This opinion will be unpublished and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 re the Children of: Jessica Lee Schauer and James Lee Schauer.
Filed November 4, 2003
Anoka County District Court
File No. J3-02-53747
Sherri D. Hawley, 1398 Myrtle Street North, St. Paul, MN 55119 (for appellant)
Nellie G. Spexet, 3401 131st Avenue Northeast, Blaine, MN 55449 (guardian ad litem)
Robert M. A. Johnson, Anoka County Attorney, Robert D. Goodell, Assistant County Attorney, M. Katherine Doty, Assistant County Attorney, 2100 Third Avenue, 7th Floor, Anoka, MN 55303 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Harten, Judge; and Anderson, Judge.
G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge
Appellants challenge the termination of their parental rights. Appellants contend that they are not palpably unfit parents, that their children are not neglected and in foster care, that the conditions leading to the removal of the children from the home have been corrected, and that the termination is not in the best interests of the children. Because the district court did not err in finding appellants palpably unfit to be parents, we affirm.
James Lee Schauer and Jessica Lee Schauer are husband and wife. The Schauers have three children: J.L.S., I, born October 2, 1996, J.L.S., II, born December 9, 2000, and A.R.S., born April 29, 2002.
On August 1, 2001, the Schauers contacted Anoka County Social Services (“Social Services”) and requested voluntary placement of their two sons, J.L.S., I, and J.L.S., II, in foster care. The family was homeless and neither parent was employed.
On August 16, 2001, the Schauers contacted Social Services and told the agency that they had found an apartment and would be moving in on August 24. On August 28, Social Services inspected the new apartment and found it adequate; on August 29 the two children were returned from foster care to their parents.
In the time between when the Schauers voluntarily placed their children in foster care in early August, and when the two boys returned home to their parent’s new apartment, Social Services worked with the Schauers to help get them back on their feet. Social Servicesprovided money and also referred the couple to the Therapeutic Service Agency (“TSA”) for relationship counseling—the Schauers had revealed to Social Services that there had been domestic violence in their relationship.
In September 2001, Mrs. Schauer began meeting with Lisa Schroeder (“Schroeder”), a TSA therapist. In therapy sessions with Schroeder, which continued through mid-November 2001, Mrs. Schauer revealed that Mr. Schauer: (1) received residential treatment as a child; (2) was involved in gang activity; (3) had been diagnosed as suffering from both a bipolar disorder and ADHD; (4) had been medicated for these conditions as a child, but as an adult refused either medication or treatment for his conditions; (5) was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive in the relationship; (6) suffered from a gambling problem; (7) was addicted to methamphetamine; (8) was involved in distributing methamphetamine; and, (9) was possibly manufacturing methamphetamine in the couple’s apartment.
At more than one counseling session, Mrs. Schauer maintained that she had no contact with Mr. Schauer and did not know his whereabouts. Social Services advised Mrs. Schauer that if Mr. Schauer tried to contact her she should contact the agency immediately; Mrs. Schauer assured Social Services that she would not allow Mr. Schauer to return to the apartment.
At Mrs. Schauer’s October 18, 2001 appointment with Schroeder, Mrs. Schauer revealed she had lied about Mr. Schauer’s whereabouts and that he had been living in their apartment the entire time. Mrs. Schauer also disclosed that the police had arrested Mr. Schauer that day while he was in possession of methamphetamine. In addition, Mrs. Schauer revealed that she had used methamphetamine for a short time after the birth of her second child.
At Mrs. Schauer’s November 2, 2001 appointment, she told Schroeder that she was not currently in contact with Mr. Schauer. Mr. Schauer entered the room during the session and admitted that he had listened to the entire conversation, and that he had never stopped living in the Schauer apartment. Both parents told Schroeder that their drug abuse did not negatively impact their children.
On November 6, 2001, the Drug Task Force placed a 72-hour hold on the Schauer children after receiving information about the Schauers from Social Services and TSA. The Drug Task Force found crank paraphernalia at the Schauer home. Mrs. Schauer told members of the task force that Mr. Schauer was using drugs, that her husband was controlling, and that he was both verbally and physically abusive. Social Services took J.L.S., I and J.L.S., II from the home and placed them in foster care.
On November 7, 2001, the Schauers met with Schroeder and Social Services. At the meeting, Mr. Schauer: (1) admitted he used crank, but denied having used it in the last three weeks, and denied having ever used methamphetamine; (2) admitted using ephedrine daily to avoid withdrawal symptoms associated with crank usage; (3) admitted he needed drug treatment, but was unwilling to start treatment before a December court date because it would increase his jail time; (4) stated that he wanted his children returned to their home immediately, and would divorce Mrs. Schauer and never return if it would expedite the children’s return; (5) denied abusing or neglecting his children; (6) refused to submit to individual counseling or psychological testing; (7) denied being bipolar, but admitted to being manic depressive.
On November 9, 2001, a CHIPS petition was filed with the district court asserting that the Schauer children were in need of protection or services. An emergency protective care hearing was held that same day, and the district court ordered that both children remain in placement.
