This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of
the Welfare of the Child of:
Filed on August 28, 2007
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-JV-06-2853
Michael O. Freeman,
Hennepin County Attorney, Mary Martin Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, 525
Portland Avenue South, Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent
Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department)
Leonardo Castro, 4th District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant S.T.)
Howard S. Kleyman, 2400 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405-2604 (for guardian ad litem Elizabeth Rauker)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Muehlberg, Judge.*
Appellant challenges the district court orders terminating her parental rights and denying her motion for a new trial, arguing that the order terminating her parental rights is not supported by clear-and-convincing evidence and that the court violated her right to substantive due process of law. Because the district court properly applied the law and did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.
In February 2006, appellant S.T. was at the Mall of America transit station in Bloomington with her almost four-year-old son D.B. When a police officer asked appellant to pick up her garbage, appellant picked up some but not all of the garbage. Appellant then challenged the officer for harassing her, refused to give the officer her name, and began kicking and screaming. She was then taken into custody for littering.
Based on appellant’s conduct and an interview with a social worker, a CHIPS petition was filed, D.B. was placed in foster care, and appellant was ordered to undergo a psychological and parenting assessment. The assessment revealed that appellant had been involved in several incidents with D.B. First, in 2003, appellant brought D.B., who was then 16 months old, to Minneapolis Children’s Hospital with a complaint that D.B. may have been molested. Medical professionals examined D.B. but found no problems. Second, in April 2004, appellant requested that D.B. be evaluated and tested for HIV due to his attendance at daycare. Third, in July 2003, appellant was charged with misdemeanor assault for striking a worker at a daycare center. Appellant explained to police that she believed someone had sexually abused D.B. Minneapolis Children’s Hospital staff again evaluated D.B. but found no evidence of sexual abuse.
In March 2006, appellant was examined to determine her competency to proceed on an unrelated, but pending misdemeanor assault charge. Appellant was diagnosed with delusional disorder, persecutory-type, and determined incompetent to stand trial. The evaluator concluded that appellant’s reasoning, insight, and judgment were significantly impaired as a result of her disorder. The district court thereafter committed appellant as a mentally ill person. Appellant entered the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center and received an initial psychiatric assessment that affirmed the delusional-disorder diagnosis. Appellant consistently denied mental illness.
During this time, appellant participated in supervised visits with D.B. On a visit in April 2006, staff observed appellant, who was angry at D.B. for not responding to her, pick D.B. up and place him so forcefully on a couch that he bounced. The court subsequently suspended appellant’s supervised visits with D.B.
In July 2006, the district court adjudicated D.B. as a child in need of protection or services. The district court found appellant to be mentally ill and suffering from a substantial psychiatric disorder that continued to “grossly impair her judgment, behavior, and capacity to recognize reality.” The court found that appellant’s continuing mental illness directly interfered with her ability to parent D.B. Appellant remained under commitment and at a group home at the time of trial in November 2006.
At trial, appellant agreed that she could not care for D.B., but argued for a transfer of legal custody rather than a termination of parental rights. Appellant disagreed with her mental-health diagnosis, but agreed that she would continue taking medication. The guardian ad litem and the social worker recommended termination of parental rights. Both stated that adoption would provide a more permanent long-term solution and a greater access to financial resources. Appellant’s stepbrother, who had been acting as D.B.’s foster-parent for more than five months, indicated a desire to adopt the child.
Following trial, the district court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order terminating parental rights. Appellant thereafter filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied by the court. This appeal followed.
D E C I S I O N
Appellant argues that the district court’s order terminating her parental rights to D.B. is not supported by clear and convincing evidence. On appeal from a termination of parental rights, “appellate courts are limited to determining whether the findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether they are clearly erroneous.” In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997). “Considerable deference is due to the district court’s decision because a district court is in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses.” In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996). While this court gives deference to the district court’s decision, “it will closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether it was clear and convincing.” In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998).
District courts may order termination of parental rights on the basis of one or more of the criteria listed in Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2006). The petitioner must prove one or more of the statutory criteria 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). Because a child’s best interests are the paramount consideration in termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, the district court may not terminate parental rights unless it is in the child’s best interests. In re Welfare of D.J.N., 568 N.W.2d 170, 177 (Minn. App. 1997). District courts are required to make clear and specific findings that conform to the statutory requirements, and the evidence must address conditions that exist at the time of the hearing. In re Welfare of Chosa, 290 N.W.2d 766, 769 (Minn. 1980).
In terminating appellant’s parental rights, the district court identified three statutory bases for termination under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2006). The district court concluded that (1) reasonable efforts have failed to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement, (2) appellant is “palpably unfit” as a parent, and (3) the child is neglected and in foster care. Id., subd. 1(b)(4), (5), (8).
Initially, appellant argues that the agency failed to make reasonable efforts to provide services to correct the conditions leading to D.B.’s placement. Minnesota law requires a social-services agency to make “reasonable efforts, including culturally appropriate services, . . . to prevent placement or to eliminate the need for removal and to reunite the child with the child’s family at the earliest possible time.” Minn. Stat. § 260.012(a) (2006). If the agency’s reasonable efforts fail to correct the situation, a district court may terminate parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2006).
