Peter Tysdal, Appellant, vs. Jason Bodine, Respondent.
This opinion will be unpublished and
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:
I., F., J., H., A., and T.D., Minor Children.
Filed November 23, 1999
Meeker County District Court
Brian M. Olsen, Brian M. Olsen Law Office, P.O. Box 988, Cokato, MN 55321 (for appellant Ruth Dougherty)
Robert D. Schaps, Schaps & Kluver, 236 North Sibley Avenue, Litchfield, MN 55355 (for minor children)
Michael J. Thompson, Meeker County Attorney, Meeker County Courthouse, 325 North Sibley Avenue, Litchfield, MN 55355 (for respondent)
Wayne Dougherty, P.O. Box. 108, Eden Valley, MN 55329 (pro se respondent)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court's termination of her parental rights based on neglect and egregious harm.
On June 27, 1996, Meeker County Social Services temporarily removed Wayne and Ruth Dougherty's six children from the home because of unsanitary conditions. Prior to removal, Meeker County Social Services provided services to Ruth and Wayne in connection with issues involving cleanliness of the home, parenting skills, counseling for Ruth, and health issues for the children. The county had also provided additional services, including in-home therapy, homemaking services, parenting programs for both parents, individual therapy, WIC for each child, dumpster rental, respite care, daycare, and financial services.
The children were placed in foster care through August, due to the prolonged unsafe living conditions. In September 1996, the foster mother of H. reported concerns about sexual abuse. Concerns of sexual abuse also arose in the foster home where J., A., and T. were initially placed together. Within 24 hours of placement, the foster mother discovered that J. had pulled his sister A.'s pants down, and J. was moved to another foster home.
In October 1996, the CHIPS petition was amended, alleging that H. and A. had been victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by their father, Wayne Dougherty, their uncle, Mark Hawkinson, and Tony Hawkinson. An adjudicatory order was filed in October based upon admissions made in open court by Ruth and Wayne that H. and A. had been victims of sexual abuse, however, neither Ruth nor Wayne would identify the abusers. Both parents were ordered to submit to psychological evaluations and were to have no contact with their children. Further, I., F., J., and H., were ordered to have mental health assessments.
In 1997, various court hearings were held concerning visitation issues and reunification efforts. The issue of who perpetrated the sexual abuse remained unresolved. But after a contested hearing in December, the court issued an order specifically finding that there was clear and convincing evidence that Wayne Dougherty was the perpetrator of child sexual abuse against both H. and A. The court ordered Wayne to be evaluated to determine if he was amenable for treatment as a sex offender. It was determined that Wayne was not amenable to treatment as he continued to deny any sexual contact with his children.
In April 1997, the court found Meeker County Social Services had not made reasonable efforts to reunite the Dougherty family. The county then prepared specific visitation plans for Ruth and Wayne based on a counselor's recommendations. But during visits, Ruth was incapable of responding to the demands of more than one child. She often ignored attention seeking by her other children when she was focused on one child. Ruth could not handle multiple tasks and often expressed anger and lost control, or shut down. During visits, neither parent was capable of providing the care the children require. Both Wayne and Ruth have been psychologically evaluated as suffering from personality disorders.
Finally, the children have exhibited very negative behavior after parent visitations. The behavior exhibited by one child included urinating on portions of her bed, which ceased after visitations with her parents stopped. Additionally, after a December visitation with her parents, A. took the clothes she wore to the visit out of the dirty clothesbasket, laid them out on the floor, and defecated on her hand, she then deliberately smeared feces on the clothing concentrating on the central crotch area. All of the children have been evaluated as special needs children who need an unusual amount of attention. Neither Wayne nor Ruth is able to deal with their children's needs. Ruth challenges the district court's termination of her parental rights.
D E C I S I O N
The standard of appellate review requires that we determine whether the district 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). An appellate court will closely inquire into the sufficiency of the evidence to determine whether the evidence is clear and convincing. In re Welfare of Clausen, 289 N.W.2d 153, 156 (Minn. 1980). The best interest of the child must be the paramount consideration. In re Welfare of S.Z., 547 N.W.2d 886, 893 (Minn. 1996).
"The court need find that only one of the statutory conditions exists to terminate parental rights." In re Welfare of P.J.K., 369 N.W.2d 286, 290 (Minn. 1985). Here, the district court terminated the Dougherty's parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260.221, subd. 1(b)(4), (6) (1998). The district court found that Wayne and Ruth are palpably unfit to parent their children and that all of the children have suffered egregious harm while in their parent's care.
Ruth argues that her rights cannot be terminated because the county failed to employ reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and reunify the family. She relies on the district court's April 9, 1998 order, finding that the county had not made reasonable efforts to reunite the Dougherty family. Before terminating parental rights pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260.221, the district court must make a finding of whether the county used reasonable efforts to provide rehabilitation or reunification services. Minn. Stat. § 260.221 subd. 5 (1998). The statute states:
In any proceeding under this section, the court shall make specific findings:
(1) regarding the nature and extent of efforts make by the social service agency to rehabilitate the parent and reunite the family;
(2) that provision of services for the purpose of rehabilitation and reunification is futile and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances; or
(3) that reasonable efforts at reunification are not required as provided under section 260.012.
Minn. Stat. § 260.221 subd. 5(1)-(3). But reasonable efforts are not always required.
The court may, upon motion and hearing, order the cessation of reasonable efforts if the court finds that provisions of services or further services for the purposes of rehabilitation and reunification is futile and therefore unreasonable under the circumstances. In determining reasonable efforts to be made with respect to a child and in making those reasonable efforts, the child's health and safety must be of paramount concern. Reasonable efforts are not required if the court determines that:(1) termination of parental rights petition has been filed stating a prima facie case that the parent has subject the child to egregious harm as defined in section 260.015, subdivision 29.
Minn. Stat. § 260.012 (a)(1) (1998).
"Egregious harm" means the infliction of bodily harm to a child or neglect of a child which demonstrates a grossly inadequate ability to provide minimally adequate parental care.
Minn. Stat. § 260.015, subd. 29 (1998).
While an earlier district court order made a finding that reunification efforts were insufficient, the termination order expressly found that all of the children had suffered egregious harm while in their parent's care. The court specifically found neglect demonstrating a grossly inadequate ability by Ruth and Wayne to provide minimal care to their six special needs children. The district court also found that termination was in the children's best interests. The best interests of the children are served by placing them in a safe, clean, and nurturing environment with parents who can appreciate their special needs. None of these needs have been met in the past, and will not be met in the foreseeable future by reuniting the children with Ruth or Wayne Doughterty. Further, even if the reunification efforts were not reasonable, they are not necessary to authorize removal.
If the court finds that the social service agency's preventative or reunification efforts have not been reasonable but that further preventative or reunification efforts could not permit the child to safely remain at home, the court may nevertheless authorize or continue the removal of the child.
Minn. Stat. § 260.191, subd. 1a (1998). Because we conclude that the district court's findings that the children suffered egregious harm while in their parent's care were not in error, and are sufficient to terminate the parental rights even without a finding of reasonable reunification efforts, we affirm the district court.