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

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 24, 2018

In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of: J. L. G., D. M., and J. T. B.

          Anoka County District Court File No. 02-JV-16-1008

          Lucas J.M. Dawson, Joelle Groshek, Groshek Law, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant R.S.)

          Anthony C Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Kathryn M. Timm, Assistant County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota (for respondent Anoka County Human Services)

          Sara McKlugell, Ramsey, Minnesota (guardian ad litem)

          Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Hooten, Judge; and Jesson, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         In adoption-placement cases, the district court must issue a written ruling expressly excluding a relative as a suitable placement option in order for that relative to be considered "ruled out by the court" pursuant to Minnesota Statutes section 260C.607, subdivision 2(5) (2018).

          OPINION

          JESSON, JUDGE

         Appellant R. S. (grandmother) seeks to adopt her three grandchildren after their parents' parental rights were terminated by the district court. Generally, when relatives are interested in adopting children under guardianship of the commissioner of human services, they must receive notice of adoption-review hearings, as well as adoption-placement agreements. Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.607, subd. 2, .613, subd. 1(c) (2018).[1] And they have a right to ask the district court to adopt the child pursuant to a motion for adoption placement. Minn. Stat. § 260C.607, subd. 6 (2018). A district court need not provide a relative with notice, however, if the court "ruled out" the relative as a suitable adoptive placement. Minn. Stat. § 260C.607, subd. 2(5). Here, without a formal proceeding, Anoka County Social Services asserted, and the district court later confirmed, that grandmother was ruled out as a suitable adoptive home. Grandmother contends that the district court did not explicitly rule her out as a suitable adoptive placement and incorrectly determined that she failed to make the necessary prima facie showing in her motion for adoption placement. Because the district court did not issue a ruling expressly excluding grandmother as a suitable adoptive parent before grandmother's motion for adoption placement, yet relied upon an after-the-fact determination that grandmother had been excluded, we reverse and remand.

         FACTS

         M.B., C.B., and F.B. are the children of grandmother's daughter, J.G. (mother), and J.B. (father). Mother, father, and the children were residing with grandmother in 2015 when the children were removed from their parents' care and placed into foster care. The children's removal was initiated by a call to the police, prompting officers to discover the two older children, then toddlers, naked and unsupervised in the neighborhood. Police also found the youngest child, then an infant, inside the home. Father was passed out in the house at the time. Mother was away from home using illegal narcotics.[2] Grandmother acknowledged that both mother and father used drugs while living in her home.

         Two years later, the district court terminated mother's and father's parental rights. The district court's decision to terminate the parental rights (TPR) centered on the couple's substance-abuse issues, as well as domestic violence between mother and father. And the district court's decision included a finding that "[grandmother] was previously unable to protect the children from being exposed to domestic abuse and drug abuse."[3]

         While the child-protection process unfolded, Anoka County Social Services (county) began to consider alternative placements for the children if reunification of the children with their parents was unsuccessful. Grandmother pursued adoption of the children and the county interviewed her in September 2016 and March 2017. But the county determined that grandmother was not an appropriate placement option. The county's concerns centered on grandmother's inability to set boundaries with mother, which led the county to conclude that grandmother could not "ensure the children's safety." A year later, grandmother called the county, again expressing her interest in adopting the children. She also requested that Wellspring Adoption Agency complete a home-study assessment for the purpose of addressing whether she met the required standards for adoption. But the county reiterated that she "had been ruled out" as a placement option.

         In spring 2018, Wellspring completed the home-study assessment and gave grandmother a favorable, but qualified recommendation. The home-study assessment noted grandmother's love for her grandchildren and stated grandmother's strengths were her willingness to uproot her own life and seek outside resources to care for her grandchildren. But Wellspring expressed reservations about grandmother's relationship with mother[4] and identified issues grandmother needed to address, including development of a support system, creation of an action plan that protects the children, and outside assistance for herself.

         While the county rejected grandmother as an adoptive placement, it found an alternative family. After caring for the children for almost three years, the foster family decided to adopt the children and completed an adoption placement agreement.[5] The county sent a notice of the adoption placement agreement to the district court on April 5, 2018. But the county did not notify grandmother because it believed that grandmother was previously ruled out by the district court as a possible placement option.[6] Although grandmother did not receive official notice of the adoptive placement agreement, she learned of the proposal and filed a motion for permanent adoptive placement in the district court. After hearing her motion, the district court concluded that grandmother had not made a prima facie ...


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