This opinion will be unpublished and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 Welfare of the Children of C. J., Parent.


Filed September 6, 2005


Kalitowski, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File No. J7-04-54609, Family ID No. 212927


Leonardo Castro, Hennepin County Public Defender, Barbara S. Isaacman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant C.J.)


Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, Health Services Building, 525 Portland Avenue, Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services)


Jessica Kramer, Niemi, Barr & Jerabek, P.A., 510 Marquette Avenue, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent guardian ad litem Victor Walker)


Shirley Reider, 842 Raymond Avenue, Suite 205, St. Paul, MN 55114 (for respondent guardian ad litem Valorie Jones)


John Hughes, 247 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent I.J.)


David Desmidt, 3001 Hennepin Avenue South, Suite 309B, Minneapolis, MN 55408 (for respondents A.W. and I.J.)


            Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Forsberg, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant C. J. challenges the district court’s order adjudicating her six minor children as children in need of protection or services (CHIPS) and the district court’s order denying her request for a new trial.  Appellant contends that (1) the district court violated her right to due process when the court adopted findings proposed by one of the respondents in the CHIPS order; (2) the district court’s evidentiary rulings and reliance on inadmissible evidence violated her right to due process and deprived her of a fair trial; (3) the admissible trial evidence does not support the district court’s CHIPS adjudication; and (4) the district court erred in determining that a CHIPS adjudication was in the best interests of each of appellant’s children.  We affirm.



            This court will not disturb findings in a CHIPS proceeding unless the findings are clearly erroneous or unsupported by substantial evidence.  In re Welfare of B.A.B., 572 N.W.2d 776, 778 (Minn. App. 1998).  “[V]erbatim adoption of a party’s proposed findings and conclusions of law is not reversible error per se.”  Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).  This court has strongly cautioned against such wholesale adoption of one party’s proposed findings because doing so raises the question of whether the district court independently evaluated the evidence.  Id.  But if the record supports the findings and shows that the district court considered all of the issues, such findings are not improper.  Bersie v. Zycad Corp., 417 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. May 5, 1988). 

            Appellant contends that her right to procedural due process was violated because the district court adopted the proposed findings submitted by the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department (Department) nearly verbatim.  But appellant acknowledges that the district court did make some changes to the proposed findings and included independent findings that were not part of the proposed findings.  Moreover, the district court set forth additional findings in its order denying appellant’s motion for a new trial.  Review of the district court’s order shows that the court independently considered all of the issues, and review of the record shows that it supports the district court’s findings.  See Wilson v. Moline, 234 Minn. 174, 182, 47 N.W.2d 865, 870 (1951) (stating that appellate court need not “discuss and review in detail the evidence for the purpose of demonstrating that it supports the trial court’s findings” and that its “duty is performed when [it] consider[s] all the evidence . . . and determine[s] that it reasonably supports the findings”); Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 474-75 n.1 (Minn. App. 2000) (applying Wilson in dissolution case).


            In a juvenile-protection matter, unless otherwise provided by statute or the rules of juvenile-protection procedure, the district court shall admit evidence only if it would be admissible in a civil trial.  Minn. R. Juv. Prot. P. 3.02, subd. 1.  Absent an erroneous interpretation of the law, the district court is afforded broad discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude evidence.  In re Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 160 (Minn. App. 2003).  To prevail on a motion for a new trial based on an improper evidentiary ruling, the complaining party must demonstrate prejudicial error.  Id.  An evidentiary error is prejudicial if the error might reasonably have changed the result of the trial.  W.G.O. ex rel. Guardian for A.W.O. v. Crandall, 640 N.W.2d 344, 349 (Minn. 2002). 

            Appellant contends that the district court deprived her of a fair trial and violated her right to due process by making erroneous evidentiary rulings and relying on inadmissible evidence introduced through the testimony of two social workers.  We disagree.

