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In re Welfare of Child of K.A.T.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 17, 2013

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: K.A.T., Parent.


St. Louis County District Court File No. 69DU-JV-12-84.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark S. Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, Clarissa L.C. McDonald, Assistant County Attorney, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent county).

Terri Port Wright, Cloquet, Minnesota (for appellant mother).

Thomas Nolan, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for guardian ad litem Charlene Matheson) Doug Osell, Duluth, Minnesota (guardian ad litem).

Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Willis, Judge. [*]

HUDSON, Judge.

On appeal from the termination of her parental rights, appellant-mother argues that the district court abused its discretion by concluding that the county demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that reasonable efforts were used to reunify appellant with her son because the county failed to adequately consider the recommendations of appellant's guardian ad litem and the extent of appellant's mental illness, and because the district court erred by admitting testimony and evidence into the record without appellant present at trial and without giving appellant's guardian ad litem an opportunity to testify or present evidence. We affirm.


K.A.T. is the biological mother of J.T.T., who was born on April 14, 2008. Despite two attempts by St. Louis County to identify J.T.T.'s father, no father has been identified.

On June 12, 2011, J.T.T. was placed in emergency protective custody following a report by a motorist that K.A.T. was observed dangling J.T.T. over the edge of a bridge. The motorist was driving across the Blatnik Bridge, traveling from Duluth to Superior, when he observed a woman dangling a baby over the side of the bridge. The woman, later identified as K.A.T., had parked her vehicle in the middle of the bridge with the turn signal on. The bridge had only a slight shoulder, and the vehicle was occupying the right lane of traffic. The motorist called 911, and police responded to the scene. K.A.T. denied dangling J.T.T. over the bridge and told the police that "her son wanted to see the moon." K.A.T. agreed to be transported to the Miller Dwan Medical Center in Duluth for evaluation. While en route, K.A.T. began banging her head against the divider in the back of the squad car and had to be restrained. At the hospital, K.A.T. began kicking, punching, spitting at, and biting hospital personnel, and had to be physically restrained and sedated. Her voice changed from "very quiet, soft-spoken" to "a guttural voice." She shouted curse words, "her eyes were bulging out, " and she bit her tongue until it bled. J.T.T. was taken to the police station and placed in protective custody.

On June 16, 2011, St. Louis County filed a petition alleging that J.T.T. was a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) and that he should be placed in emergency protective care. The court ordered J.T.T. to remain in the temporary legal custody of the county. On July 18, 2011, K.A.T. entered a limited admission to the CHIPS petition, resulting in a CHIPS adjudication. K.A.T. was ordered to comply with a reunification plan, which included, among other things, undergoing a psychological evaluation, undergoing a parenting assessment, attending supervised visits with J.T.T., demonstrating the ability to provide age-appropriate care for J.T.T., and maintaining safe and suitable housing.

K.A.T. complied with some elements of the reunification plan, but not others. K.A.T. submitted to a psychological evaluation, which was performed by Dr. Carolyn Phelps on August 18, 2011. The evaluation revealed that K.A.T. had been previously hospitalized eight times for psychiatric illnesses and that she has a "history of noncompliance with outpatient treatment, noncompliance with psychotropic medications, premature termination of services and failure to make adequate use of services." Dr. Phelps diagnosed K.A.T. with "Bipolar I Disorder" and "Personality Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified with Schizotypal Traits." Dr. Phelps observed that K.A.T. has "a well-established history of a serious and persistent mental illness, which has required many psychiatric hospitalizations, including commitment in 2006." She opined that "[K.A.T.'s] infantilizing and overpathologizing of [J.T.T.] also have been highlighted concerns . . . to the degree that it would interfere with [J.J.T.]'s development." During the evaluation, K.A.T. admitted that she suffers from auditory hallucinations. In summary, Dr. Phelps stated:

Historically, [K.A.T.'s] illness has included rapid, unpredictable decompensation even while purportedly compliant with treatment aimed towards limiting such. [K.A.T.'s] illness is accompanied by limited insight and an imperviousness to feedback. In fact, with respect to the latter, feedback has tended to result in emotional and behavioral dysregulation. As such, these collective factors suggest that returning [J.T.T.] to [K.A.T.'s] care would create a potential risk for [J.T.T.]. This risk is unquantifiable . . . . While treatment of [K.A.T.'s] mental illness could restore competency to ...

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