may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of: J.E.
Filed March 11, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. J8-95-060202
William E. McGee, Hennepin County Public Defender, Renee Bergeron, Assistant Public Defender, 317 - 2nd Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-0809 (for Appellant Uveta Austin)
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Human Services, Suite 200, 520 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)
Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Andrew J. Mitchell, Assistant County Attorney, 2000 Government Center, Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for Respondent Hennepin County Dept. of Children and Family Servs.)
Shirley A. Reider, 201 Loring Park Office Building, 430 Oak Grove, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (Guardian ad Litem)
Considered and decided by Norton, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
Appellant argues that the trial court erred by terminating her parental rights. The evidence supports the trial court's finding that termination is in the child's best interests. We affirm.
In anticipation of J.E.'s release from the hospital, Hennepin County filed a CHIPS petition on J.E.'s behalf due to concerns related to appellant's chemical dependency, mental health, housing, and ability to care for the child. J.E. was placed under the interim control of Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services. Six months later, the court found that J.E. was a child in need of protection or services, ordered that his legal custody be transferred to Hennepin County Department of Children and Family Services, and gave appellant a case plan delineating reunification requirements.
During the pendency of these proceedings, appellant acknowledged her addiction to cocaine. From January 24, 1994 - April 7, 1995, appellant entered three different chemical dependency programs. She experienced several relapses during those treatments and was discharged from the final program with a "poor" prognosis for her recovery
given that she was so resistant to several suggestions for aftercare and to taking risks by beginning to work on issues that are the key to her recovery. She admits to her history of unsuccessful attempts to remain abstinent and attributes her failures to the inability to follow through with aftercare plans.
Despite the poor prognosis, appellant completed a 16-week aftercare program.
On May 17, 1995, Hennepin County filed a petition for termination of appellant's parental rights. On January 9, 1996, appellant began training to learn how to perform J.E.'s numerous medical treatments. Appellant's training was scheduled to be completed on April 30, 1996. Appellant attended all of the scheduled sessions, except for one week due to illness. J.E.'s pediatric case manager testified that appellant's training generally went well. On April 2 and 3, appellant was to have a 36-hour training session with J.E. in her home, during which time she was to be responsible for all of J.E.'s care during the night. The scheduled session never occurred because appellant tested positive for cocaine on March 18, 1996, and again on March 25th. Appellant's medical training was subsequently discontinued.
Following a trial on the TPR petition, the court terminated appellant's parental rights based on its finding that (1) she was "palpably unfit" to be a party to the parent-child relationship under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4) (1996), and (2) she had "substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon [her] * * * by the parent and child relationship" under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(2).
The appellate court must determine whether the trial court's findings address the statutory criteria, whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether those findings are clearly erroneous.
In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990).
The trial court terminated appellant's parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221 (b)(2) and (4) (1996):
The juvenile court may upon petition, terminate all rights of a parent to a child in the following cases:
* * * *
(b) If it finds that one or more of the following conditions exist:
* * * *
(2) That the parent has substantially, continuously, or repeatedly refused or neglected to comply with the duties imposed upon that parent by the parent and child relationship * * *; or
* * * *
(4) That a parent is palpably unfit to be a party to the parent and child relationship * * * .
Appellant argues that the termination is inappropriate, even though section 260.221(b) provides a statutory basis, because the termination is not in J.E.'s best interests. See In re Welfare of M.P., 542 N.W.2d 71, 74-75 (Minn. App. 1996) (holding that trial court's failure to find that termination is in child's best interests may preclude terminating parental rights, even then one or more statutory prerequisites for termination are present).
Appellant contends termination is not in J.E.'s best interests because the court failed to address the likelihood of J.E.'s adoption. See M.P., 542 N.W.2d at 76 ("[a] prospective consideration of a child's best interests necessarily requires consideration of the chance for a child's adoption."); M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 379 (recognizing trial court's consideration of "the likelihood of adoption" when addressing child's best interests). Moreover, appellant contends that the trial court was required to consider J.E.'s adoptability contemporaneously with his special medical needs. See In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987) (noting trial court's consideration of child's special needs, including medical and behavioral problems, when assessing child's best interests).
Contrary to appellant's contentions, the trial court addressed J.E.'s adoptability in light of his medical needs, stating that, "The Hennepin County African-American Advocate assigned to this case * * * testified that * * * [it was] her belief that his adoption would be difficult." The trial court's finding is supported by substantial evidence and is not clearly erroneous. M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 375.
Appellant argues that the trial court's best interests analysis is nonetheless incomplete because it fails to balance J.E.'s interest in retaining his relationship with appellant against the benefits of termination. See M.P., 542 N.W.2d at 76 (trial court's findings must balance benefits of termination against child's loss of relationship with biological mother). Appellant contends that she and J.E. have a loving relationship that would be irreparably harmed if her parental rights are terminated. Appellant suggests that frequent visitation demonstrates the loving relationship she has with J.E. See Minn. Stat. § 260.155, subd. 7(3) and (4) (1996) (frequency of visitation and other contact between parent and child are factors court considers in neglect proceedings). Finally, appellant observes that the law favors the retention of the bond between children and their natural parents. Id; see also Minn. Stat. § 260.011, subd. 2(a) (stating preference for placing children with their biological parents unless children's welfare or safety cannot be adequately safeguarded without removal or unless removal would serve children's best interests).
The trial court balanced the benefits and detriments of terminating appellant's parental rights observing:
Ms. Austin loves [J.E.] and [J.E.], like any other child, has an interest in preserving a loving relationship with a biological parent. But [J.E.] also has a right to a permanent placement, a determination that is required by Minnesota law. In the conflict between the interests of a parent and child, parental rights must yield to the best interests of a child. In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 280 (Minn. 1986)
This finding sufficiently balances J.E.'s interest in retaining the relationship with appellant against the benefits of termination. M.P., 542 N.W.2d at 76.
Finally, appellant urges the court to suspend these proceedings and review them again after six months. See Minn. Stat. § 260.191, subd. 3b(b)(3) (1996) (providing for subsequent review six months after expiration of one-year permanency placement in "extraordinary circumstances"). This additional six-month extension has already expired, however, because J.E. entered court-ordered out-of-home placement on March 2, 1994. Appellant argues that these time constraints must be reconciled with the intent and construction of the statute, which states, "In ordering a permanent placement of a child, the court must be governed by the best interests of the child." Minn. Stat. § 260.191, subd. 3b(c). Appellant contends that, in this case, J.E.'s best interests are not served by the time limitation of the permanency statute because he is unlikely to obtain permanency via adoption and foster care is not a "permanent placement." Therefore, appellant urges the court to subordinate the statute's time limitations to the statute's overriding purpose -- the best interests of the child.
J.E.'s best interests would not be met if this court suspended review of this case for another six months. Appellant does not assert that she will be a palpably fit parent or have complied with the duties imposed upon her by the parent-child relationship in six months. Indeed, appellant's likelihood of success is unsure, given her many attempts at overcoming her cocaine addiction. Appellant's parental rights must yield to J.E.'s need for a stable home environment and a reliable caretaker who can attend to his special medical needs. J.E.'s best interests demand that appellant's parental rights be terminated so he has a chance of permanent placement with an adoptive family.