In the Matter of the Welfare of the Child of: T.G., Parent.
Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-JV-12-3027
Robert Lawton, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant T.G.)
John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Kaarin Long, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent Ramsey County Community Human Services Department)
James Laurence, St. Paul, Minnesota (for guardian ad litem Elizabeth Johnson)
Considered and decided by Stauber, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
MINGE, Judge [*]
Mother T.G. appeals the termination of her parental rights, asserting that the district court erred in (1) concluding that she failed to overcome the statutory presumption of palpable unfitness to parent and (2) adopting verbatim the findings, conclusions, and order proposed by the assistant attorney for Ramsey County. We affirm.
Appellant T.G. challenges the termination of her parental rights to N.W. T.G. had five children: (1) C.Y., born in December 1997; (2) L.R., born in June 2002; (3) J.T., born in September 2003; (4) J.C., born in August 2005; and (5) N.W., born on December 23, 2008. T.G.'s parental rights to C.Y. were involuntarily terminated by the Ramsey County District Court in May 2001 for refusal and neglect to comply with her parental duties under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(2) (2000), and for being "palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship" under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2000). She lost or relinquished custody of L.R. in April 2005 and J.T. and J.C. in October 2006. The termination and custody changes for the four children were due in large part to T.G.'s use of cocaine and other chemical-dependency problems.
On September 13, 2012, respondent Ramsey County Community Human Services Department (Human Services) filed an expedited termination-of-parental-rights (TPR) petition to terminate T.G.'s parental rights to N.W., alleging that T.G. was palpably unfit to be a party to the parent-child relationship pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4) (2012). The allegations of the petition recited that having been concerned about T.G.'s parenting of N.W., Human Services filed a child-in-need-of-protection-and-services (CHIPS) petition in February 2009. This petition was dismissed after T.G. worked with the agency. On September 4, 2012, St. Paul police went to T.G.'s home after learning that she was extremely drunk, wandering the streets, and picking fights. The police took her "to detox." The police learned that three-year-old N.W. was in T.G.'s second-floor apartment; they entered; and found him, alone, sleeping in a bedroom. They observed that he was wearing only a diaper and laying half on a mattress and half on the floor, that the room had a low window which was open and had no screen, that he could have climbed over the window sill and fallen, and that the apartment's refrigerator lacked food adequate for a three-year-old child. On September 5, 2012, T.G. admitted to a child-protection worker that she had been drinking while N.W. slept in her apartment. She tested positive for cocaine on September 5 and 7; failed to submit to scheduled urinalyses on September 10 and 11; and, between September 11 and 13, failed to respond to voicemail messages from Human Services' staff.
The district court, on September 13, 2012, ordered that N.W. "be placed under the emergency protective care of . . . Human Services" and found that, under Minn. Stat. § 260.012 (2012), Human Services was not required to make reasonable efforts to prevent out-of-home placement. On May 17, 2013, a trial was held on the TPR petition. Due to the prior involuntary termination of T.G.'s parental rights to C.Y., the trial began with T.G.'s presentation to rebut the presumption of palpable unfitness under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b)(4). T.G.'s case consisted of her testimony and the testimony of the child-protection worker assigned to T.G.'s case since September 9, 2012. The worker recounted what she knew of T.G.'s interactions with N.W., T.G.'s drug use, and the September 2012 incident. T.G. testified regarding her life and record, the September 2012 incident, and events following that incident. Her testimony indicated a history of drug use, including while pregnant with and caring for N.W.; attempts to stop using drugs; and failure to improve her ability to parent a child after losing her parental rights to C.Y.
T.G. testified as to her recent life changes, asserting that she had overcome the presumption against her. Human Services then moved for a "directed verdict." At that point the record consisted of the testimony of the two witnesses and evidence of the prior TPR of C.Y. After hearing oral arguments from Human Services, T.G., and N.W.'s guardian ad litem (GAL), the district court granted Human Services' motion. The court concluded that T.G. failed to produce sufficient evidence to rebut the statutory presumption that she was palpably unfit to parent N.W., reasoning that she failed to produce evidence that she had addressed her deficient parenting skills, her chemical-health issues, and her lack of compliance with her parenting/case plan. The court also reasoned that although T.G. testified that she had been "clean and dry for about six weeks, " she provided no corroboration for that testimony.
The TPR trial was then resumed to take evidence regarding N.W.'s best interests. The child-protection worker and N.W.'s GAL testified, and exhibits were introduced. These exhibits contained detailed information regarding T.G.'s history of chemical abuse and parenting failures. Both the worker and GAL testified that the TPR and making N.W. available for adoption would be in N.W.'s best interests. The worker reasoned that T.G. failed to take any steps to regain custody of N.W. and had chemical-dependency problems indicating an inability to parent N.W. The GAL reasoned that T.G. cannot provide N.W. with permanence and frequently failed to respond to her efforts to contact her outside of court hearings, which even included "driving around . . . calling [T.G.] ...