This opinion will be unpublished and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: S.T.C., Parent.


Filed July 6, 2004


Stoneburner, Judge


Washington County District Court

File No. J8219424Y


John M. Jerabek, Joel B. Wilson, Niemi, Barr & Jerabek, P.A., Suite 200, 510 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)


Doug Johnson, Washington County Attorney, Janet A. Reiter, Assistant County Attorney, Washington County Government Center, 14949 62nd Street North, Box 6, Stillwater, MN 55082 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Parker, Judge.*


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N




            Appellant mother challenges the termination of her parental rights to her daughter, H.C., arguing that a prior termination of parental rights was not proved by clear and convincing evidence, the district court erred by relieving social services of an obligation to provide reasonable unification efforts, and there was insufficient evidence to justify termination of parental rights.  We affirm.



I.          Evidence of prior involuntary termination of parental rights

            Appellant asserts that the state failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a prior termination of her parental rights was involuntary and, therefore, failed to establish that the county social-service agency was excused from providing reasonable efforts for unification prior to terminating her rights to H.C., the subject of this termination proceeding.  Appellant first objects to admission of faxed copies of termination documents from the Juvenile Division of the Wayne County Probate Court, Wayne County, Michigan, terminating appellant’s rights to three children in 1993 and terminating her rights to a fourth child in 1995.

            Appellant did not move for a new trial based on this challenge to an evidentiary ruling of the district court.  Generally, evidentiary rulings are subject to appellate review only if there has been a motion for a new trial challenging the evidentiary ruling as erroneous.  Sauter v. Wasemiller, 389 N.W.2d 200, 201 (Minn. 1986).  But we grant discretionary review, in the interests of justice.  See Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 103.04; Putz v. Putz, 645 N.W.2d 343, 350 (Minn. 2002).

            Absent an erroneous interpretation of the law, the question of whether to admit or exclude evidence is within the district court’s discretion.  Kroning v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 567 N.W.2d 42, 45-46 (Minn. 1997).  Under the rules of evidence, a self-authenticating or certified copy of a public record is admissible as evidence without extrinsic evidence of authenticity as a condition precedent to admission.  Minn. R. Evid. 902(4). 

            In this case, a Washington County child-protection intake worker testified that she received an uncertified copy of the Michigan court documents showing that appellant’s parental rights to three children had been terminated in Michigan in 1993 and that her parental rights to a fourth child were terminated in 1995.  The county attorney stated that there had been some initial difficulty in obtaining a certified copy of the records, so the county attorney faxed the uncertified copies to the Michigan court.  A deputy court clerk in Michigan then certified that he had compared the faxed copies with the originals on file and that the faxed copies are correct copies of the whole of the original.  The Michigan court clerk then mailed the certified documents, which contain the clerk’s original signature in blue ink, to the county attorney’s office. 

            Appellant argues that there are pages missing from the exhibit such that it cannot be a certified copy of the Michigan records.  But the page numbers appear on the exhibit as part of the data relating to faxing of the documents and not as pagination in the Michigan court file.  The exhibit consists of: (1) an order, signed by the presiding judge, terminating appellant’s parental rights to three children based on “clear and convincing evidence that a statutory basis exists for terminating [appellant’s] parental rights” after a finding that reasonable efforts were made to prevent the children’s removal from the home and to rectify the conditions causing removal; (2) the report and recommendation of the referee, reporting on testimony taken of witnesses, and recommending that appellant’s parental rights be terminated; and (3) the report and recommendation of the referee, approved by the judge of the probate court, terminating appellant’s parental rights to a fourth child based on five statutory grounds. 

The documents establish that appellant’s parental rights were terminated involuntarily in Michigan pursuant to Michigan law and that the law applied is similar to the law in Minnesota.  We conclude that the district court did not err by determining that these documents constituted certified copies of a public record admissible under the rules of evidence without further evidence of authenticity and that the documents established that appellant’s parental rights to four children were involuntarily terminated in Michigan.

II.        Application of statute relieving county of reunification efforts

            Appellant argues that the district court erred by applying statutory provisions that relieve the county of its obligation to make reunification efforts because the involuntary termination of her parental rights in Michigan occurred prior to enactment of these provisions in 1998 and 1999.  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a)(1)(ii) (Supp. 2003), provides that “[r]easonable efforts for rehabilitation and reunification are not required upon a determination by the court that . . . the parental rights of the parent to another child have

been terminated involuntarily.”[1]  Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3(2) (2002), provides in relevant part that “[n]othing in this section requires reasonable [reunification] efforts to be made in circumstances where the court has determined that . . . the parental rights of the parent to a sibling have been involuntarily terminated.”[2]  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2002), provides in relevant part that “[i]t is presumed that a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship upon a showing that the parent’s parental rights to one or more other children were involuntarily terminated. . . .”[3]