“Reasonable efforts” at rehabilitation are services that “go beyond mere matters of form so as to include real, genuine assistance.” In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. July 6, 1990). In considering whether reasonable efforts were made, Minnesota law requires the court to consider whether the services are:
(1) relevant to the safety and protection of the child;
(2) adequate to meet the needs of the child and family;
(3) culturally appropriate;
(4) available and accessible;
(5) consistent and timely; and
(6) realistic under the circumstances.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012(h) (2006). Alternatively, “the court may determine that provision of services or further services for the purpose of rehabilitation is futile and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances.” Id.
Here, the district court found that appellant continued to suffer from the effects of her mental illness, including paranoia and delusions, and that the conditions leading to the determination that the child is in need of protection or services had not been corrected. The court found that “[d]espite on-going treatment, including the use of neuroleptic medication, [appellant] continues to suffer from a serious and persistent mental illness that impairs her judgment and ability to recognize reality, and that seriously and detrimentally affects her behavior and parenting.”
Reasonable services were provided to appellant in the form of treatment and medication to deal with the mental-health issues that affected her parenting abilities. Appellant was provided with a psychological and parenting assessment, visitation with her son, and dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT) skills training.
Appellant nonetheless argues that the services were not reasonable because her commitment prevented her from following the recommendations of the parenting assessment, which included working with her son on her parenting skills. But treatment of appellant’s mental-health issues were the primary concern of the parenting assessment. Without addressing that threshold issue, parenting training would be of limited value to appellant. Additionally, appellant demonstrated an unwillingness to participate in such programming, and an agency is not required to provide services that would be futile. See Minn. Stat. § 260.012(h).
Appellant also argues that the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement have been corrected and suggests that her illness is mild and that she will continue taking her medication. But the district court found that appellant, “in her testimony and demeanor, continues to demonstrate the effects of her mental illness, including paranoia and delusions; and continues to demonstrate her lack of insight into her condition.” The court observed that appellant disagrees with the diagnosis that she is mentally ill and refuses to continue her DBT skills training. On this record, the evidence clearly and convincingly supports the district court’s conclusion that reasonable efforts have not led to the correction of the circumstances that led to the CHIPS determination.
Appellant also challenges the district court’s conclusion that she is “palpably unfit” under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4), and that the child is neglected and in foster care under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). Because the district court’s conclusion that reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions leading to out-of-home placement is supported by clear-and-convincing evidence on the record, we need not fully address the other two bases for termination of appellant’s parental rights. But our review of the record convinces us that clear-and-convincing evidence was presented to also show that appellant is palpably unfit and that the child is neglected and in foster care. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b); see Wilson v. Moline, 234 Minn. 174, 182, 47 N.W.2d 865, 870 (1951) (stating 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).
Appellant argues that she was denied due process of law in the termination of her parental rights. Issues of due process are reviewed de novo. Zellman ex rel. M.Z. v. Independent School Dist. No. 2758, 594 N.W.2d 216, 220 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. July 28, 1999).
A. Mental Illness
Appellant first argues that the district court violated her due-process rights by terminating her parental rights exclusively on the basis of what she characterizes as a “mild” mental illness. Appellant correctly asserts that a court may not terminate parental rights exclusively on the basis of mental illness. See In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996) (noting that mental illness is not a statutory basis for termination of parental rights). Rather, the actual conduct of the parent is to be evaluated to determine his or her fitness to maintain the parental relationship with the child. In re Welfare of Kidd, 261 N.W.2d 833, 836 (Minn. 1978).
But the court did not rest its decision solely on its conclusion that appellant continues to suffer from her mental illness. Rather, the court analyzed the effects of this illness on her behavior and conduct and the effect that it has on her parenting abilities. The court found that “[d]espite on-going treatment, including the use of neuroleptic medication, [appellant] continues to suffer from a serious and persistent mental illness that impairs her judgment and ability to recognize reality, and that seriously and detrimentally affects her behavior and parenting.”
The record amply supports the district court’s conclusion that appellant’s behavior negatively affects her ability to parent D.B. Under his mother’s care, D.B. had no concept of colors, numbers, or the alphabet, and he was not potty-trained. But under the care of appellant’s stepbrother, D.B. learned these concepts and developed to an age-appropriate level. Further, appellant’s delusional behavior repeatedly subjected D.B. to unnecessary investigations into allegations of sexual abuse. And her delusions led to aggressive confrontations with the daycare worker and the officers at the Mall of America that occurred in D.B.’s presence. On this record, we conclude that the district court’s consideration of her mental illness and its effect on her parenting abilities did not violate appellant’s due-process rights.
B. Consideration of Financial Resources
Appellant next argues that the district court improperly considered the financial resources available to appellant’s stepbrother, the proposed adoptive parent, should parental rights be terminated. The best interests of a child “does not mean that the child may have an easier or more luxurious life and greater prospect of inheritance with others than with the natural parents.” In re Klugman, 256 Minn. 113, 120, 97 N.W.2d 425, 430 (1959).
The district court did not evaluate whether termination of appellant’s parental rights would provide D.B. with more financial resources than if he remained with appellant. Rather, the stepbrother’s limited finances were raised to explain why he was willing to adopt D.B. but not willing to accept a transfer of legal custody. The guardian ad litem, the social worker, and the stepbrother testified that more financial resources would be available to assist the stepbrother in caring for D.B. if he adopted the child. But the district court’s findings and termination order properly relied on appellant’s lack of progress and her inability to parent, not on any consideration of the stepbrother’s finances. On this record, we conclude that the district court did not violate appellant’s due-process rights.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.