may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
In the Matter of the Welfare of: A.H., B.R.H.,
E.T.A., and A.A., Children.
File No. JX96500135
Allen P. Eskens, 3 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 207, P.O. Box 3412, Mankato, MN 56002-3412 (for appellant)
Donald R. Klosterbuer, Rock County Attorney, Terry S. Vajgrt, Assistant County Attorney, 120 North McKenzie, P.O. Box 538, Luverne, MN 56156 (for respondent)
Benjamin Vander Kooi, Jr., 127 E. Main P.O. Box 746, Luverne, MN 56156 (for guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Foley, Judge.**
Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
On appeal from the trial court's order terminating parental rights to A.H. (born 4-27-85), B.R.H. (born 12-16-86), E.T.A. (born 4-15-90), and A.A. (born
2-15-92), Polly Murphy argues: (1) reasonable efforts were not used to reunite her family; and (2) the county failed to prove any parenting deficiencies would continue into the foreseeable future. We affirm.
D E C I S I O N
In an action to terminate parental rights, a petitioner bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence the existence of one or more of the statutory grounds for termination. In re Welfare of C.K., 426 N.W.2d 842, 847 (Minn. 1988); see also Minn. Stat. § 260.241, subd. 1 (1996) (providing trial court may terminate parental rights if it finds existence of statutory conditions by clear and convincing evidence). This burden is subject to the presumption that a natural parent is a fit person to be entrusted with the care of the parent's child, and that it is ordinarily in the best interest of the child to be in the custody of his or her natural parent. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980). On appeal, we determine whether the trial court's findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d 370, 375 (Minn. 1990). We exercise great caution in termination proceedings, finding termination proper only when clearly mandated by the evidence. In re Welfare of P.J.K., 369 N.W.2d 286, 290 (Minn. 1985). The best interest of the child is the paramount concern in all parental termination cases. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (1996); In re Welfare of J.J.B., 390 N.W.2d 274, 279 (Minn. 1986).
The trial court found reasonable efforts under court direction have failed to correct the conditions leading to the "Child in Need of Protection or Services" (CHIPS) determination. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5) (1996) (providing termination appropriate if, following determination of neglect or dependency, or of child's need for protection or services, reasonable efforts failed to correct conditions leading to determination). Murphy argues the county's failure to diagnose her cognitive disorders prevented "reasonable efforts to correct conditions." However, the record demonstrates: (1) Murphy's four children were declared in need of protection on July 30, 1992; (2) Murphy was evaluated by a Granite Falls psychologist, took an MMPI, and was subjected to other psychological testing over a ten-day period; (3) Murray County funded a thirty-day inpatient stay at Eden House, a three- to four-month stay at Lorraine Halfway House, and provided home-based family services, including therapy; (4) Rock County funded treatment at Southwestern Mental Health Center, inpatient treatment at New Life Treatment Center, and facilitated treatment at Meadow Creek and Journey Home Halfway House; (5) in addition, Rock County supervised visitations between Murphy and her children; and (6) Murphy had opportunities to participate in additional county-funded counseling, parenting, and therapy sessions. Under these circumstances, there is clear and convincing evidence the county used reasonable efforts to correct the conditions that led to the CHIPS determination. See In re Welfare of H.K., 455 N.W.2d 529, 532 (Minn. App. 1990) (concluding whether county has met its duty of reasonable efforts requires consideration of length of time county was involved, and quality of effort given), review denied (July 6, 1990); see, e.g., In re Welfare of M.G., 407 N.W.2d 118, 122 (Minn. App. 1987) (concluding county made reasonable efforts when it worked with family three years before termination hearing and its initial efforts were substantial even though those efforts decreased as parent failed to respond to efforts); In re Welfare of B.M., 383 N.W.2d 704, 708 (Minn. App. 1986) (concluding reasonable efforts were made when social services were impressive in scope and intensity), review denied (Minn. May 22, 1986).
Murphy also argues the trial court erred in finding her "palpably unfit" because the county failed to prove current parenting deficiencies existed that would continue into the foreseeable future. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4) (1996) (providing termination appropriate upon showing parent is "palpably unfit" to be party to parent and child relationship and conditions relating to that relationship are of duration and nature that renders parent unable, for reasonably foreseeable future, to care for child); see also In re Welfare of D.I., 413 N.W.2d 560, 563 (Minn. App. 1987) (concluding evidence relating to termination must address conditions that exist at time of hearing, and it must appear these conditions will continue for prolonged indeterminate period). However, the record demonstrates: (1) Murphy failed to comply with numerous court orders, the rehabilitation plan, and a treatment program; (2) several witnesses testified completion of this treatment program was necessary for Murphy's recovery; (3) a chemical dependency counselor testified Murphy's current program does not provide the means for establishing reunification; (4) a social service supervisor testified Murphy is unable to pay attention to her children, use what she has been taught, or put her children's needs first; (5) the guardian ad litem testified Murphy has failed to set responsible limits in the area of pre-sexual learning; and (6) Murphy admits she lacks parenting skills. Given this testimony, the trial court's finding that serious parenting deficiencies existed at the time of the hearing that would continue into the foreseeable future is supported by clear and convincing evidence. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5)(ii) (creating presumption that conditions leading to child's out-of-home placement will not be corrected in reasonably foreseeable future upon showing that parent has failed to substantially comply with court's orders and reasonable case plan, conditions that led to placement have not been corrected); M.G., 407 N.W.2d at 122 (concluding evidence of parent's unwillingness to cooperate with rehabilitation plan support conclusion that present neglectful conditions will continue for prolonged indeterminate period).
After a careful review of the evidence, we conclude the trial court's findings address the statutory criteria and are supported by substantial evidence. While we are sympathetic to Murphy's desire to be allowed another chance to be reunited with her
children, we cannot say the trial court clearly erred in reaching its conclusion to terminate her parental rights.