Statutory construction is a matter of law reviewed de novo on appeal.  Brookfield Trade Ctr. Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 393 (Minn. 1998).  We disagree with appellant’s assertion that the district court applied the relevant statutory provisions retroactively.  A court must apply the law in effect at the time it renders its decision, “unless doing so would alter rights that had matured or become unconditional, would impose new and unanticipated obligations on a party, or would work some other injustice due to the nature and identity of the parties.”  McClelland v. McClelland, 393 N.W.2d 224, 226-27 (Minn. App. 1986) (citing Bradley v. Sch. Bd. of City of Richmond, 416 U.S. 696, 717, 720, 94 S. Ct. 2006 (1974), review denied (Minn. Nov. 17, 1986)).  A statute is not applied retroactively simply because it is applied in a case that arises out of conduct that predates the statute’s enactment.  Landgraf v. USI Film Products, 511 U.S. 244, 269-70, 114 S. Ct. 1483, 1499 (1994). 

            In this case, the district court properly applied the statutes in effect at the time of the current petition for termination of parental rights.  The statutes were not applied retroactively.

III.       Sufficiency of the evidence

            On review in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, this court determines 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, we exercise great caution in proceedings to terminate parental rights.  In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 619 (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).  While only one criterion needs to be proven to support termination, the primary consideration in every termination case is the child’s best interests.  Id., subds. 1(b), 7 (2002).  The party petitioning for termination must prove one or more of the statutory termination grounds 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).  And a 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).

In this case, the district court concluded that appellant’s parental rights have been involuntarily terminated as to one or more other children, and therefore, the county was relieved of the obligation to provide reasonable rehabilitation or reunification efforts.  Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a)(ii).  Because of the prior involuntary terminations, appellant is presumed palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship with H.C.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(4) (2003).  To rebut this presumption, appellant had to produce evidence that “affirmatively and actively demonstrate[s] her. . .ability to successfully parent a child” and establishes that any prior unfitness no longer exists.  In re Welfare of D.L.R.D., 656 N.W.2d 247, 251 (Minn. App. 2003).  Because appellant failed to rebut the presumption and was not deemed to be able to care for H.C. for the reasonably foreseeable future, the district court terminated her parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, 1(b)(4).  The district court also terminated appellant’s parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), after concluding that appellant has not complied with the parental duties imposed upon her and that reasonable efforts would be futile and therefore unreasonable.

            Appellant argues that the evidence does not rise to the level required for termination under either statutory provision.  Appellant argues that there is no evidence to suggest that H.C. was harmed or neglected.  The evidence, however, supports the district court’s lengthy and detailed findings. 

            a.         Palpable unfitness

            As stated above, appellant is presumed to be palpably unfit to parent H.C. based on the prior termination of her parental rights.  The evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that appellant did not rebut this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.  See D.L.R.D., 656 N.W.2d at 250 (stating that parent has burden to rebut presumption of palpable unfitness where her rights to another child have been terminated).  Although the record indicates that appellant sought counseling and parenting education on her own initiative, the record also supports the district court’s findings that appellant has left H.C. in the care of others for indefinite, extended periods of time; left her unattended in the home; and left her in the care of a relatively unknown, and possibly mentally unstable, renter in her home.  Testimony from people who have known appellant and H.C. support the district court’s findings.

            b.         Parental duties

            The evidence also supports the district court’s findings that appellant has not complied with her parental duties toward H.C.  Appellant has consistently relied on others to provide care and the necessary food and clothing for H.C.  The record demonstrates that appellant has made some attempts throughout these proceedings to change some behaviors.  Specifically, she has sought counseling and parental education, but the record does not demonstrate that she has applied, or is able to apply, any of the skills that she has been taught.  There was also conflicting testimony from appellant and others regarding appellant’s ability to parent.  The district court is in the best position to determine witness credibility, and this court generally defers to the district court.  Eisenschenk v. Eisenschenk, 668 N.W.2d 235, 241 (Minn. App. 2003).  The district court’s findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, and the findings support the statutory criteria relied on to terminate appellant’s parental rights to H.C.



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

[1] Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) was amended by 1998 Minn. Laws ch. 407, art. 9, § 23, to include a provision for the court not to require reasonable reunification efforts by a county services agency after a child alleged to be in need of protection or services is under the court’s jurisdiction if the court determines there has been a prior involuntary termination of parental rights. 

[2] Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 3(2) (2002), was initially added by 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 3, § 1.

[3] Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4), was repealed by 1999 Minn. Laws, ch. 139, art. 4, § 3, and the amendments were incorporated into Minn. Stat. § 260C.301 (Supp. 1999).