This opinion will be unpublished and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
the Child of: S.H., Parent.
Filed November 13, 2007
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 27-JV-06-7920
Leonardo Castro, Chief Fourth District Public Defender, Peter W. Gorman, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401 (for appellant S.H.)
Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, 525 Portland Avenue South, Suite 1210, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for respondent Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department)
Shirley A. Reider, 842 Raymond Avenue, Suite 205, St. Paul, MN 55114 (for guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
Appellant mother challenges the district court’s termination of her parental rights, arguing that the record does not support termination and that termination is not in the best interests of the child. We affirm.
In September 2005, ten-year-old J.W. reported to Brooklyn Center police that his mother, appellant S.H., physically abused him on two separate occasions. J.W. reported that S.H. had hit him and had pushed him to the ground, and that, several days later, S.H. had bitten him on his right forearm. Soon after J.W. reported the abuse to police, Hennepin County child-protection investigators interviewed S.H., who admitted to arguing with and shoving J.W. She also admitted to disciplining J.W. by hitting him with her hands and her shoes, and admitted to smoking marijuana up to three times per week in her home, often in front of J.W.
Two days after Brooklyn Center police released J.W. from a 72-hour health‑and‑welfare hold as a result of the first report of abuse, J.W. told the police that S.H. again physically abused him. J.W. stated that his mother had hit him “all over his body with an open hand and hit him in the genitals with her fist.” In J.W.’s haste to escape S.H., a car struck him as he fled on his bicycle. At about this time, county investigators received reports from the police that S.H. appeared to have “mental health issues” and was a “danger to herself and others.” Neighbors also reported to police that S.H. had threatened neighborhood children with a knife and that she had chased them with a bottle of what she described as “holy water” to ward off “demons.”
Based on these allegations, Hennepin County obtained an interim out-of-home placement for J.W. in late September 2005. At the out-of-home-placement proceeding, the district court ordered an interim case plan that required S.H. to (1) complete chemical-dependency and psychological assessments, (2) submit to urinalyses, (3) obtain a stable home for J.W., and (4) complete a parenting-education program.
In April 2006, the district court conducted a hearing to determine if J.W. was a child in need of protection or services. The district court found that S.H. had physically abused J.W. on at least three occasions, had failed three urinalyses conducted under the voluntary case plan, and had failed to complete or substantially comply with domestic-abuse counseling, a mental-health evaluation, or a parenting-education program. On the basis of these findings, the district court adjudicated J.W. a child in need of protection or services. The court then ordered S.H. to comply with a mandatory case plan requiring her to (1) abstain from the use of controlled substances, (2) complete a chemical-dependency assessment and follow all recommendations, (3) submit to urinalyses, (4) complete a mental-health evaluation and follow all recommendations, (5) complete a parenting-education program and follow all recommendations, (6) obtain stable housing for herself and J.W., and (7) cooperate with her child-protection worker.
In June 2006, Hennepin County filed a petition to terminate S.H.’s parental rights. At the November 2006 trial, the district court found that (1) although S.H. remained sober while living at a chemical-dependency facility, she failed to comply with the shelter’s procedures and to attend mandatory meetings; (2) S.H. failed to complete a chemical-dependency assessment; (3) S.H. tested positive for marijuana on three occasions before November 2005 and was “inconsistent” in providing urinalysis samples, although the district court noted that because S.H. did not test positive for controlled substances after November 2005, the court had relieved her of the testing requirements in September 2006; (4) S.H. completed a mental-health assessment but failed to comply with its recommendations because she did not enroll in recommended therapy; (5) S.H. was involuntarily discharged from a parenting program after attending only one of 14 sessions she was expected to attend, and, after receiving referrals to two other service providers, S.H. refused to fully participate in either; (6) S.H. failed to obtain suitable and stable housing even after she was referred to a housing-service provider and that she orally abused staff at the office of the service provider; and (7) S.H. failed to cooperate fully with any service provider.
Relying on four independent statutory grounds, the district court terminated S.H.’s parental rights. S.H. appeals, arguing that the evidence does not meet the clear-and-convincing evidentiary standard necessary to support the termination of her parental rights. Additionally, S.H. argues that the evidence does not support the district court’s determination that terminating S.H.’s parental rights was in the best interests of the child.
