In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: S. M., Parent.
Ramsey County District Court File No. 62JV123693
Nicole S. Gronneberg, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant).
John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Kaarin Long, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent);
Andrew T. Tyler, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent father); James I. Laurence, St. Paul, Minnesota (for guardian ad litem Abebayehu Gebeyehu).
Considered and decided by Stauber, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Minge, Judge. [*]
On appeal from the district court's adjudication of her twin daughters as children in need of protection or services (CHIPS) following the discovery of multiple bone fractures in both infants, appellant-mother argues that (1) the record does not support the determination that one or both parents abused the children because the county's medical experts testified that there is a possibility that the children suffer from a rare bone disease; (2) the district court should not have adopted the county's proposed order verbatim; and (3) the district court should have granted appellant's motion for a new trial. We affirm.
Appellant S.M. is the mother of identical-twin girls, Aa.S. and Aj.S., born April 23, 2012. The father, S.B., lives with S.M., but they are not married. Aa.S. and Aj.S. were born premature at 34 weeks and experienced numerous health problems, including heart problems and acid reflux. From the time they were born until November 2012, Aa.S. was taken to the hospital 13 times and Aj.S. was taken to the hospital 11 times for treatment of these conditions.
On November 15, 2012, S.M. brought her six-month-old daughters to the hospital because Aa.S. had been crying and vomiting, and S.B. observed that she had a fever. After being examined by two other doctors, a third doctor observed that Aa.S.'s left thigh was swollen and tender. An x-ray image revealed that she had a mildly displaced distal left femoral fracture. Doctors performed a skeletal survey on both Aa.S. and Aj.S. The surveys showed that Aa.S. had "four rib fractures, a healing right clavicle fracture, a newer left clavicle fracture, possible left and right arm bone injuries, and incomplete greenstick or buckle fractures on [her] left tibia and fibula;" and, Aj.S. had "bilateral healing clavical fractures, irregularity of the distal left ulna, bilateral hip fractures, distal right tibia fracture, subacute fractures of both distal left tibia and fibula with early periosteal reaction and a healing fracture at the base of [her] fifth metacarpal."
S.M. and S.B. could not explain the injuries observed in their daughters. Both recalled an incident when Aa.S. was pulled from a swing and the lap belt may have caused one of her injuries; and they recalled that Aj.S. once fell off the sofa. On November 16, 2012, the police placed Aa.S. and Aj.S. on a 72-hour child-protective hold and placed them in foster care. On November 21, 2012, respondent Ramsey County Community and Human Services Department (the county), petitioned the court to adjudicate Aa.S. and Aj.S. as CHIPS.
A trial was held on the petition on February 27 and March 28, 2013. Numerous medical professionals testified regarding Aa.S. and Aj.S.'s injuries. Dr. Frank Glen Seidel, a pediatric radiologist, testified that despite numerous fractures of varying ages there was no evidence to suggest that the twins suffered from a brittle bone disease such as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). Dr. Carrie George, a pediatric critical-care physician who treated the twins, testified that numerous tests were performed on the girls in order to rule out bone disease, and the test results were all negative. Dr. Richard Allan Kaplan, a certified child-abuse pediatrician who observed the children, testified that a child's bones are very flexible, and that given the numerous fractures observed in the twin girls, they must have been subjected to high force traumas. Dr. Kaplan also testified that, in his opinion, the girls did not have OI because all the tests for OI came back negative and because the girls had no new fractures since they were placed in foster care. But Dr. Kaplan also stated that there are rare forms of OI that cannot be detected by the tests that were performed on Aa.S. and Aj.S.
Two caseworkers and the children's guardian ad litem (GAL) also testified. The caseworkers both testified that, given the medical evidence and the lack of any other explanation for the abuse, they believed the children should remain in foster care. But the caseworkers also testified that there was no history of abuse and that the parents are involved and bonded with their children. The GAL testified that when he first met the children in January 2013, about two months after they were placed in foster care, their "emotion [was] down, " but after the twins were placed in foster care with their grandmother and the parents were able to visit, the GAL saw "a lot of change." "The kids were very happy, " they were connecting with their parents, and they were playing with toys and trying to walk. The GAL advocated for more visitation time ...