hennepin County Public Defender, 317 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)
Mary Martin Lynch, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney, 525 Portland Avenue South, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Children, Family and Adult Services Dept.)
James H. Gaffney, 4209 W. 44th Street, Edina, MN 55424 (for guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Schumacher, Judge.
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
On appeal in this termination of parental rights proceeding, appellant-mother argues that (a) the district court cannot have independently reviewed the evidence where it adopted the county’s proposed order; (b) the record lacked the clear and convincing evidence necessary to terminate her parental rights; (c) the record does not support the conclusions that termination was appropriate or that her ability to parent the child would not improve; and (d) the district court failed to address why it was in the child’s best interests to terminate her parental rights. Because the record contains evidence supporting the district court’s conclusion that termination was appropriate, we affirm.
On November 3, 2001, T.K. was born to appellant Melissa Kuschill, who was at that time an unmarried 20-year-old. One week later, Kuschill was admitted to Fairview University Medical Center after attempting suicide and was diagnosed with severe postpartum depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. On November 15, Hennepin County filed a petition alleging that T.K. was in need of protection and services. T.K. was placed in a foster home, and remained in continuous out-of-home placement through the termination proceedings.
On December 11, 2001, Kuschill was released from the hospital, but attempted suicide the following day and was readmitted to the hospital. On December 14, Hennepin County prepared a case plan including supervised visitation.
On January 15, 2002, T.K. was adjudicated to be in need of protection or services under Minn. Stat. § 260C.004, subd. 4(8) (2000), and legal custody was transferred to Hennepin County Children, Family, and Adult Services Department. Two weeks later, during an unsupervised portion of her visit with T.K., Kuschill again attempted suicide and was readmitted to the hospital as a result. Kuschill was twice discharged from a day-treatment program for irregular attendance. In April 2002, Kuschill was admitted to a “Rule 36” facility, a group-home environment. She began parenting programming, outpatient mental-health services, and an outpatient chemical-dependency program. Kuschill continued to abuse alcohol and marijuana throughout this period. She was also absent from the group home for days at a time without informing anyone of her whereabouts. In May 2002, the county filed a petition to terminate Kuschill’s parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (5) & (8) (2002).
Kuschill had supervised visits with T.K. at the group home and at her mother’s home, but in August 2002, she experienced difficulty caring for T.K. during an all-day activity. Later Kuschill also admitted that she had consumed too much alcohol on September 20. When she visited T.K. the following day, she admitted to being “hung over” and to vomiting in a public area in T.K.’s presence. Therapist Peg Breslin reported that Kuschill “appears to have very little insight connected to her behaviors.”
On October 24, 2002, the district court held a trial regarding the termination of Kuschill’s parental rights. At trial, the guardian ad litem stated, through counsel, that she believed that the termination of parental rights was in T.K.’s best interests. The district court terminated Kuschill’s parental rights on November 26, 2002. The order was substantially based upon the county’s proposed order, but the court attached a memorandum explaining its decision. On January 8, 2003, the district court denied Kuschill’s motion for a new trial or other relief. This appeal follows.
On review of a district court’s findings in a termination of parental rights case, this court is “limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.” In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997) (citation omitted). This court 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); see Minn. R. Juv. P. 74.04, subd. 1 (requiring proof by clear and convincing evidence). A district court may terminate parental rights if it finds that at least one of the nine statutory criteria for termination exists. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002); In re Children of Vasquez, 658 N.W.2d 249, 253 (Minn. App. 2003). In an action for the termination of parental rights, “the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2002).
Here, the district court found clear and convincing evidence to terminate Kuschill’s parental rights. It concluded that the elements set out in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 were satisfied and that termination of parental rights was appropriate. In particular, it found that Kuschill refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship and that she failed to correct the conditions that led to the child’s out-of-home placement.