D E C I S I O N
On appeal from a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, “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). The reviewing court closely examines the evidence to determine whether it is clear and convincing. In re Welfare of J.M., 574 N.W.2d 717, 724 (Minn. 1998). But appellate courts give considerable deference to the district court’s credibility and related assessments. In re Welfare of L.A.F., 554 N.W.2d 393, 396 (Minn. 1996).
I. The record supports the statutory grounds relied on by the district court to terminate S.H.’s parental rights.
S.H. argues that the district court failed to find facts sufficient to support any of the four statutory grounds relied on to terminate her parental rights. We conclude that the record supports termination on all four grounds.
As a threshold matter, we note that the district court must find only that the evidence supports a termination order on a single one of nine statutory bases to terminate parental rights. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (2006). In conducting its inquiry, the district court must cite evidence “relat[ing] to conditions that exist at the time of termination . . . .” In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 543 (Minn. 2001). And if a single statutory basis for terminating parental rights is affirmable, this court need not address any other statutory basis that the district court may have found to exist. In re Children of T.A.A., 702 N.W.2d 703, 708 n.3 (Minn. 2005). Here, we choose to review all four statutory grounds relied on by the district court.
A. Failure to comply with parental duties—Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (2006).
Parental rights may be terminated if the parent has substantially, continuously, or repeatedly failed or neglected to comply with her parental duties. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2). Parental duties include, but are not limited to, “providing the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, education, and other care and control necessary for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health and development, if the parent is physically and financially able . . . .” Id.
The record contains the following facts that the district court found to support its conclusion that S.H. failed to comply with her parental duties: First, the district court recognized that S.H. had two separate case plans and failed to comply with either. Failure to comply with a case plan is an important factor in determining whether a parent has complied with her parental duties. See In re Child of Simon, 662 N.W.2d 155, 163 (Minn. App. 2003) (affirming termination of parental rights based, in part, on parent’s failure to satisfy court-ordered case plan, including failure to undergo psychological evaluation and parenting assessment). Although the district court acknowledged that shortly before trial, in September 2006, it relieved S.H. of her obligation to provide urinalyses, it also found that she failed multiple drug tests in late 2005 and failed to enroll in substance-abuse counseling. The district court further found that S.H. failed to comply with the recommendations of a mental-health evaluation, failed to finish a parenting course, and failed to obtain stable housing. S.H.’s case worker also testified that “[S.H.] has not successfully completed the case plan.”
Second, the district court found that S.H. used “inappropriate physical discipline on the child . . . [and] exposed [the child] to domestic violence . . . .” A propensity for violence is a factor that courts have relied on in finding a failure to comply with parental duties. See In re Welfare of C.D., 393 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1986) (affirming termination of parental rights based, in part, on mother’s violent tendencies, including aggressiveness toward service providers), review denied (Minn. Nov. 26, 1986). In addition to the three reported incidents of physical abuse in September 2005, there is record evidence that S.H. deliberately cut J.W.’s neck with a hair clipper, and S.H. exhibited violent behavior in the weeks before trial, as shown by her October 2006 involuntary discharge from Ascension Place for “aggressive behavior as well as self harm.”
Third, the record contains significant evidence that S.H. did not cooperate with service providers. A district court may consider the parent’s lack of cooperation with service providers when terminating parental rights on the basis of the parent’s failure to comply with parental duties. See In re Welfare of L.M.M., 372 N.W.2d 431, 433-34 (Minn. App. 1985) (noting mother’s history of uncooperative and aggressive behavior toward service providers), review denied (Minn. Oct. 18, 1985). Here, African-American Family Services discharged S.H. due to “excessive unexcused absences” after she attended only one of 14 sessions of the parenting program in which she was enrolled. While at Ascension Place, S.H. exhibited “difficulty with self motivation, wanting others to solve her problems.” And while receiving services at The City, Inc., she failed to return phone calls, showed “no respect for staff,” and “verbally attacked” an employee.
