This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of:
J.M.M. and P.F.
Filed September 26, 2006
Blue Earth County District Court
File No. JV-04-1642
Philip J. Elbert, Skillings & Associates, 237 Belgrade Avenue, P.O. Box 2064, North Mankato, MN 56002 (for appellant J.M.M.)
Ross E. Arneson, Blue Earth County Attorney, Mark A. Lindahl, Assistant County Attorney, 410 South Fifth Street, P.O. Box 3129, Mankato, MN 56002-3129 (for respondent Blue Earth County)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant J.M.M. challenges the district court’s award of physical custody of S.F. to S.F.’s father, P.F. Because the district court addressed all statutory criteria and its findings are supported by evidence and are not clearly erroneous, we affirm.
J.M.M. has two children fathered by
P.F.: a son, J.F., and a daughter, S.F.
Custody of J.F. is not at issue in this appeal. S.F.’s date of birth is October 20,
1998. J.M.M. and P.F. never married and
separated in 2000. Their relationship ended
due to arguments between them and physical abuse. In 2000,
After this, J.M.M. met and moved in
with M.G., and S.F. lived with them as well.
The relationship between J.M.M. and M.G. was abusive, dysfunctional, and
turbulent, although there is no evidence that any abuse was directed toward
S.F. In January 2004, J.M.M. was admitted
to a mental-health ward where she was assigned mental-health caseworker Kari
Blom. She also moved to the Theresa
House women’s shelter in January 2004. J.M.M.
received mental-health services from
J.M.M. moved from the shelter in June 2004 to her own
January 2005, J.M.M. moved back with M.G. and stayed there for approximately
six weeks. During this time, she became
pregnant with M.G.’s second child.
J.M.M. and M.G. had another domestic-assault-related incident, and she
moved in with another friend for “several months.” The district court ordered that S.F. have no
contact with M.G. in February 2005 but then granted J.M.M.’s motion to allow
them to have contact in May 2005. The
county helped J.M.M. appeal her Section 8 application denial. She won the appeal and was able to obtain an
apartment in July 2005. She did not,
however, remain at this apartment for more than a few months, as the apartment
had lead-based paint, and Section 8 subsidies cannot be used for apartments
with lead-based paint. J.M.M. left that
apartment in August 2005 and returned to live with M.G. J.M.M. was afraid that if she went to another
women’s shelter, her daughter R.G. would be taken away. J.M.M. remained at M.G.’s home for
approximately four weeks. On September
23, 2005, the county filed a permanent-placement petition for S.F. On September 28, 2005, J.M.M. moved into the
Downtowner’s Apartments in
D E C I S I O N
Allegations in a permanent-placement
petition must be proven by “clear and convincing evidence.” In re
Welfare of A.R.G.-B., 551 N.W.2d 256, 261 (
When a court grants custody of a
child to a relative, the court must address the suitability of the prospective
custodian. Minn. Stat. § 260C.201,
subd. 11(d)(1)(i) (2004). The statutory
criteria to consider are: (1) how the child’s best interests are served by the
order; (2) the nature and extent of the responsible social-service agency’s
reasonable efforts to reunify the child with parent or parents; (3) the parents’
efforts and abilities to use services to correct the conditions which led to
the out-of-home placement; and (4) whether the conditions that led to the
out-of home placement have been corrected.
The court must make findings of fact
and address the following statutory requirements in its custody order: (1) the
best interests and safety of the child; (2) the appropriateness of alternative
dispositions; (3) the appropriateness of the potential new placement; and (4)
whether reasonable efforts were made to reunify the family.
The district court addressed all of these criteria and determined that J.M.M. had not met two of the objectives of her case plan: maintaining safe and appropriate housing for herself and S.F. and refraining from incidents of domestic violence. J.M.M. argues that she did correct the conditions that led to S.F.’s removal from her home as of the time of the trial and that she had satisfied both objectives.
J.M.M. cites In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996), in support of the contention that the district court must focus on the conditions that exist at the time of the hearing, as opposed to conditions before the trial, and further argues that she complied fully with the case plan from July 2005 through the day of the trial, November 28, 2005. However, even if the district court were restricted to only considering the conditions at the time of the trial, it did not clearly err in determining that J.M.M. had failed to correct the conditions that led to S.F.’s removal. The district court recognized that J.M.M. had experienced two to three months of housing stability, but found that this brief period could not overcome her “recorded history of tumult over the past 2-3 years.” The district court found that two to three months of living in the same apartment did not constitute stable housing. The district court’s finding is not clearly erroneous.
J.M.M. also argues that
This argument, however, ignores the fact that the court was as much concerned with J.M.M.’s continuing relationship with M.G, “her partner in episodes of domestic violence,” with whom she has two children, as it was with J.M.M.’s inability to maintain appropriate housing. The court noted that “[o]f more recent concern is the fact that, in spite of her case plan requirement to refrain from incidents of domestic violence, [J.M.M.] has persisted in her unpredictable, notably violent, and stressful relationship with [M.G.].” The court heard testimony that the county had provided extensive services to J.M.M. that could have given her the ability to provide stable housing and that J.M.M.’s relationship with M.G. was a serious concern. The court concluded that it “highly doubts her capacity to maintain a stable, non-violent environment for [S.F] while [she is] involved in any type of relationship with [M.G.].”
Thus, even if the county had
provided Section 8 assistance earlier, the district court had grave doubts as
to whether the assistance would have been adequate or sufficient to avoid
placing S.F. with her father. Therefore,
on this record, and given our deference to the district court’s ability to
judge the credibility of the witnesses, we cannot say that J.M.M. showed the
county’s reunification efforts, and particularly the reunification efforts
involving Section 8 housing, were inadequate.
The district court’s finding that
The district court addressed the
statutory criteria and determined that it is in S.F.’s best interests to remain
in the physical custody of her father, P.F.
“[C]urrent law leaves scant if any room for an appellate court to
question the [district] court’s balancing of best-interest
considerations.” Vangsness v. Vangsness, 607 N.W.2d 468, 477 (