Ramsey County District Court File No. J702551532
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and
When the futility of reunification efforts is irrefutable, the county is not required to provide a case plan before an individual's parental rights can be terminated on statutory grounds.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
This is an appeal from an order for the termination of a father's parental rights to four children. Sufficient evidence supports the district court's findings that (1) a case plan for the father would have been futile and therefore unreasonable; (2) the father has abandoned his children; (3) the father has failed to comply with his parental duties; (4) the father is palpably unfit to be a parent; (5) the father is not the adjudicated father of two of the children; and (6) all four of the children are neglected and in foster care. Because the district court's findings are not erroneous and provide sufficient reasons to terminate the father's parental rights, we affirm.
In July 2000, appellant Aeropajito Vasquez fatally shot his wife. Appellant had a lengthy history of domestic abuse and had threatened to kill his wife on numerous occasions. He was eventually convicted of second-degree murder and is currently incarcerated at Stillwater prison. Appellant will not be eligible for release until 2023, by which time the children will be adults.
After their mother's murder, the minor children, A.C.C. (born 5/26/90), A.U.C. (born 3/20/91), J.S.C. (born 5/21/92), and C.I.C. (born 9/19/96), lived at the homes of their paternal grandmother or their paternal aunt. All of the children have special needs. According to affidavits and reports in the record, the children were moved between the two homes and were not being well taken care of at either home. For example, they had no consistent routine; A.U.C., who has ADHD, did not receive his medication regularly; they did not receive any counseling; and their aunt did not allow them to attend their mother's funeral. In addition, appellant's family threatened any friends or maternal family members who showed an interest in the children's welfare.
The children's maternal aunt filed a petition for custody of the children. On December 15, 2000, the Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (the county) placed all of the children in a temporary emergency shelter after it discovered that appellant's family was planning to move with the children to Mexico before the December 18, 2000, custody hearing. On December 18, 2000, the county filed a petition alleging that the children were in need of protection or services. The court assumed continuing emergency protective care of the children, assigned a guardian ad litem, and ordered the county to place the children in a shelter or foster care. After a hearing on February 9, 2001, the court adjudged the children to be in need of protection or services (CHIPS).
After the CHIPS adjudication, the county provided the court with a case plan in early March 2001 for each child and established for each a primary permanency plan to live with relatives. At that time, the county did not provide a specific case plan for appellant, stating that a case plan aimed at returning the children to appellant's day-to-day care would be futile because of his lengthy incarceration in Stillwater prison.
While appellant was in prison, he initially maintained telephone contact with his oldest child. The court limited appellant's contact with his children to written communication after appellant's telephone conversations became inappropriate and upset his oldest child. Appellant's letters, however, also contained inappropriate communication.
At the end of March 2001, the county filed a petition to terminate appellant's parental rights as to all four children. After a hearing on July 15, 2002, the district court terminated appellant's parental rights. Appellant now challenges the termination of his parental rights.
1. Did the district court commit clear error when it found that the county was not required to provide appellant with a case plan?
2. Did the district court commit clear error by finding that the evidence supported the termination of appellant's parental rights on six statutory grounds?
On review in a termination-of-parental-rights proceeding, this court must determine whether the district court's findings address the statutory criteria, are supported by substantial evidence, and are not clearly erroneous. In re Welfare of D.D.G., 558 N.W.2d 481, 484 (Minn. 1997). Although this court defers to the district court's findings, this court exercises great caution in proceedings to terminate parental rights. In re Welfare of A.J.C., 556 N.W.2d 616, 622 (Minn. App. 1996), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997).
Appellant argues that, in the August 2002 order terminating his parental rights, the district court's finding that the county was not required to make reasonable efforts to reunite appellant with the children is clearly erroneous on two grounds. First, appellant argues that the county had a continuing duty to provide such reasonable efforts because the district court's April 2001 written order (which arose out of a February 2001 hearing relating to the CHIPS proceeding) required the county to "submit a case plan for court approval outlining appropriate and available services to be offered to the father and the children" and to address the "conditions that the father must mitigate in order for the children to be in his day-to-day care." Second, appellant argues that the general provisions of the ...