Finally, S.H. failed to acknowledge her need for assistance, another factor that courts have used to support a termination of parental rights on the basis of the parent’s failure to comply with parental duties. See In re Welfare of K.M.T., 390 N.W.2d 371, 372-73 (Minn. App. 1986) (affirming termination when mother was dependent, had difficulty thinking abstractly, and denied needing assistance). Although S.H. met with mental-health professionals six times over a 14-month period, she continued to deny needing assistance. After a psychologist diagnosed S.H. with a mood disorder and recommended further testing, S.H. stated that she “did not feel that she wanted or needed to do this.” And despite the recommendations, she told her social worker that the psychologist “didn’t need to see her anymore.” Similarly, her psychiatrist concluded that S.H. was “guarded and very defensive,” and opined that she was “trying to present herself as not at all needing mental health care so she can get her son back.” And S.H. told the psychiatrist that she did not need therapy and had “no plans to go back to see her therapist.”
S.H. argues that the record contains evidence that she complied with her parental duties. For example, the district court recognized that S.H. complied in some respects with the case plan, namely by abstaining from marijuana use after she earlier had failed three drug tests and by attending some clinical assessments. But this evidence does not offset her unwillingness to comply with her case plan for more than a year.
We also reject S.H.’s argument that financial inability explained her failure to comply with parental duties. A parent cannot be found to have failed to comply with parental duties on the basis of financial inability alone. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2). But despite receiving free transportation services, S.H. regularly failed to attend parenting counseling, mental-health assessments, and visitation with her child. S.H.’s chronic unemployment did not prevent her from complying with her parental duties. The record supports the district court’s conclusion that S.H. failed to comply with her parental duties.
Before a district court can terminate a parent’s parental rights, it must find that the county made reasonable efforts to reunite parent and child. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 8 (2006); In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996). S.H. argues that the district court’s finding that the county provided reasonable rehabilitative efforts is “not supported by sufficient reasonable-rehabilitative-efforts findings.” To determine whether the county has made reasonable efforts, the district court considers whether the county offered services that were “(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)(1)-(6) (2006). Whether efforts were reasonable also “requires consideration of the length of time the county has been involved with the family as well as the quality of effort given.” In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987).
Here, the record supports the district court’s findings that Hennepin County made reasonable efforts to reunite S.H. and her child. The district court found that, between September 2005 and November 2006, Hennepin County provided S.H. with the following rehabilitative services in its efforts to reunite her and her child: (1) referrals to a number of service providers, including African-American Family Services (for parental counseling and housing support), Ascension Place (for drug and social programming), and The City, Inc. (for housing services); (2) supervised and unsupervised visitation with J.W.; (3) psychological assessments; (4) psychiatric counseling; and (5) a chemical-dependency evaluation and treatment. Additionally, it is undisputed that the county also provided S.H. with free transportation services (e.g., bus passes, van service).
The district court’s determination that the services that the county provided directly relate to and satisfy the statutory factors listed in Minn. Stat. § 260.012(h) is not clearly erroneous. And because the evidence supports the district court’s conclusion that S.H. failed to comply with her parental duties, the district court did not clearly err by terminating her parental rights on that ground.
B. Palpable unfitness—Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2006).
A parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-and-child relationship if she exhibits a “consistent pattern” of specific conduct “directly relating to the parent and child relationship . . . [that is] determined by the court to be of a duration or nature that renders the parent unable, for the reasonably foreseeable future, to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of the child.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4).
The record supports the district court’s conclusion that S.H. is palpably unfit to care for her child. First, many, if not all, of the facts described earlier also support this ground for termination. Second, this court has stated that parents’ failure to “engage in constructive efforts to improve their ability to parent” supports the palpable-unfitness ground for termination. In re Welfare of A.V., 593 N.W.2d 720, 722 (Minn. App. 1999). The district court found that S.H. failed to complete parenting courses, did not fully cooperate with any service provider, did not fully cooperate with psychological and psychiatric assessments, and had failed to obtain stable housing. And although S.H.’s propensity for violence was a major factor in J.W.’s out-of-home placement, the record shows that S.H. remained aggressive toward others in the weeks shortly before trial. The record supports the district court’s determination that S.H. was unable to care appropriately for the ongoing physical, mental, or emotional needs of J.W. and that the inability would continue into the reasonably foreseeable future.
C. Failure to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement—Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5) (2006).
