This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






In the Matter of the Children of

L.I., a/k/a L.W. and F.W.


Filed April 12, 2005

Reversed and remanded

Klaphake, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. J1-03-068219


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


Leonardo Castro, Chief Fourth District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN  55401 (for appellant father F.W.)


John R. Jesperson, Jesperson Law Office, 400 South Fourth Street, Suite 1012, Minneapolis, MN  55415 (for respondent mother L.I.)


Irene F. Nosow, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for respondent child K.I.)


Dianne E. Heins, Angela M. Crandall, Faegre & Benson, 2200 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for guardian ad litem)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant F.W. challenges the district court’s termination of his parental rights to his six children.  Because the district court did not make specific findings indicating that appellant neglected his parental duties and because the court made findings not supported by substantial evidence that appellant failed to comply with his case plan, we reverse and remand.


On review in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding (TPR), this court must determine 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).  The district court must make “clear and specific findings which conform to the statutory requirements for termination adjudications.”  In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).  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).  Although we defer to the district court’s findings, this court exercises great caution in proceedings to terminate parental rights.  In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 622 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997).

            “On appeal from a judgment where there has been no motion for new trial, the only questions for review are whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.”  In re Welfare of M.J.L., 582 N.W.2d 585, 588 (Minn. App. 1998).  Because appellant made no motion for a new trial, we will proceed under such an analysis.

            The legislature has established nine criteria that support termination of parental rights.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2004).  While only one criterion must be proved to support termination, the primary consideration in every termination case is the child’s best interests.  Id., subds. 1(b), 7 (2004).  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). 

            The district court terminated appellant’s parental rights on two statutory grounds: failure to comply with parental duties and failure to correct the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2), (5). 

            Parental Duties

            The district court may terminate parental rights upon finding that a parent has “substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon that parent by the parent and child relationship, including . . . [provision of] necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care and control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development[.]”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2). 

            Here, the district court’s order includes detailed findings about the mother’s refusal or neglect to undertake the parental duties described in the statute, but makes no findings whatsoever regarding appellant’s actions or lack of action in this respect.  Without such findings, meaningful appellate review is impossible.  See M.M., 452 N.W.2d at 239.  We conclude that remand to the district court is necessary in order to address the lack of findings.

            Failure to Correct Conditions

            When a child has been placed out of the home, failure to correct the conditions leading to the placement, after reasonable, court-directed efforts, is a basis for termination.  Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).  There is a presumption that reasonable efforts to correct the conditions have failed if (1) the child has been placed out of the home for 12 out of the preceding 22 months; (2) there is a court-approved plan; (3) conditions leading to placement have not been corrected and the parent has not substantially complied with the case plan; and (4) the social services agency has made a reasonable effort to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.  Id.

            Based on the record before us, appellant was made a party to the TPR proceeding on October 23, 2003.  Although a CHIPS petition had been heard on August 6, 2003, appellant was not present and was not properly a party to that hearing because he was not the children’s legal custodian.  See Minn. R. Juv. Protect. 21.01, subds. 1, 3.  While the August 6, 2003, order directed appellant to comply with the CHIPS case plan, such a plan was neither presented to nor signed by appellant until November 5.  Thus, there was no effective case plan until appellant signed one on November 5, 2003.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.212, subd. 1(b)(3), (c) (2004).  We therefore review the district court’s findings of noncompliance beginning with this date, rather than the earlier CHIPS order.

            The district court found that appellant (1) failed to attend the Alpha sex offender treatment program; (2) failed to follow recommendations after a psychological assessment; (3) started a domestic abuse program, but that further information about his attendance was not available; (4) provided some random urinalyses (UA), but failed to provide others, and tested positive one time; (5) completed a chemical dependency program and was attending AA, but failed to provide documentation; and (6) failed to attend a parenting education class.  Based on these findings, the district court concluded that appellant failed to comply with the case plan.

            We are troubled by these findings, based on other information in the record.  Specifically, appellant testified that he attempted to enroll in the Alpha program, but was told there was no funding.  He made a second attempt to enroll and was on a waiting list at the time of the TPR hearing, which began less than three months after he signed the case plan.  Appellant completed the psychological evaluation as ordered, but claimed he was given no follow-up recommendations; this testimony was not rebutted.  Appellant was participating in an agency-approved domestic abuse program at the time of the hearing and had completed seven of twelve classes; there was no testimony offered that he was not in attendance.  Appellant was not given a specific parenting program until March 16, 2004, after TPR proceedings had begun.

            Appellant failed to submit UAs as required under the plan, but claimed problems with transportation and threats from a hospital employee.  After discussing the problems with his caseworker, he was able to submit more UAs.  Only one UA was positive during this time.  Appellant also testified that he completed a chemical dependency program and was attending AA.  Although he failed to provide documentation, this evidence was not rebutted. 

            Given the short period of time between the November 5, 2003, case plan and the hearing, which took place on several days between February 19 and May 13, 2004, and the apparent errors in communication and management, we conclude that the district court’s findings of non-compliance are not supported by substantial evidence on this record.  We therefore reverse and remand this matter to the district court, which may at its discretion reopen the record to permit consideration of relevant events occurring since its order terminating parental rights and further argument by the parties about the applicability of Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subds. 1(b)(2), (5).  By this remand, we do not intend to absolve appellant of responsibility nor bar termination of appellant’s parental rights, if supported by substantial evidence. 

            Because appellant did not make a proper motion for a new trial, we decline to address on appeal his challenges to various pieces of evidence being admitted.  See Alpha Real Estate Co. v. Delta Dental Plan, 664 N.W.2d 303, 309 (Minn. 2003) (stating “evidentiary rulings . . . are subject to appellate review only if there has been a motion for a new trial in which such matters have been assigned as error.”). 

            Reversed and remanded.

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