This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Filed March 15, 2005
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Pat Ciliberto, Scott County Attorney, Michael J. Groh, Peggy Flaig Hellier, Assistant County Attorneys, Scott County Justice Center, 200 Fourth Avenue West, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for appellant Scott County)
Laura K. Box, 525 East First Avenue, Shakopee, MN 55379 (for respondent K.R.F.)
Marcia Kladek, 2491 Bridle Creek Trail, Chanhassen, MN 55317 (guardian ad litem)
Amy Schutte, 921 Meadow Place, Belle Plaine, MN 56001 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Poritsky, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
In this termination-of-parental-rights appeal, appellant Scott County challenges the district court’s dismissal of its petition to terminate K.R.F.’ s parental rights over her son K.F., arguing (1) the court’s findings were clearly erroneous and insufficient to permit meaningful review and (2) the court erred in interpreting and applying applicable statutory provisions. We reverse and remand.
K.F. was born to respondent-mother K.R.F. in 2001; the child’s paternity has never been established. In July 2003, Scott County Human Services sent a social worker to the home shared by K.F. and K.R.F. in response to a report that K.F. was receiving inadequate parental supervision. Mother admitted to the social worker that she worked nights and frequently fell asleep during the day while she was caring for K.F. in the home; she also disclosed a history of substance abuse. The social worker and mother developed a plan calling for mother to, among other things, maintain K.F.’s safety, remain chemical-free, and submit to random urinalyses (UA’s). In subsequent visits, the social worker observed the home to be in disarray; during one August visit, mother told the worker she had recently used alcohol and methamphetamine.
In September, the social worker had the Jordan Police Department search mother’s curbside garbage, in which they discovered trace amounts of methamphetamine. The police subsequently obtained and executed a search warrant for mother’s residence, where they discovered drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine. The police arrested mother for controlled-substance possession and the county filed a Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petition on K.F.’s behalf. The district court ordered K.F. placed in foster care pending mother’s completion of a chemical-dependency assessment, which diagnosed mother as chemically dependent and recommended outpatient treatment.
The district court had K.F. returned to mother on the conditions that mother continue to submit “clean” UA’s; cooperate with a social worker to develop a case plan; schedule and keep all appointments with K.F.’s special-education caseworkers; regularly attend Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings; complete a chemical-dependency evaluation and outpatient chemical-dependency treatment.
One week after starting her outpatient treatment, mother submitted a tainted UA, and K.F. was returned to foster care. Mother did not attend any NA or AA meetings in October. In November and early December, mother missed two UA appointments, invalidated the results of two UA’s through tampering, and submitted one positive UA. During the same period, mother missed three scheduled county-ordered family-assessment meetings. On December 10, mother was discharged from the outpatient treatment program because of her continued use of methamphetamine; the county recommended inpatient treatment.
Following mother’s discharge from outpatient treatment, the district court reviewed her case and ordered, among other things, that K.F. remain in foster care; that mother continue to submit to random UA’s; that Mother attend NA or AA meetings weekly; that mother obtain a sponsor to help her maintain sobriety; and that mother complete a diagnostic assessment and follow the resulting recommendations.
Between December 26, 2003, and February 2, 2004, mother refused to submit to any UA’s. During the same period, mother did not attend any AA or NA meetings; did not obtain a sobriety sponsor; did not obtain employment to replace the job she had lost in October 2003; consistently told her caseworker she refused to enter inpatient treatment, which she believed was ineffective; and indicated to her caseworker that she was still using drugs.
In March, Scott County filed a petition to terminate mother’s parental rights to K.F. on the following grounds under Minn. Stat. 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004): (1) mother had substantially, continuously or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon her by the parent-child relationship; (2) mother was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship; (3) after K.F. had been determined to be a child in need of protection or services, reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions that led to that determination; and (4) K.F. was neglected and in foster care. When mother did not appear at the scheduled admit/deny hearing in April, the district court entered a deny on her behalf and continued the termination hearing until July. Between the April hearing and the July hearing, mother did not participate in any court-ordered treatments or programs; in June and July, her caseworker made five unsuccessful attempts to schedule a visit to discuss the mother’s non-compliance with her case plan.
At the termination hearing, mother testified that after being discharged from the outpatient program in December 2003, she “lost faith” in treatment and refused to consider any of the alternate programs subsequently offered by her medical insurer. She also testified she had made plans to begin a program at the Five Star treatment center after the hearing.