A district court may terminate a person’s parental rights if, “following the child’s placement out of the home, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the child’s placement.” Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(5).
The record district court cited ample evidence that S.H. failed to correct the conditions leading to the out-of-home placement, including evidence that S.H. did not obtain stable housing, refused to cooperate fully with any service provider, did not follow through with counseling recommendations or service referrals, and failed to substantially comply with her case plan.
D. Child neglected and in foster care—Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8) (2006).
Finally, the district court found that S.H.’s child is neglected and in foster care, which is a basis for termination of parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(8). “Neglected and in foster care” means a child:
(a) Who has been placed in foster care by court order; and
(b) Whose parents’ circumstances, condition, or conduct are such that the child cannot be returned to them; and
(c) Whose parents, despite the availability of needed rehabilitative services, have failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust their circumstances, condition or conduct, or have willfully failed to meet reasonable expectations with regard to visiting the child or providing financial support for the child.
Minn. Stat. § 260C.007, subd. 24 (2006).
Because the first element is undisputed, we turn to the question of whether the record supports the district court’s findings that S.H.’s conduct made it impossible for J.W. to return home and whether S.H. failed to make reasonable efforts to adjust that conduct.
Clearly, J.W. could not return home because S.H. had not yet found a stable home for him to return to. Despite more than a year of county assistance, S.H. had not obtained stable housing at the time of trial. Also, as discussed earlier, S.H. failed to comply with key elements of her case plan, including attending parenting courses, completing a chemical-dependency assessment, and following the recommendations of her psychologist. The district court found that there was no reasonable likelihood that S.H. would correct the conditions that led to the out-of-home placement in the reasonably foreseeable future or that J.W. could be safely reunited with S.H. in the reasonably foreseeable future. The record supports these findings.
Whether S.H. made reasonable efforts to adjust the conduct that caused the out-of-home placement is a closer issue. The record shows that S.H. maintained her sobriety after November 2005, visited mental-health professionals, and contacted some service providers. But her failure to cooperate fully with those providers and her mental-health professionals, her unwillingness to complete a parenting class, her failure to complete a chemical-dependency assessment, her irregular visitation record, and her continued aggressive conduct all refute S.H.’s contention that she made reasonable efforts to address her violent behavior, lack of parenting skills, and mental-health problems.
Taken as a whole, the record supports by clear-and-convincing evidence each of the four statutory bases for termination of S.H.’s parental rights that the district court found to exist, and the district court’s determination is not, therefore, clearly erroneous.
II. Termination of S.H.’s parental rights is in the child’s best interests.
Even if there is a statutory basis to terminate a person’s parental rights and the county has made reasonable efforts to reunite parent and child, the child’s best interests are the paramount consideration. Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, sub. 7 (2006). Therefore, the district court must also determine that the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests. A best-interests analysis balances three factors: (1) the child’s interest in preserving the parent-child relationship, (2) the parent’s interest, and (3) any competing interest of the child. In re Welfare of W.L.P., 678 N.W.2d 703, 711 (Minn. App. 2004). A child’s need for stability, other needs, and preferences may be competing interests. In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992). Courts presume that remaining with the natural parent is in a child’s best interests. In re P.T., 657 N.W.2d 577, 583 (Minn. App. 2003).
S.H. argues that termination of her parental rights is not in J.W.’s best interests because he wants to be reunited with her. But the child’s preference is only one of three factors in determining the child’s best interests. The district court concluded that terminating S.H.’s parental rights is in the best interests of J.W. because (1) S.H. failed to demonstrate “the ability or willingness to begin addressing her underlying needs”; (2) several service providers “reported [S.H.’s] guarded, defensive, and at time[s] abusive or aggressive approach”; (3) S.H.’s behavior had not changed over the course of the mandatory case plan and is not likely to change in the near future; and (4) there were other viable placement options. Additionally, the case worker who monitored S.H. for six months before trial testified that, based on his interactions with S.H., “it would be in [J.W.’s] best interest that his mother’s rights be terminated.”
We conclude that the district court appropriately weighed the best-interests factors in its decision to terminate S.H.’s parental rights.
 Although S.H. claims that the court relieved her of the requirement to enroll in substance-abuse counseling, we find no order of the district court relieving her of this component of the case plan.