On November 15, 2001, the Schauers appeared in district court to contest the child protection petition. After considering the evidence, the district court ruled that the Schauer children were in need of protection or services, and that they would not be returned home until the Schauers: (1) consistently provided clean urine analyses; (2) paid their rent to avoid eviction; and (3) continued to work on communication with a family therapist to avoid further domestic assaults.
The court ordered the Schauers to: (1) complete a Rule 25 evaluation; (2) follow all recommendations of the evaluation for treatment, education, and aftercare; (3) submit to random urine analyses; (4) participate in family and individual therapy; and, (5) complete psychological evaluations.
At the December 13, 2001, dispositional hearing, the district court renewed the Schauer children’s out-of-home placement. The district court approved and incorporated Social Services’ case plan recommendations for the Schauers into the order. The case plan recommended, among other things, that the Schauers: (1) attend and participate in family based therapy; (2) complete psychological evaluations and follow the recommendations provided; (3) complete a chemical dependency evaluation and/or a Rule 25 Assessment, and follow the recommendations of the assessment; (4) develop a budget and pay rent; (5) allow J.L.S., I’s school to assess his needs for special education and comply with the school’s recommendations; and, (6) maintain contact with social workers.
For Mr. Schauer individually, the case plan recommended: (1) attending, participating in, and completing a domestic abuse treatment program; and, (2) completing a psychiatric evaluation, participating in and cooperating with psychiatric care recommendations, and taking prescribed medications.
Mrs. Schauer gave birth to A.R.S. on April 29, 2002. A.R.S. was immediately removed from her parent’s custody; A.R.S. has never lived with the Schauers and has been in foster care since she was taken from the hospital after birth.
On May 1, 2002, petitions were filed to terminate the parental rights of Mr. and Mrs. Schauer with respect to all three of their children.
At the July 23, 2002 CHIPS disposition review hearing, the district court ordered that continued placement of the children outside the home was necessary. The district court also ordered that the Social Services’ updated case plan should be incorporated into the order, and the Schauers were directed to comply with the new objectives set forth in the case plan, which included detailed benchmarks for: (1) attaining and maintaining good mental health; (2) attaining and maintaining a sober, drug-free lifestyle; (3) demonstrating effective parenting skills and good judgment and decision making reflecting the best interests of their children; and, (4) demonstrating the ability to meet both their own needs and the needs of their children.
1. Deena McMahon—TSA Director
In March and April of 2002, Deena McMahon, the director of TSA, developed a parenting assessment of the Schauers. McMahon concluded that the Schauers were not capable parents, that ongoing services were unlikely to remedy the situation, and that the prognosis for reunification of the family was poor. McMahon commented that “[t]here was very little seen during parent-child observation that makes one believe that either parent is motivated or cares enough about the children’s welfare to make the changes necessarily [sic] to prioritize the children’s needs ahead of their own.” The assessment was introduced at trial.
2. Bruce O’Leary—Couple’s Therapist and Mr. Schauer’s Individual Therapist
After their children were removed from the Schauers’ home, the couple decided they could no longer work with Mrs. Schauer’s counselor, Schroeder, and the couple eventually was assigned to TSA therapists Sue Haugen and Bruce O’ Leary. Together, Haugen and O’Leary provided couples counseling for the Schauers. Separately, Haugen counseled Mrs. Schauer and O’Leary counseled Mr. Schauer.
Starting in June 2002, O’Leary provided counseling services to Mr. Schauer. He testified that individually Mr. Schauer did not make good progress on his issues—the same issues that appeared in the first meeting with Mr. Schauer resurfaced even in the last sessions. Mr. Schauer’s recurring issues included: (1) lack of empathy; (2) aggressiveness vs. assertiveness; and, (3) a tendency to be self-centered and not give his children attention.
O’Leary also expressed concern about Mr. Schauer’s domestic abuse program, testifying that after talking with the people at Mr. Schauer’s domestic abuse program, O’Leary decided to supplement Mr. Schauer’s therapy and incorporate anger management into their therapy sessions. O’Leary was disappointed in Mr. Schauer’s inability to control his anger after many months of domestic abuse counseling.
O’Leary testified that he was concerned about Mr. Schauer’s prior drug abuse, failure to complete substance abuse programs, and lack of a support system to keep Mr. Schauer from relapsing into drug abuse. O’Leary also testified that the Schauers’ couples therapy ended because “we [the therapists and the Schauers] weren’t going anywhere. I think we were stuck.” O’Leary also testified that Mr. Schauer’s individual therapy continued until two weeks before trial.
3. Haugen—Couple’s Therapist and Mrs. Schauer’s Individual Therapist
Haugen took part in the Schauers’ couples therapy and counseled Mrs. Schauer individually. Haugen testified that Mrs. Schauer’s therapy sessions were difficult because Mrs. Schauer often lied and withheld information in therapy. Haugen testified: (1) to a pattern of abuse in the Schauer’s relationship; (2) that although physical violence no longer appeared to be present in the relationship, Mrs. Schauer had identified “a lot of different things that he [Mr. Schauer] was doing: intimidation, the financial control, using the children, doing blaming, and denial of different behaviors, placing his feelings on her and making her responsible for them” which created a negative domestic cycle; (3) that Mrs. Schauer put her husband’s needs before the needs of her children and even before her own needs; (4) that Haugen saw no benefit to continued couples or individual therapy; and, (5) that the Schauers were not capable of becoming adequate parents because they could not meet their own needs, let alone the needs of their children, and were unable to understand their children’s cues. Haugen testified that the Schauer children would be unsafe in the environment at the Schauer home, as Mrs. Schauer could not protect herself or her children from Mr. Schauer.
