This opinion will be unpublished and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:

K.M.B. and T.R.B., Parents.


Filed May 24, 2005

Klaphake, Judge


Otter Tail County District Court

File Nos. J0-04-50389 & J7-04-50390


Mark S. Stolpman, Stolpman Law Office, P.O. Box 131, Fergus Falls, MN  56538-0131 (for appellant mother K.M.B.)


Allen R. Haugrud, Svingen, Athens, Russell, Hagstrom, Haugrud & Karkela, 125 South Mill Street, P.O. Box 697, Fergus Falls, MN  56538-0697 (for appellant father T.R.B.)


Kurt A. Mortenson, Otter Tail County Attorney’s Office, 121 West Junius, Suite 320, Fergus Falls, MN  56537 (for respondent Otter Tail County Department of Human Services)


Karen Johnson, P.O. Box 195, Fergus Falls, MN  56537 (guardian ad litem)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Willis, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellants K.M.B. and T.R.B. are the parents of M.E.B., born January 5, 2003, and M.B., born February 9, 2004.  By order issued October 26, 2004, the district court terminated appellants’ parental rights, based on findings of egregious harm to M.B. while in his parents’ care and of M.E.B.’s status as the sibling of a child who has experienced egregious harm.  Appellants argue that the district court erred because substantial evidence was not presented to show that either parent was responsible for the harm and because termination was not in the children’s best interests.

            Because the district court’s termination order is supported by clear and convincing evidence and because termination is in the children’s best interests, we affirm.


            This court will affirm the district court’s order terminating parental rights if at least one statutory ground for termination is supported by clear and convincing evidence in the record and if termination is in the child’s best interests.  In re Welfare of Children of R.W., 678 N.W.2d 49, 55 (Minn. 2004).  The district court’s findings will not be set aside unless appellate review of the entire record leaves a “definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”  In re Welfare of D.T.J., 554 N.W.2d 104, 107 (Minn. App. 1996) (quotation omitted).

            Substantial Evidence

            The district court found that termination was justified under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6) (2004), which states that the parent-child relationship may be terminated if “a child has experienced egregious harm in the parent’s care which is of a nature, duration, or chronicity that indicates a lack of regard for the child’s well-being, such that a reasonable person would believe it contrary to the best interest of the child or of any child to be in the parent’s care[.]”  “Egregious harm” is defined as “the infliction of bodily harm to a child” and includes “substantial bodily harm . . . as defined in section 609.02, subdivision 7a[.]”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 14(2) (2004).  “Substantial bodily harm” includes fractures.  Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 7a (2004).

            “The listed instances of ‘egregious harm’ focus on conduct demonstrating the parent’s grossly inadequate ability to provide parental care to any child.”  In re Welfare of A.L.F., 579 N.W.2d 152, 155 (Minn. App. 1998) (emphasis in original), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 2003).  In the plain language of the statute, it need not be proved that the parent inflicted the egregious harm; it is enough to show that a parent stood by while harm was inflicted on the child.  See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(6) (“experienced egregious harm while in the parent’s care”).

            Here, four-month-old M.B. had two healing rib fractures and a possible third rib fracture, as well as bruises and other trauma that showed the injuries had occurred over a period of time.  Expert testimony indicated that these injuries would be very painful, causing a child to cry or fuss while being cared for.  While the rib fractures required x-rays for diagnosis, the bruises, pinch-marks, and scratches were plainly visible.  Despite the child’s obvious distress, appellants delayed seeking medical care and showed little interest in the child’s injuries.  Both appellants admitted that they had been the child’s sole caretakers during the time the injuries occurred, and neither offered an explanation for M.B.’s injuries, except to blame them on 16-month-old M.E.B.  One expert opined that it was possible that M.E.B. could have injured his brother and another opined that it was possible that the injuries were incurred in a fall, but the experts agreed that the injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma.  The pediatric abuse expert testified that M.E.B. could not have injured M.B. because the force required to break an infant’s soft and pliable ribs would be too great for a child of M.E.B.’s age.  Both appellants have emotional and psychological issues that affect their abilities to parent.

            This court must defer to the district court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses and the relative weight to be assigned to their testimony.  In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992).  Appellants’ denials of any knowledge of how a non-mobile infant could acquire serious injuries while in their sole care were not credible in the eyes of the district court.  On this record, substantial evidence was presented to clearly and convincingly prove that M.B. experienced egregious harm while in his parents’ care and that M.E.B. was the sibling of a child that experienced egregious harm while in his parents’ care.

            Best Interests           

            In addition to finding a statutory condition for termination, the district court “must consider a child’s best interests and explain its rationale in its findings and conclusions.”  In re Tanghe, 672 N.W.2d 623, 626 (Minn. App. 2003).  The district court must weigh “(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.”  R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d at 4.  Competing interests can include whether there is a stable environment, health considerations, or whether the child has expressed a preference.  Id.  Best interests revolve around the child’s welfare and happiness.  In re Welfare of Child of P.T., 657 N.W.2d 577, 583 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. Apr. 15, 2003).  Parental interests and the interests of the child are not necessarily given the same weight.  R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d at 4.

            Here, the district court weighed appellants’ interests in maintaining their parent-child relationships and the psychological and emotional limitations of the parents, who either abused or failed to protect their younger child from abuse, against the grave harm done to a vulnerable child less than four months old.  Having considered the children’s needs in light of their young age and vulnerability, the district court concluded that it was in their best interests to have a more secure and safe environment. 

            The natural parent is presumed to be a suitable guardian for his or her child, but “parental rights are not absolute.”  P.T., 657 N.W.2d at 583.  Parents have a duty to protect and care for their children, and their rights should not be “enforced to the detriment of the child’s welfare and happiness.”  Id.  Although appellants undoubtedly have an interest in maintaining their parent-child relationships, they have not shown themselves able to protect the children or to make the children’s welfare their primary concern.  There is substantial evidence in the record to support the district court’s conclusion that termination is in the children’s best interests.