In the Matter of the Children of: Brandie Raschael Bush, Mother.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALSCX-03-252
In the Matter of the Children of: Brandie Raschael Bush, Mother.
Filed July 22, 2003
Ramsey County District Court
File No. J298553988
Robert J. Lawton, 1100 West Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for appellant Brandie Bush)
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Ann E. Ploetz, Assistant County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Blvd., Suite 560, St. Paul, MN 55102; and
Margaret L. Gustafson, Baker Court, Suite 305, 821 Raymond Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55114 (for respondent)
Paul W. Bergstrom, 25 West Seventh Street, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for guardian ad litem Amy Jones)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
On appeal from an order vacating a stay of an order terminating appellant's parental rights, appellant argues: (1) the record lacks sufficient evidence to support the court's findings that she violated conditions of the settlement agreement; and (2) the record lacks clear and convincing evidence that at least one statutory criterion existed to support terminating her parental rights as of the date of the revocation order. We affirm.D E C I S I O N
In reviewing termination of parental rights (TPR) cases, appellate courts determine "whether the district court's findings address the statutory criteria and whether the findings are supported by substantial evidence and are not clearly erroneous." In re Welfare of P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d 538, 543 (Minn. 2001) (citation omitted). Moreover, the evidence must be clear and convincing. Id. Further, in any TPR action, "the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration." Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 7 (2002).
Here, the district court terminated appellant's parental rights in November 2001 and again in January 2003. The November 2001 order was stayed for 90 days with a review hearing at that time, subject to an additional 90-day continuance and further review, if appellant fully complied with the conditions of the settlement agreement. On April 5, 2002, RCCHSD filed a motion to vacate the stayed TPR order, arguing that appellant failed to fully comply with the conditions of the settlement agreement. In response, appellant requested and received an evidentiary hearing. The court granted RCCHSD's motion on January 6, 2003.
The district court determined there was clear and convincing evidence that at least one of the statutory criteria authorizing termination was satisfied as of the date of the court's January order. The court further found that appellant breached one or more terms of the settlement agreement, pursuant to which the termination was stayed. Specifically, the court found appellant breached conditions 4, 5, and 9.
Condition 4 required appellant to
participate in individual therapy with a therapist selected by [r]espondent and RCCHSD. In therapy [appellant] shall focus on the issues identified in the parenting assessment completed in May 2001. [Appellant] shall attend therapy on a regular basis as recommended by the therapist and her RCCHSD social worker. [Appellant] shall continue therapy, until successfully discharged from care by the therapist. [Appellant] shall sign a release of information, allowing RCCHSD to obtain and/or share information with her therapist.
The record supports the district court's determination that appellant failed to fully comply with this condition. Appellant's first therapist testified that appellant failed to attend four appointments out of eight. In addition, appellant's social worker testified that appellant failed to inform her of the name or telephone number of her new therapist. Thus, the social worker did not know which therapist appellant was seeing from December 2001 until April 2002. The social worker also testified that appellant refused to sign a release of information to allow her to provide the new therapist with information about appellant. In addition, appellant's new therapist testified that appellant missed at least 4 appointments out of 15.
Condition 5 of the settlement agreement required appellant to
call to schedule a medication evaluation by November 9, 2001, and * * * make and keep the first available appointment. [Appellant] shall follow all recommendations of this evaluation. [Appellant] shall sign a release of information, allowing RCCHSD to obtain and/or share information with the psychiatrist who will be completing this evaluation.
The record supports the district court's finding that appellant violated this condition. Appellant's first therapist referred her for a medication evaluation through Ramsey County Mental Health. It was explained to appellant that the referral resulted in her being placed on a standard one-month waiting list for an evaluation and that these appointments are only provided to clients who keep their appointments with their regular therapists. The first therapist testified that when the October 9, 2001, appointment became available, a letter was sent to appellant on October 2, 2001, informing her about the appointment because appellant did not have a phone at the time. Appellant failed to attend the medication evaluation on October 9, 2001. Thus, appellant did not keep the first available appointment for a medication evaluation and violated condition 5 of the settlement agreement.
Further, the district court properly found appellant failed to comply with condition 9, which required appellant to sign releases of information to allow RCCHSD to exchange information with service providers, doctors, and evaluators for implementation of, and monitoring compliance with, the requirements of the settlement agreement. Appellant failed to sign releases to allow for the exchange of information with her second therapist and with the physician who eventually conducted the medication evaluation.
Throughout the trial, appellant argued that she did her best to comply with the requirements of the settlement agreement. But under the terms of the settlement agreement, appellant was required to fully comply with all of the conditions. When the court stayed the termination of appellant's parental rights, it allowed her one last opportunity to strictly comply with the conditions of the settlement agreement, not one last chance to do her best.
Moreover, in determining the best interests of the children, the court balances the children's interest in preserving the parent-child relationship, the parent's interest in preserving the parent-child relationship, and any competing interests of the children. In re Welfare of R.T.B., 492 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 1992). But the interests of the parent and the children are not automatically given equal weight. In re Welfare of Udstuen, 349 N.W.2d 300, 304 (Minn. App. 1984). Here, the district court properly found that the children's needs for permanency and stability outweigh appellant's interest in preserving the parent-child relationship. Appellant has had two years, and help from countless services, to achieve stability for her children. We conclude it is not in the children's best interests to afford appellant additional time to make progress toward stability in her life.
We must next determine whether at least one of the statutory conditions supporting a termination of appellant's parental rights existed at the time the court revoked its stay. See P.R.L., 622 N.W.2d at 543.
The district court found that one of the statutory criteria appellant met was that she substantially, continuously, and repeatedly failed to comply with the duties imposed on her by the parent-child relationship, due to her failure to address her mental-health problems. See Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (2002). We agree.
Despite diagnoses of significant psychological disorders by two doctors, appellant has minimized her need for therapy and has taken actions that make it difficult for her consulting and treating practitioners to help her address major depression and a personality disorder. Moreover, appellant testified that she does not believe it is in the best interests of her children for her to attend therapy. Therefore, because appellant failed over the past two years to adequately address her mental-health problems, we conclude that this statutory factor supports the termination of appellant's parental rights.