STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
In the Matter of the Welfare of:
L. E., D. E., and M.V., Children.
Filed November 23, 1999
Blue Earth County District Court
File No. J49950095
Ross E. Arneson, Blue Earth County Attorney, Bradley J. Peyton, Assistant County Attorney, Post Office Box 3129, Mankato, MN 56002-3129 (for respondent county)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Davies, Judge.
Mother appeals the district court's decision terminating her parental rights. We affirm.
On five separate occasions since then the county has placed mother's children in foster care, either at her request or at the county's initiative. At least four of the placements were directly tied to mother's drug or alcohol use. The children were last placed in foster care on December 31, 1997, and have been there ever since.
During 1997 and 1998 mother was charged with two separate incidents of driving under the influence, as well as offering a forged check, driving after revocation and obstruction. Most of these charges were tied directly or indirectly to mother's drug and alcohol use. (The record does not reveal the disposition of the charges.) In February 1999, mother was picked up on an outstanding warrant and kept in jail until the charges against her had been resolved. She was released only two weeks before the May 19, 1999 termination hearing.
Since January 1998 mother has unsuccessfully attended, at county expense, four chemical dependency treatment programs. In one case, she completed a cocaine dependency treatment program and was conditionally discharged, but failed to satisfy her discharge conditions. In the other three cases, she walked away from the programs against staff advice, twice after refusing to accept punishments for breaking the programs' rules. In addition, the record reflects that mother has also failed to complete several previous treatment programs. Although mother has been unable to control her chemical dependency problem, Blue Earth County Human Services officials concede that mother is a "good parent" when she is sober.
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 existence of a single statutory ground is sufficient to support a termination of parental rights. In re Welfare of Maas, 355 N.W.2d 480, 483 (Minn. App. 1984). If one or more of the statutory criteria is met, in making its determination the court must give paramount consideration to the child's best interests. Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 4 (1998); M.D.O., 462 N.W.2d at 378.
The district court found statutory grounds for termination under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subds. 1(b)(2), (4), (5), and (8). We need only examine one of these statutory provisions to conclude that we must affirm the district court's order.
Parental rights may be terminated if the court finds
that following upon a determination of neglect or dependency, or of a child's need for protection or services, reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the determination. It is presumed that reasonable efforts under this clause have failed upon a showing that:
(i) a child has resided out of the parental home under court order for a cumulative period of more than one year within a five-year period following an adjudication of dependency, neglect, need for protection or services under section 260.015, subdivision 2a, clause (1), (2), (3), (6), (8), or (9), or neglected and in foster care, and an order for disposition under section 260.191, including adoption of the case plan required by section 257.071;
(ii) conditions leading to the determination will not be corrected within the reasonably foreseeable future. It is presumed that conditions leading to a child's out-of-home placement will not be corrected in the reasonably foreseeable future upon a showing that the parent or parents have not substantially complied with the court's orders and a reasonable case plan, and the conditions which led to the out-of-home placement have not been corrected; and
(iii) reasonable efforts have been made by the social service agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family.
Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5).
On March 30, 1998, mother's children were adjudicated children in need of protection or services (CHIPS) as defined by Minn. Stat. § 260.015, subd. 2a(8). Her children have resided out of her home under court order for more than a year following the CHIPS determination. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5)(i). She has failed to comply with the case plans she signed for each of her children, which basically impose only the very reasonable requirements that she complete a chemical dependency treatment program and stay sober. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5)(ii). And as outlined above, Blue Earth County officials have made numerous efforts to enroll mother in treatment programs in an effort to rehabilitate her and reunite her with her children. See Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5)(iii).
As a result, the county has established the presumption that "reasonable efforts, under the direction of the court, have failed to correct the conditions leading to the determination" that mother's children are in need of protective services. Mother apparently attempts to rebut this presumption with her argument that the county has failed to prove that she was using drugs or alcohol as of the time of the hearing. See In re Welfare of J.S., J.S. & J.H.-S., 470 N.W.2d 697, 701 (Minn. App. 1991) (conditions justifying termination of parental rights must exist at time of trial).
But simply because mother may not have used drugs or alcohol for a short period of time before the hearing does not mean that "the conditions which led to the out-of-home placement have * * * been corrected." Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5)(ii). Mother testified only that she hadn't used drugs for the two weeks or so between the time she got out of jail and the hearing, and that she believed she could stay sober. That brief period of hopeful abstinence is not sufficient to rebut the county's overwhelming evidence that mother has a serious and unresolved chemical dependency problem. Furthermore, the court was entitled to consider the longstanding nature of mother's problem and her many failures in treatment programs in concluding that mother's chemical dependency would not be corrected within the reasonably foreseeable future. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980) (court may consider the success of past programs when predicting the foreseeable future); see also In re Welfare of J.L.L., 396 N.W.2d 647, 652 (Minn. App. 1986) (minimal improvement not sufficient); cf. In re Welfare of J.D.L., 522 N.W.2d 364, 369 n.4 (Minn. App. 1994) (appellant's testimony that he now had a "different attitude" insufficient ground to believe sufficient changes would occur in the foreseeable future). As a result, the district court did not err in concluding that mother's parental rights could be terminated under this subdivision.
Because the district court was correct in concluding that the county had proved that mother's parental rights should be terminated pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(5), we need not consider whether the other statutory provisions cited by the district court would also justify termination of mother's parental rights. Minn. Stat § 260.241, subd. 1 (1998); Maas, 355 N.W.2d at 483 (existence of single statutory ground sufficient to terminate parental rights).
Having determined that at least one statutory requirement for termination of mother's parental rights is met, we must review the district court's determination that termination is in the best interests of mother's children. Mother argues that the county has failed to prove that her chemical dependency is harmful to her children, pointing out that except for the incident in 1993 when she got drunk and left them alone to go to a party, she has always seen to it that they were cared for. But mother ignores the fact that her failure to address her chemical dependency problem has caused her children to languish in foster care for almost two years. As the district court found, the best interests of these children would be served by the establishment of a permanent, stable environment. See In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992) (stable environment in child's best interest). The district court did not err in finding that termination of mother's parental rights would be in her children's best interests.