may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
Filed October 22, 1996
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 172905
William R. Kennedy, Hennepin County Public Defender, Warren R. Sagstuen, Assistant County Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2700 (for Appellant Mother)
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Andrew J. Mitchell, Assistant County Attorney, Health Services Building, Suite 1210, 525 Portland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for Respondent Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services)
Andrea K. Niemi, John M. Jerabek, Niemi & Barr, P.A., Suite 1200, 510 Marquette Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55402-1107 (for Respondent Guardian ad Litem)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
This appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the district court's order terminating O.N.'s parental rights to her minor child, S.R. We conclude that the evidence and findings support the district court's holding that the county clearly and convincingly demonstrated that one or more statutory grounds exist to terminate O.N.'s parental rights. We affirm.
O.N. was fourteen years old in April 1990 when she gave birth to her daughter, S.R. Approximately one year later, police observed O.N. and S.R. on a street at midnight. S.R. had inadequate clothing to protect her from the April weather, had a bad cold, eye infection, bloated stomach, and had been burned on the wrist by an iron.
Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services filed a Child in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petition, and S.R. was immediately placed in out-of-home care. In March 1992 the district court issued an order allowing O.N. visitation and creating a case plan. O.N. was unable to complete the case plan's requirements. In August 1992, O.N. gave birth to her second child. A CHIPS order was issued for that child in March 1993.
In September 1992, O.N. was hospitalized for psychological problems. She was diagnosed with "oppositional defiant disorder, dysthymia, low-average to borderline intellectual functioning, narcissistic personality traits and passive aggressive personality traits." A hospital assessment recommended termination of O.N.'s parental rights.
Between 1992 and 1995, the county continued to work with O.N. on a case plan for family reunification, but the efforts were unsuccessful. In February 1995 after Genesis II, a counseling program, discharged O.N., the district court relieved the county of its responsibility to attempt to reunite O.N. and S.R. In June 1995 the county filed a petition for termination of O.N.'s parental rights. While the petition was pending, O.N. violated the terms of visitation by removing the children from a supervised visitation setting. She repeated the visitation violations until the county terminated visitation. O.N. also was arrested for an altercation in which her younger child was injured, charged with theft in a separate incident, charged with assault after a third incident, and became pregnant with a third child. O.N.'s positive progress included entering a counseling program in March 1996, attending parenting classes, receiving parenting assistance, and obtaining approval for transitional housing.
At the April 1996 termination hearing, O.N. requested a continuance in order to demonstrate that she would be capable of providing appropriate care for S.R. The district court denied the request, and, after the hearing, ordered that O.N.'s parental rights be terminated because of refusal or neglect in complying with parental duties and palpable unfitness to parent. O.N. appeals the termination.
Even if [O.N.] reversed her opposition and again participated in [an] intervention program, her intellectual and other developmental limitations make it extremely unlikely that she would be able to sufficiently benefit to render her competent to adequately parent her children.
O.N. contends that it was error for the district court to consider her mental health evaluation as a factor against her in determining whether to terminate her parental rights because her mental health issues are not a major factor affecting her parenting.
O.N. and the county agree that mental illness alone is not ordinarily sufficient cause to terminate parental rights. But the county asserts that the mental health evaluation was an appropriate factor for the district court's consideration because it demonstrates that the nature of O.N.'s mental condition made the decision to terminate parental rights inevitable. The Minnesota Supreme Court has determined that the "nature of the parent's condition may support termination." In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 892 (Minn. 1996). O.N.'s mental health status is relevant to whether she is capable of parenting and whether her condition is persistent or capable of resolving itself in the near future. The district court did not err in admitting the report or relying on the report in its findings.
O.N.'s primary challenge to the district court's termination order is that it erred in not continuing the proceedings to give her the chance to demonstrate her success with the new programming.
The county asserts that O.N. offered no expert evidence to suggest that the personality features that were so pronounced at the time of her psychological assessment would be any more amenable to treatment in the near future. Thus, the county argues that even if the district court had granted a continuance, O.N. would not have been able to prove that she was fit to act in the parenting role. Further, as S.R.'s guardian ad litem points out, "[w]hile judicial caution in severing the family bonds is imperative, untoward delay of the demonstrated inevitable is intolerable." In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 280 (Minn. 1986).
There was evidence in the record that even if O.N. were successful in completing the new program, she would remain unfit for parenting because of her illness. A continuance would not change the need for termination because O.N.'s capacity to parent would not improve. Therefore, the failure of the district court to allow O.N. to prove her ability to complete the program may not have had any effect on the outcome of the termination hearing. See Jones v. Jones, 402 N.W.2d 146, 149-50 (Minn. App. 1987) (decision on continuance is within the discretion of the district court and will not be reversed absent prejudicial abuse).
O.N.'s final challenge is to the district court's finding that O.N.'s behavior indicated that she was palpably unfit to be a parent. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4) (Supp. 1995). O.N. tested positive for marijuana use once, refused other drug tests, stole a sample of her own urine intended for drug testing, and kept drug paraphernalia in her apartment. O.N. also violated an order for protection against her. The evidence of O.N.'s psychological diagnosis substantiates that time would not enable her to become a fit parent. The district court's conclusion that O.N. was palpably unfit to parent S.R. is sufficiently supported by clear and convincing evidence.