            In its order denying appellant’s motion for a new trial, the district court noted that

in making its decision, the court relied primarily upon the admissions of [appellant] and her in-court testimony in which she described in detail her physical discipline of the children, which included beatings with a belt, and on one occasion a dog leash.  [Appellant] further testified that she had a right to discipline her children in that fashion, citing as authority the Bible.  [Appellant] has consistently indicated, as she stated at trial, that she does not intend to stop beating her children.  [Appellant] also acknowledged, in and out of court, her history of poor parenting, which history is consistent with the Department’s concerns.  The court observed the effect of [appellant’s] behavior and testimony on the children who were present in the court.  It is of perhaps greatest concern to the court and to the various professionals involved that [appellant] is determined to blame her children for the current problems, and to portray herself as the victim.


Because of appellant’s own admissions regarding her physical discipline of the children, even if the district court had improperly admitted certain evidence, appellant failed to demonstrate prejudicial error.

            But in addition, we cannot say as a matter of law that the district court abused its broad discretion in its evidentiary rulings.  To support her argument that the district court erred in admitting certain documents, appellant relies in part on Simon.  See Simon, 662 N.W.2d at 160-61 (holding that a testifying social worker failed to lay the necessary foundation for certain documents to be admitted under the business-records exception to the rule against hearsay).  But Simon does not establish a new rule of law.  Rather, it merely demonstrates that the decision to admit evidence is highly fact-specific and shows that questions of foundation depend on the circumstances of each case.  See Benson v. N. Gopher Enters., 455 N.W.2d 445, 446 (Minn. 1990) (stating “we reiterate that by their very nature, evidentiary rules demand a case by case analysis”). 

            Moreover, the supreme court has held that the business-records exception to the rule against hearsay applies to documents in a social worker’s file, such as reports from a psychologist, a doctor, a social worker, a counselor, a teacher, a psychiatrist, and a speech pathologist.  See In re Welfare of Brown, 296 N.W.2d 430, 433-35 (Minn. 1980) (holding that these documents were properly received as business records in a proceeding to terminate parental rights).  We conclude that here, as in Brown, the challenged documents constitute business records, and the district court properly admitted the evidence.  Moreover, we note that much of the challenged evidence related to disposition and not to adjudication, and in this appeal, appellant is challenging the CHIPS adjudication, not the services ordered as a result of that adjudication.


            When reviewing a CHIPS adjudication, this court must determine whether the district court’s findings are supported by clear and convincing evidence.  In re Welfare of J.M.S., 268 N.W.2d 424, 428 (Minn. 1978).  Clear and convincing evidence is evidence that is unequivocal, uncontradicted, and intrinsically probable and credible.  Deli v. Univ. of Minn., 511 N.W.2d 46, 52 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1994).  In deciding whether the evidence is clear and convincing, this court will defer to the district court’s ability to weigh the credibility of witnesses.  In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996). 

            Appellant contends that there is no substantial evidence in the record to support the district court’s CHIPS adjudication.  Appellant claims that by relying “on inadmissible hearsay and irrelevant evidence, [the Department] failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the five younger children should be adjudicated CHIPS.”[1]  But as discussed above, the challenged evidence was properly admitted by the district court, and it adequately supports the CHIPS adjudication.



            “The paramount consideration in all proceedings concerning a child alleged or found to be in need of protection or services is the health, safety, and best interests of the child.”  Minn. Stat. § 260C.001, subd. 2 (2004).  Minnesota “has long recognized the substantial and fundamental rights of parents to enjoy the custody and companionship of their children.”  In re the Child of P.T. & A.T., 657 N.W.2d 577, 583 (Minn. App. 2003).  “But parental rights are not absolute and should not be unduly exalted and enforced to the detriment of the child’s welfare and happiness.  The right of parentage is in the nature of a trust and is subject to parents’ correlative duty to protect and care for the child.”  Id. (quotation omitted). 

            Appellant argues that the district court erred in adjudicating her children CHIPS and in ordering out-of-home placement because the court did not make individualized findings for each child.  But appellant provides no authority for the proposition that it is reversible error for a district court to make a CHIPS adjudication and to order out-of-home placement for more than one child without making express findings unique to each child.  Here, the district court concluded that there was ample evidence that appellant’s children are in need of protection and services under Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 6(2), (3), (8), and (9) (2004).  The record supports this conclusion with respect to each child.  And the record supports the court’s case plan requiring out-of-home placement. 


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

[1] Appellant does not contest the CHIPS adjudication for her oldest child.