After a child alleged to be in need of protection is placed under the district court’s jurisdiction, the court shall assure that reasonable efforts to eliminate the need for removal and to reunite the child with the child’s family. Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) (2002); see Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8(1) (2002) (requiring individualized and explicit findings that reasonable efforts were made to rehabilitate parent and to reunite child and parent). When a court terminates parental rights, it must make findings and conclusions that reasonable efforts were made to offer services that were (1) relevant to the child’s safety and protection, (2) adequate to meet the child’s and family’s needs, (3) culturally appropriate, (4) available and accessible, (5) consistent and timely, and (6) realistic under the circumstances. Minn. Stat. § 260.012(c) (2002). Those efforts must include “real, genuine assistance” addressing the reasons for the out-of-home placement. In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). Also relevant is the length and quality of the county’s involvement. In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987).
The record demonstrates that T.K. was removed from Kuschill’s care because of her initial suicide attempt and subsequent hospitalization. Kuschill was diagnosed with depression related to her post-partum state. She repeatedly had psychological problems after removal, including a suicide attempt during visitation with the child. The county has provided Kuschill with a substantial number of services to address her mental-health issues, including group-home placement, individual therapy, psychological testing, medication management, a chemical-dependency program, and parenting programming. Despite the availability of these services, the record shows that Kuschill did not successfully complete her case plan, nor did she significantly change her behavior since the out-of-home placement began.
Parental termination may be based on a cautious pattern of an inability to parent and an inability or unwillingness to correct that pattern. In re Welfare of J.D.L., 522 N.W.2d 364, 367-68 (Minn. App. 1994). The evidence at trial must address conditions existing at the time of the hearing. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996). The best interests of the child are always paramount, and a termination may take place where one or more of the statutory conditions are met. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2002).
The district court’s finding that Kuschill has demonstrated a historical pattern of her inability to parent is supported by this record. Since T.K.’s birth, Kuschill has repeatedly attempted suicide and has failed to complete her course of treatment and case plan. She also continued to abuse alcohol despite being advised of its harmful effects on her mental state. The record contains evidence that, through the date of trial, Kuschill remained impulsive, to lack insight into her behavior, and a lack of motivation to succeed in her case plan.
Kuschill cites cases where the parent was allowed more time to attempt to complete their case plans. See, e.g., In re Welfare of Walker, 287 N.W.2d 642, 644 (Minn. 1979) (five years of parenting); In re Welfare of D.I., 413 N.W.2d 560 (Minn. App. 1987) (ten years of supervision). But these cases predate the current statutory scheme, which requires that permanency decisions for children under eight years old be issued within six months of the out-of-home placement. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201, subd. 11a(a) (2002). In the six months following the out-of-home placement, Kuschill experienced significant difficulties in assessing those conditions that led to the out-of-home placement.
The record contains substantial evidence supporting the district court’s determination that Kuschill failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement and that termination of parental rights is in T.K.’s best interests. The record further supports the district court’s conclusion that Kuschill will not be in a position to comply with parental duties for the foreseeable future.
Kuschill also argues that the district court erred by adopting verbatim the county’s proposed findings and order, which included the court’s two-paragraph memorandum. Kuschill asserts that the court deprived her of due process by failing to conduct an independent review of the record before issuing its order.
A district court’s verbatim adoption of a party’s proposed findings and conclusions of law is not reversible error, per se. Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993); Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 408 N.W.2d 654, 657 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. Aug. 19, 1987). But if a court adopts a proposed order, it raises the question of whether the court independently evaluated the evidence. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d at 590. A reviewing court examines the findings to determine whether they are clearly erroneous. Kohn v. Minneapolis Fire Dep’t, 583 N.W.2d 7, 14 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Oct. 20, 1998); Sigurdson, 408 N.W.2d at 657; see Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. A proper termination order includes detailed, specific, and sufficient findings that provide an appellate court with a meaningful opportunity for review. In re Welfare of M.J.L., 582 N.W.2d 585, 588 n.3 (Minn. App. 1998).
The district court findings were detailed and specific, and they are also supported by substantial evidence in the record. The record demonstrates that since T.K.’s birth, Kuschill has made several suicide attempts, has continued to use alcohol and marijuana, was not active in her group therapy discussions, reported that she had begun to see more “cons” regarding her parenting of T.K., and made a pornographic video. The court’s findings and memorandum support its conclusion that Kuschill has substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed by the parent-child relationship and that termination of Kuschill’s parental rights is appropriate.