This opinion will be unpublished and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

A04-1296

 

 

In the Matter of the Welfare of A. A. M., Child.

 

 

Filed April 5, 2005

Remanded

Halbrooks, Judge

 

 

Ramsey County District Court

File No. J8-02-556495

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann McCaughan, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant A.A.M.)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101; and

 

Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Kathryn A. Santelmann, Assistant County Attorney, 50 Kellogg Boulevard West, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN 55102  (for respondent state)

 

 

            Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HALBROOKS, Judge

            Appellant A.A.M. was adjudicated delinquent on one count of first-degree controlled-substance crime.  Appellant was placed at Boys Totem Town, a residential and correctional facility for adolescent boys.  On appeal from the dispositional order, appellant argues that out-of-home placement is not the least drastic step necessary to rehabilitate him and that the district court did not make adequate written findings to support its disposition.  Because we conclude that the district court’s findings are inadequate to support its order, we remand for additional written findings.

FACTS

            Appellant A.A.M. agreed to deliver a package for a friend’s father in exchange for $100.  A.A.M. admits that he knew that the package contained drugs.  He was arrested after delivering the package to a confidential police informant. 

            A.A.M. was subsequently charged with first-degree sale of a controlled substance in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 152.01, subds. 3a, 15a, .021, subds. 1(1), 3 (2002 & Supp. 2003).  The state then moved to certify A.A.M. to stand trial as an adult.  A.A.M. agreed to plead guilty to the charged offense and to cooperate with the police in exchange for the state’s withdrawal of its certification motion. 

            A.A.M. was adjudicated delinquent and, based on the probation officer’s report, the district court ordered an out-of-home placement at Boys Totem Town for a period of 4-6 months.  In its findings of fact in support of this placement, the district court noted:

                        2.         The Court has reviewed and accepted the staffing report and/or the probation officer’s report from June 1, 2004, and adopts as its necessary findings for why public safety and the best interests of the child are served by this disposition order, and how this correctional placement meets the needs of the child:

 


a.         Justification For Placement: The child’s behavior represents a direct threat to the community and self.  The child is also at least one full year behind in school.

 

b.        Reasonable Efforts to Avoid Placement: CRP; community service.

 

c.        Alternatives Considered: Elmore Academy; Chamberlain Academy.

 

3.         The transcript of these proceedings sets forth facts which support this disposition order and is hereby incorporated as to: (a) why the best interests of the child are served by this disposition order and (b) what alternative dispositions were considered by the court and discussed as to why they were not appropriate in said case.

 

The district court made no additional findings regarding placement.  This appeal follows.

D E C I S I O N

“[District] courts have broad discretion to order dispositions authorized by statute in delinquency cases.”  In re Welfare of M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d 494, 498 (Minn. App. 1990).  A district court’s dispositional order will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion.  In re Welfare of J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d 412, 414 (Minn. App. 1996).

An out-of-home placement must be supported by evidence that the placement is the “least drastic step necessary to restore law-abiding conduct in the juvenile.”  In re Welfare of M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d 147, 151 (Minn. App. 1987); see also Minn. Stat. § 260B.198, subd. 1 (2004) (stating that in cases of delinquency, the district court shall enter a dispositional order “deemed necessary to the rehabilitation of the child”).  “It is reversible error, both arbitrary and unjust, to impose a disposition without evidence that it is ‘necessary’ for the declared statutory purpose of restoring law-abiding conduct.”  In re Welfare of L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1985) (citing Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1 (1984)).[1]

Necessity incorporates two elements: public safety and proportionality.  Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 15.05, subd. 2(B)(1).  Proportionality requires that the disposition be “the least restrictive action consistent with the child’s circumstances.”  Minn. R. Juv. Delinq. P. 15.05, subd. 2(B)(1)(b).  When considering an out-of-home placement, “there must be evidence that the aims of the law cannot be satisfied without removal of the child from home.”  M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d at 151.