4. Christine Harder—Social Worker
On June 26, 2002, Christine Harder, a social worker with Social Services, began working with the Schauers. Harder testified that after Social Services initially decided to withdraw the termination of the Schauers’ parental rights petition, the Schauers became uncooperative and stopped making appointments with Social Services.
5. Cheryl Redinger—Visitation Supervisor
Cheryl Redinger supervised the Schauers’ visitation sessions with their children for almost one year. Redinger testified that the Schauers had trouble giving each child equal time, and that a recurrent theme in the instruction of both parents was that they needed to give each child attention, even if the child was not asking for it. Redinger testified that the couple had trouble knowing their children’s basic needs and reading their emotional cues. Redinger recommended against unsupervised visitation.
6. Diana White Rognerud—J.L.S., I’s Therapist
Diana White Rognerud was J.L.S., I’s therapist. Rognerud testified that the Schauers did not understand the special needs of J.L.S., I. The therapist further testified that without additional educational courses, the Schauers would not understand their child’s needs.
The district court ordered the termination of the Schauer’s parental rights. The district court found that the Schauers were palpably unfit to be parents, that reasonable efforts, under the direction of the district court, had failed to correct the conditions which led to the placement of their three children, that the Schauer children were neglected and in foster care, and that it was in the best interests of the children to terminate the Schauers’ parental rights. The district court terminated the Schauers’ parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), (5) and (8) (2002).
The Schauers appeal this determination.
“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). The presumption is that the children’s biological parents are suitable individuals to be entrusted with the care of their children, and that the best interests of the children are served by remaining in the biological parent’s custody. See In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980).
When considering a petition to terminate parental rights, the district court must consider the nine established criteria that support the termination of parental rights. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2002). The district court may terminate parental rights if one of the nine criteria is established by clear and convincing evidence. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(b), 7; see also In re Welfare of J.S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1991), review denied (Minn. July 24, 1991). But the petitioner must show that the conditions justifying termination exist at the time of trial and will continue for an indefinite period of time. Matter of Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980). Upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence to support the termination of parental rights, the district court’s order must make “clear and specific findings which conform to the statutory requirements.” Chosa, 290 N.W.2d at 769.
When reviewing orders terminating parental rights, some deference is given to the district court’s findings. In re Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn. App. 1987). The appellate court does, however, closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine if the evidence supporting termination is clear and convincing. Id. This court must determine whether the district court’s termination findings: (1) address the statutory criteria; (2) are supported by substantial evidence; and, (3) are not clearly erroneous. See M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.
According to Minnesota statute, a court may terminate parental rights if the court finds:
[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.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).
The district court found, at the time of trial, that the Schauers were palpably unfit to continue the parent-child relationship with their three children. Relying on the testimony of the Social Services’ personnel involved with the couple and the Schauers’ therapists, the court found that: (1) the Schauers’ inability to put their children’s needs before their own needs, and further, the Schauers’ failure to understand the impact of their actions on their children endangered the children’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being; (2) the Schauers were incapable of understanding the issues relating to the special needs of J.L.S., I; and (3) despite the completion of extensive counseling and treatment programs, the Schauers were unable to correct their persistent parenting problems; in fact, the Schauers may not be amendable to the correction of their parenting problems through therapeutic services.
The district court rested these conclusions on the testimony and evidence presented. The Schauers’ therapists, O’Leary and Haugen, testified that the Schauers were unable to put their children’s needs before the Schauers’ own needs. Rognerud testified that the Schauers were unable to understand J.L.S., I’s special needs, and would not be able to understand these needs without further educational courses. Finally, McMahon, O’Leary, and Haugen all testified that, despite completing extensive counseling and treatment, neither parent was fit to be reunited with the children.
Moreover, the district court found that the conduct that made the Schauers palpably unfit to continue the parent-child relationship with their children would continue for the reasonably foreseeable future. Because the district court’s conclusion that the Schauers are palpably unfit to be parents—both at the time of trial and into the reasonably foreseeable future—addressed the statutory criteria, was supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record, and is not clearly erroneous, the Schauers’ appeal on this ground fails.
Because the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law sufficiently support the termination of parental rights on the ground of palpable unfitness, there is no need to remand for additional findings on the other grounds. See Welfare of A.H., 402 N.W.2d at 604-04 (finding that where the trial court made sufficiently specific findings on two separate grounds for termination of parental rights, this court would not remand for additional findings on the third basis for termination even though the court’s findings in that area were inadequate).
 J.L.S., I is a special needs child with a diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder, an anxiety disorder, and a language disorder.