may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of: H.L.K.
In the Matter of the Petition of
Joseph T. Corrigan and his wife, Linda L. Corrigan,
to Adopt, co-petitioners,
In the Matter of the Petition of
Theresa Solinger, to Adopt H.L.K., petitioner,
Filed June 15, 1999
Stearns County District Court
File No. F89750528
William P. Kain, Schmidt & Lund, Daniel Building, 11 North Seventh Avenue, St. Cloud, MN 56303 (for appellant Solinger)
Wright S. Walling, Jody Ollyver DeSmidt, Walling & Berg, P.A., 121 South Eighth Street, Suite 1550, Minneapolis MN 55402 (for respondents Corrigan)
Kevin Holden, Holden Law Offices, 830 West St. Germain, Suite 210, Post Office Box 1823, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1823 (guardian ad litem)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Halbrooks, Judge.
Appellant Theresa Solinger challenges the trial court's order denying her adoption petition and granting the petition of respondents Joseph T. and Linda L. Corrigan. Solinger contends that the trial court misapplied Minnesota adoption law and erred in denying her motion for a new trial. We affirm.
This case involves competing petitions to adopt minor child H.L.K., born July 8, 1995. In November 1995, Stearns County Social Services removed H.L.K. from the home of her biological parents and placed her in the foster care home of Solinger. In November 1996, Stearns County Social Services petitioned to terminate the parental rights of H.L.K.'s biological parents. On April 2, 1997, the Corrigans filed a petition to adopt H.L.K. Joseph Corrigan is the brother of H.L.K.'s biological mother. On May 21, 1997, the trial court terminated the parental rights of H.L.K.'s biological parents. On May 27, 1997, Solinger filed a petition to adopt H.L.K.
At a pretrial hearing, the court requested that the parties address which version of a statutory relative preference provision, Minn. Stat. § 259.29, applied. An amended version of the statute became effective on May 7, 1997. Because the trial court found no clear intent to the amended statute retroactively, the court concluded that the older version of the statute applied.
After a four-day trial, the court found that both prospective families offered an equally suitable home environment. The trial court concluded that Minn. Stat. § 259.29 required placement with the Corrigans because Solinger did not present good cause to overcome the relative preference. Accordingly, the trial court dismissed Solinger's adoption petition and granted that of the Corrigans. The trial court denied Solinger's motion for a new trial. Solinger appeals from final judgment and the order denying a new trial.
We review a trial court's decision to grant an adoption petition under an abuse of discretion standard. In re Welfare of D.L., 479 N.W.2d 408, 413 (Minn. App. 1991), aff'd 486 N.W.2d 375 (Minn. 1992). The trial court's factual findings will not be disturbed on appeal unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01; In re Adoption of C.H., 554 N.W.2d 737, 743 (Minn. 1996). The trial court's interpretation of adoption statutes is reviewed de novo. C.H., 554 N.W.2d at 742. The decision whether to grant a new trial rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will be reversed only for a clear abuse of that discretion. In re Welfare of D.L., 486 N.W.2d 375, 382 (Minn. 1992).
1. Solinger argues that the trial court should have applied the version of Minn. Stat. § 259.29 that became effective May 7, 1997, rather than the prior version. The version applied by the trial court provides in pertinent part:
The authorized child-placing agency shall give preference, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to placing the child with (a) a relative or relatives of the child, or, if that would be detrimental to the child or a relative is not available, (b) an important friend with whom the child has resided or had significant contact, or if that is not possible, (c) a family with the same racial or ethnic heritage as the child, or, if that is not feasible, (d) a family of different racial or ethnic heritage from the child which is knowledgeable and appreciative of the child's racial or ethnic heritage.
Minn. Stat. § 259.29 (1996). That provision was amended, effective May 7, 1997, to read:
The authorized child-placing agency shall consider placement, consistent with the child's best interests and in the following order, with (1) a relative or relatives of the child, or (2) an important friend with whom the child has resided or had significant contact.Minn. Stat. § 259.29, subd. 2 (1998). When the Corrigans filed their adoption petition on April 8, 1997, their cause of action was effectively commenced under Minn. R. Civ. P. 3.01. Accordingly, application of the amended statute, effective May 7, 1997, to the Corrigans' petition would be retroactive. "No law shall be construed to be retroactive unless clearly and manifestly so intended by the legislature." Minn. Stat. § 645.21 (1998). The legislature amended Minn. Stat. § 259.29 to remove placement preferences based on race, color, or national origin in order to remain eligible for federal funds. We find no evidence that the legislature intended retroactive application. We conclude that the trial court did not err in applying the older version of Minn. Stat. § 259.29.
2. Solinger argues that even if the older version of Minn. Stat. § 259.29 applied, the trial court mistakenly treated the relative placement preference as a mechanical mandatory directive rather than one factor in determining the child's overall best interests. Interpreting the older version of the relative preference, the supreme court stated:
the preference is only one factor to be considered in determining the overall best interests of the child; it is not a mandatory directive to be overcome only by a showing of emotional or physical harm.
C.H., 554 N.W.2d at 742.
In this case, the trial court found: "Both prospective adoptive homes are suitable for [H.L.K.] and both prospective adoptive families would offer a safe and secure environment for her." The trial court's findings of facts generally summarize the evidence presented at trial and offer the trial court's opinion of actions taken by Stearns County Social Services. We would prefer findings that dealt directly and specifically with each of the eight factors routinely applied in analysis of the best interests of the child and enumerated at Minn. Stat. § 260.181, subd. 3(b) (1998). Nevertheless, we cannot say that the trial court's finding that those factors favor placement of H.L.K. with the Corrigans is clearly erroneous.
The trial court relied on D.L. as authority for treating the relative preference provision as a presumption requiring placement with the Corrigans unless Solinger could show something negative about the Corrigans, or something particularly positive about Solinger, that would constitute good cause to overcome the relative preference. In D.L., the supreme court concluded that the trial court has broad discretion to determine what constitutes "good cause." 486 N.W.2d at 380. Subsequently, in C.H., the supreme court stated:
After the court's decision in D.L., the legislature changed the relative preference standard in a way that made it even clearer that the preference is not to be applied so as to override the overall best interests of the child.
554 N.W.2d at 742. In this case, the trial court concluded that the best interests factors favored placement of H.L.K. with the Corrigans because, other considerations being equal, the relative preference favored the Corrigans. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that the trial court treated the preference as an overriding presumption rather than as one factor among others.
We glean from the trial court's memorandum that the court believed that both parties would make excellent adoptive parents. We note that H.L.K. has already been transferred from foster care and placed with the Corrigans. It is important that H.L.K. have stability in her home life. As the supreme court stated in D.L., for the parties to put this litigation behind them and get on with their lives would certainly be in the child's best interests. 486 N.W.2d at 382. We conclude that granting the Corrigans' adoption petition on the basis of the relative preference provision was not an abuse of the trial court's discretion.