Moreover, a district-court disposition for out-of-home placement must be supported by findings that address five subjects:  (1) why public safety is served by the disposition; (2) why the best interests of the child are served by the disposition; (3) what alternative dispositions were proposed to the court and why such recommendations were not ordered; (4) why the child’s present custody is unacceptable; and (5) how the correctional placement meets the child’s needs.  In re Welfare of J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d 364, 366-67 (Minn. App. 2000) (citing Minn. R. Juv. P. 15.05, subd. 2(A), and Minn. Stat. § 260.185, subd. 1(i)(5)(a) (Supp. 1997)).  The district court abuses its discretion by ordering a disposition without making the requisite findings in support of its order.  See In re Welfare of N.T.K., 619 N.W.2d 209, 211-12 (Minn. App. 2000) (noting that “[w]ritten findings are essential to meaningful appellate review”).  Inadequate juvenile-disposition findings constitute reversible error.  Id. (holding that insufficient findings are an independent basis for reversal); J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d at 368 (reversing for failure to make sufficient statutorily required written findings of fact); In re Welfare of C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d 494, 499 (Minn. App. 1998) (reversing where district court’s findings did not address the factors necessary to justify out-of-home placement); M.A.C., 455 N.W.2d at 499 (explaining that the failure to make statutorily required written findings warrants reversal).  Because adequate written findings are necessary for meaningful appellate review, when the district court fails to make such findings, this court may remand for the limited purpose of requiring the district court to make findings of fact that satisfy the statutory requirements.  N.T.K., 619 N.W.2d at 211-12.

This court has previously held that incorporation of the transcript of a dispositional proceeding does not, by itself, satisfy the requirement that the district court make written findings of fact in support of the disposition chosen.  In re Welfare of J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d 692, 696 (Minn. App. 1999), review granted (Minn. Sept. 28, 1999) and appeal dismissed (Minn. Feb. 15, 2000).  As we explained:

We acknowledge the administrative efficiency of the form and that in many cases the sound reasons for the disposition ordered are on the record, but incorporating the entire transcript into the order does not satisfy the written-findings requirement.  Incorporation does not effectuate the purpose of having written findings, which is threefold: (1) to guarantee that the court consider the appropriate factors in reaching its decision; (2) to enable the parties to understand the court's decision; and (3) to facilitate meaningful appellate review.

 

Id.(emphasis added) (citation omitted).

            In paragraph 3 of its findings of fact, the district court stated:

The transcript of these proceedings sets forth facts which support this disposition order and is hereby incorporated as to: (a) why the best interests of the child are served by this disposition order and (b) what alternative dispositions were considered by the court and discussed as to why they were not appropriate in said case.

 

This court recently considered the sufficiency of identical findings.  In re Welfare of D.T.P., 685 N.W.2d 709, 713 (Minn. App. 2004).  Regarding this language, we held that

[i]f the requisite particularized findings are made on the record and appear in a transcript, it is appropriate for the district court to incorporate those findings by reference into its order. But the transcript here does not contain the requisite findings, and the boilerplate language in paragraph 3 fails to identify the facts that support the court's disposition.

 

Id.[2]  Here, the court has employed identical “boilerplate language” to incorporate the disposition transcript.  But, as in D.T.P., the transcript does not contain the requisite findings.[3]  While the discussion in the transcript as to why an out-of-home placement would serve public safety is arguably sufficient,[4] the other factors are insufficiently addressed.

1.         Best Interests

With respect to out-of-home placement, the best-interest standard and the requirement of necessity are intertwined.  Parental custody is presumed to be in the best interest of the child.  J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d at 367.  A conclusory finding with minimal elaboration that the child’s best interests are served by some other disposition is inadequate.  Id.  The district court is required to provide written findings explaining why “each of the provisions ordered was necessary for restoring [the juvenile] to law-abiding conduct.”  J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d at 696 (emphasis added); see also J.A.J., 545 N.W.2d at 415 (noting that the fact that a disposition is desirable in a “holistic” sense is insufficient; the disposition must be necessary to restore the child to law-abiding conduct); L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 399 (“The promise of benefits in a disposition, that the choice would be good or even best, does not permit an action which is not necessary.”). 

