This opinion will be unpublished and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 Child of

Diane Spencer, a/k/a Diane Smith.



Filed ­­­September 2, 2003


Harten, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. J9-01-69243


Leonardo Castro, Chief, 4th District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, 1200 Health Services Building, 525 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent)


Shirley A. Reider, 842 Raymond Avenue, Suite 205, St. Paul, MN 55114 (for guardian ad litem)


            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Anderson, Judge, and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N



Appellant-mother challenges the district court’s termination of her parental rights.  Because clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s finding that appellant is palpably unfit to participate in the parent and child relationship, we affirm.


Appellant Diane Spencer had seven children.  The first child was placed for adoption soon after birth.  The second was sexually abused by appellant’s husband, Nathan Spencer, who pleaded guilty to attempted incest with the child and is currently on probation in Colorado.  Appellant’s parental rights to her third, fourth, and fifth children were terminated by Colorado because of, among other things, Spencer’s sexual abuse of the second child.  Appellant had a sixth child in 1999.  Because of Spencer’s “charges and treatment,” appellant took the child from Colorado to Texas and left him with Spencer’s parents.  Eventually, the child’s legal custody was transferred to them.

In 2001, appellant and Spencer had K.S., who is the subject of this appeal.  Because of the terms of Spencer’s probation prohibited contact with children, appellant had moved from Colorado to Minnesota to stay with her mother prior to giving birth to K.S.  K.S. was removed from appellant’s custody shortly after his birth, and respondent Hennepin County Department of Children, Family and Adult Services petitioned the district court to terminate appellant’s parental rights to him.  Appellant petitioned to transfer legal custody of K.S. to Spencer’s parents, then withdrew her request to transfer legal custody and consented to the adoption of K.S. by her brother and sister-in-law, but then revoked her consent to the adoption. The district court denied appellant’s motion to transfer legal custody and ordered the termination of her parental rights to K.S.; the court also summarily denied her motion for a new trial.  This appeal followed.


When reviewing a district court’s findings in a termination proceeding,

appellate courts are 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 S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).  “The paramount consideration in all proceedings for the termination of parental rights is the best interests of the child.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3 (2000).

Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2000), provides that parental rights may be terminated if the court finds

that a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship because of 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 reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child.


The district court found that appellant is palpably unfit to parent K.S., specifically finding that she demonstrated no insight into the reason for the previous terminations and presented no evidence that she could properly parent K.S. now or in the foreseeable future.  Substantial evidence supports those findings.  Despite Spencer’s guilty plea and probationary restrictions, appellant testified that she thought Spencer was a good man, that sexual abuse is “not something he would do,” that he is not a risk to K.S. or to any children, and that there is no reason that he cannot be around his children.  Appellant also testified that she did not know if she believed her daughter’s allegations of sexual abuse and that the previous terminations were “possibly for the sexual abuse that was supposed to have been done on [her second daughter].”  Finally, appellant testified that she maintains regular contact with Spencer, that she wants to stay married to him, and that she wants herself, Spencer, and K.S. to be together.  Appellant’s testimony clearly demonstrates that she does not understand the danger that Spencer poses to children and that she fully intends to stay with him.

Pretrial evaluations performed in Minnesota further support the district court’s findings and demonstrate that appellant does not take any personal responsibility for her failure to provide a safe environment for her children.  A May 2002 Termination Report indicated as follows:

[Appellant] stated several times to this worker that she did not believe that her husband actually sexually abused her daughter * * * , even though he is a convicted sex offender serving time for this offense in Colorado.  Although she insisted that she can protect her children, she also stated that she intended to get back together with her husband once he is out of jail.  There was also no apparent recognition of anything she had done, or failed to do, to cause the removal of her other six children from her care.


* * * No supportive services attached to this mother appeared likely to be able to penetrate her denial and help her gain recognition of what was needed of her as a parent to protect her children.


A 2002 Parenting Assessment provided:

[Appellant] denies [that Spencer sexually abused her daughter] and reports that this incident is her daughter’s fault and says she had no control of the situation because she was not present during the abuse.


Finally, a February 2002 psychosexual evaluation provided:

It also seems clear, given the findings from the previous psychological evaluation 5 years ago, as well as the reports from the Child Protection Services in Colorado and in Minnesota, that rapid change or growth is not to be expected for [appellant].  She seems to be genuinely motivated, but is unable to counter her own characterological traits, which interfere with her ability to tolerate any critical feedback, which limit her ability to perceive herself accurately or as in any way responsible for her own problems * * * .


* * * Even in the best of circumstances, however, [appellant] will not make changes rapidly.


Appellant gave up her first child for adoption; she had her second child removed from her home; her parental rights to her third, fourth, and fifth children were terminated, and she lost legal custody of her sixth child.  Appellant has not taken any responsibility for her failure to parent her first six children, and she has not demonstrated that she will be able to appropriately care for K.S. in the reasonably foreseeable future.  We conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the district court’s decision to terminate appellant’s parental rights on the ground of palpable unfitness.[1]

Although palpable unfitness was the only ground argued in the termination petition, the district court also concluded that clear and convincing evidence supported termination on other grounds.  A district court need find only one statutory ground to terminate parental rights.  S.Z., 547 N.W.2d at 890.  Because we affirm the termination on the ground that appellant is palpably unfit, we do not reach appellant’s arguments regarding the district court’s consideration of other statutory factors.

Appellant also challenges the district court’s admission of records from the previous termination proceedings in Colorado.  Assuming without deciding that those records were inadmissible, substantial evidence, including appellant’s testimony and pretrial evaluations performed in Minnesota, supports the district court’s finding that appellant is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship. 



[1] We note that the district court did not apply the presumption in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (parent is presumed palpably unfit on a showing that the parent’s rights to another child were involuntarily terminated).  We therefore do not apply the presumption on review.