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In re Welfare of Children of J. L. M.

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 23, 2013

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: J. L. M. and J. J. F., Parents.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Scott County District Court File Nos. 70-JV-12-25434, 70-JV-13-1340

Steve L. Bergeson, Tuttle Bergeson, P.A., Shakopee, Minnesota (for appellant J.J.F.)

Patrick J. Ciliberto, Scott County Attorney, Michael J. Groh, Assistant County Attorney, Shakopee, Minnesota (for respondent Scott County Human Services)

Kevin J. Wetherille, Jaspers, Moriarty & Walburg, P.A., Shakopee, Minnesota (for respondent J.L.M.)

Prophese Fuentes, Chaska, Minnesota (guardian ad litem)

Considered and decided by Johnson, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Smith, Judge.

JOHNSON, Judge

The Scott County District Court terminated J.J.F.'s parental rights to two children on three independent grounds: that he is palpably unfit, that reasonable efforts failed to correct the conditions that led to the children's out-of-home placement, and that the children were neglected and in foster care. The district court also found that termination is in the children's best interests. On appeal, J.J.F. argues that the record does not support the district court's findings or its ultimate determination. We conclude that the district court's findings are supported by substantial evidence and that the district court did not err by deciding that termination is appropriate. Therefore, we affirm.

FACTS

J.J.F. and J.L.M. met in chemical-dependency treatment in 2005 and have been in a volatile, intermittent relationship since then. They have had four children together. Their parental rights to their first child previously were terminated. J.J.F.'s parental rights to their second and third children are at issue in this appeal.

In February 2006, J.L.M. gave birth to the couple's first child, N.M., who was born with cocaine in her system and immediately was taken into the custody of Dakota County child-protection authorities. Dakota County subsequently filed a CHIPS petition and pursued the termination of J.L.M.'s and J.J.F.'s parental rights to N.M.

During the pendency of the Dakota County case, J.L.M. became pregnant with the couple's second child. Dakota County proposed that J.L.M. voluntarily terminate her rights to the first child, N.M., in exchange for the county's agreement to not pursue termination of her parental rights to the second child, so long as the second child was born without controlled substances in his or her system. The parties so agreed.

The second child, N.J.M., was born in April 2007 without any chemicals in his system. At a hearing later that month, J.L.M. voluntarily terminated her parental rights to N.M. J.J.F. was given notice of the termination proceedings regarding N.M. and attended a preliminary hearing in the matter. He requested that his first appearance be continued. He was given a new hearing date, but he failed to appear. In June 2007, the district court found the allegations in the county's petition to be true with respect to J.J.F. and, accordingly, issued an order terminating his parental rights to N.M. by default. J.J.F. did not appeal. By all accounts, J.L.M. and N.J.M. did well on their own, and Dakota County closed its file in November 2007.

In March 2010, J.L.M. gave birth to the couple's third child, A.F., who tested positive for methadone and opiates at birth. Ramsey County child-protection authorities intervened and informally placed A.F. with J.L.M.'s brother and sister-in-law. In June 2010, Ramsey County filed a CHIPS petition. N.J.M. remained in J.L.M.'s care during the pendency of the Ramsey County CHIPS case. Ramsey County returned A.F. to J.L.M. in October 2010 and closed its file in June 2011.

In August 2011, J.L.M. gave birth to the couple's fourth child, Z.M. Z.M. was healthy and chemical-free at birth but died of sudden-infant-death syndrome in December 2011. A child-welfare assessment and a law-enforcement investigation were conducted, the ...


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