Regarding the best interests of A.A.M., the state noted that Boys Totem Town has a drug-awareness program that addresses the effects and consequences of drug dealing and that A.A.M. could receive “credits for hours of school time” that could be transferred to his regular school.  Although this may indicate that a placement at Boys Totem Town is desirable, it does not address why such placement is necessary.  There is no discussion of why these needs could not be met without an out-of-home placement.  Thus, the record is insufficient to support the district court’s finding that such placement would be in the best interests of A.A.M.  Likewise, the record lacks evidence that removal of A.A.M. from the home is necessary to satisfy the “aims of the law.”  M.R.S., 400 N.W.2d at 151.

2.         Alternative Dispositions

There is no discussion in the transcript of what alternatives were considered and why they were not ordered by the district court.  Instead, the state simply declares, “[p]ossession of controlled substance in the 5th degree for first offenders we send to Boys Totem Town.”  The district court has also adopted the probation officer’s report.  This report mentions Elmore Academy and Chamberlain Academy as “alternatives considered,” but contains no discussion of why those alternatives are inadequate.  Instead, the report simply concludes that “considering all the aggravating factors it is quite apparent that the only consideration for [A.A.M.] should be a long term correctional placement.”

3.         Present Custody

            The rule that the district court must consider why the child’s present custody is unacceptable serves as “a reminder of the preference for placing children in their own homes, and it calls for attention to the families of the children. . . .  Correctional placements cannot occur without evidence and findings reflecting consideration of the child’s familial relationships.”  C.A.W., 579 N.W.2d at 499.  Here, members of A.A.M.’s family testified regarding his home life and their determination to ensure that he “go the right way.”  There is no indication in the record that the district court sufficiently considered A.A.M.’s familial relationships and no finding that his current custody was unacceptable.

4.         Suitability of Placement

            An order for an out-of-home disposition must contain written findings stating the reasons that the placement will be suitable to the child’s needs.  J.S.S., 610 N.W.2d at 368.  These reasons must be specific to the individualized needs of the particular child.  See L.K.W., 372 N.W.2d at 400 (“If a placement is not suited to actual needs of the child, it cannot serve the child’s best interests.”).  Here, the transcript contains a very brief statement by the state noting that the specific needs noted by A.A.M.’s counsel “can be covered” by the drug awareness, educational and vocational programs at Boys Totem Town.  But the record does not establish how these programs would meet A.A.M.’s particular needs. 

Because the findings are inadequate to support the district court’s dispositional order, we remand to the district court for additional written findings of fact satisfying the statutory requirements.

            Remanded.



[1] Minn. Stat. § 260.185 was repealed and recodified in 1999 as Minn. Stat. § 260B.198.  See 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 4, § 3 (repealer); 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 2, § 30 (recodification).  As the legislature stated in its bill to repeal and recodify Chapter 260, the changes were not intended to alter pre-existing law.  See 1999 Minn. Laws ch. 139, art. 4, § 1.

[2] At first glance, J.L.Y. and D.T.P. appear to conflict.  Compare J.L.Y., 596 N.W.2d at 696, with D.T.P., 685 N.W.2d at 713.  These cases may be reconciled by noting that incorporation of findings contained in the transcript is appropriate, but that the district court must then take the additional step of identifying specifically which of these findings it is using to support its disposition.

[3] The state’s brief contains substantial discussion of the five factors and rationale supporting the out-of-home placement.  But these justifications for the court’s disposition go beyond the district court’s findings and appear to be post-hoc rationalizations by the state. 

[4] The transcript reflects that the state discussed the amount of cocaine involved and the danger that such drugs pose to the public.