The district court dismissed the county’s petition to terminate mother’s parental rights. The court wrote that although “the evidence satisfies the court that there is a rational basis of support for [termination of parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)] (4), (5), and (8), it does not satisfy the court that reasonable efforts have been made [to] correct the condition that led to the placement” – mother’s drug use – as required by subd. 1(b) (2). The court specifically found that despite mother’s diagnosis as chemically dependent and the court order that she undergo treatment, treatment “was never offered to [mother] by the county.” The court found that under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1 (5) (iv) (D) (2002), mother’s parental rights could not be terminated until she was discharged from two separate treatment programs, but that “there is no evidence another treatment program was available to [her]” after her discharge from the outpatient program in December 2003. The court further found that termination was premature here because as the court read Minn. Stat. § 260C.210, subd. 11a (2002), the parent of a child under eight years of age has a full year after filing of the CHIPS petition to rehabilitate before termination of parental rights.
The court’s sole conclusion of law was that the county had failed to make reasonable efforts to correct the condition that led to K.F.’s out-of-home placement and to unify the family. This appeal follows.
The district court may terminate parental rights if the petitioning party establishes by clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory basis for termination exists and termination is in the best interests of the child. Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 1 (2004); In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396-97 (Minn. 1996); see also Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004) (providing statutory grounds for termination). The petitioner must show that the conditions justifying termination exist at the time of trial and will continue for an indefinite period of time. In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).
This court’s review of a district court’s findings in a termination of parental rights case 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). We must assure that the district court has made “clear and specific findings which conform to the statutory requirements for termination adjudications.” Chosa, 290 N.W.2d at 769; see also In re Tanghe, 672 N.W.2d 623, 626 (Minn. App. 2003) (stating “the district court, in a termination proceeding, must consider a child’s best interests and explain its rationale in its findings and conclusions”). In analyzing the best interests of the child, the court must consider (1) the child’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; (2) the parent’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationship; and (3) any competing interest of the child. In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 74, 76 (Minn. App. 1992).
Findings that fail to adequately address the child’s best interests are “inadequate to facilitate effective appellate review, to provide insight into which facts or opinions were most persuasive of the ultimate decision, or to demonstrate the [district] court’s comprehensive consideration of the statutory criteria.” In re Welfare of M.M., 452 N.W.2d 236, 239 (Minn. 1990); see also Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1993) (observing the district court must make findings that are “detailed, specific and sufficient enough to enable meaningful review by this court”), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993). Thus, although under certain “circumstances reviewing courts, while recognizing that findings are legally insufficient, will nonetheless undertake an examination of the record to determine whether a decision is objectively justified . . . [d]etermination of a child’s ‘best interests’. . . is generally not susceptible to an appellate court’s global review of a record.” Tanghe, 672 N.W.2d at 625 (citation omitted).
Here, the findings in the order dismissing the termination petition do not permit effective appellate review. The findings of fact and conclusions of law do not reference K.F.’s best interests or consider the evidence in the record in light of the statutory bases for termination alleged by the county. The phrase “best interest of the child” appears in the memorandum of law accompanying the order, and then only in reference to continuing the matter to allow mother more time for rehabilitation. Several findings are not supported by the record and appear contradictory. Although finding of fact 13 states: “[Mother] enrolled in an outpatient chemical dependency treatment program, as recommended by her chemical dependency assessment,” finding 15 states: “No chemical dependency treatment services have been offered to [mother] by Scott County.” We are further unable to reconcile the court’s finding that mother was “never offered” treatment with record evidence that after mother’s discharge from court-imposed outpatient treatment in December 2003, the county persisted without success for at least eight months to convince her to begin an inpatient drug program.
The district court dismissed the petition after concluding that of the four statutory bases alleged by the county in its termination petition, three had a “rational basis of support” but the fourth did not. But the district court must determine whether clear and convincing evidence, and not a rational basis of support, justifies termination. Minn. Stat. § 260C.317, subd. 1. It is not clear from the court’s order what evidentiary burden it placed upon the county. And the county is only required to show that one statutory ground for termination exists; the district court erroneously misstates the law as requiring that the petitioning authority prove each of the alleged bases for termination. Id.
The district court’s findings concerning K.F.’s best interests do not contain the requisite statutory criteria or explain the rationale grounding its findings and conclusions. We further observe that the order contains unsupported and contradictory findings concerning mother’s access to chemical-dependency treatment as well as imprecise statements of law. Effective appellate review is precluded, and, accordingly we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the matter for findings and conclusions consistent with applicable statutory standards. The district court may, at its discretion, reopen the record on remand to permit consideration of relevant events that may have taken place since its dismissal of the county’s termination order and to permit the parties to further argue the applicability of Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.201, subd. 11a; .301, subd. 1(b)(5)(iv)(D) (2004).
Reversed and remanded.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.