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In re Victor D.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

November 20, 2015

IN RE VICTOR D. [*]

Argued October 15, 2015 [*]

Page 609

Petition by counsel for the minor child to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Waterbury and transferred to the Child Protection Session at Middletown, where the respondent father and the Commissioner of Children and Families filed motions to revoke commitment; thereafter, the Commissioner of Children and Families withdrew her motion; subsequently, the matter was tried to the court, Elgo, J.; judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights and denying the respondent father's motion to revoke commitment, from which the respondent father appealed to this court.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

The respondent father appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor child. The father had filed a motion to revoke the commitment of the child to the Commissioner of Children and Families. Thereafter, the attorney for the minor child filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of both parents of the child. The commissioner initially opposed the termination petition and filed a motion to revoke commitment. During the course of the trial on both the termination petition and the motions to revoke commitment, the commissioner withdrew her motion and supported the termination petition. The court rendered judgment terminating the parental rights of both parents and denying the father's motion to revoke commitment. Held :

1. The respondent father could not prevail on his claims that the trial court improperly concluded that the Department of Children and Families had made reasonable efforts toward reunification, and that he had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, he could assume a responsible position in the child's life as required by statute (§ 17a-112 [j] [B] [i]):

a. Contrary to the father's claim that the department's reunification efforts were per se unreasonable because reunification did not occur, there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the trial court's determination, which was made by clear and convincing evidence, that the department had made reasonable efforts to facilitate reunification, as the court found that the department facilitated visitation with the child, including unsupervised components, coordinated and paid for various service providers, diligently accommodated the father's inflexible schedule and financial concerns, and assisted the father in understanding and meeting the child's complex medical needs.

b. The evidence in the record amply supported the trial court's conclusion that the father failed to rehabilitate, as although he completed many of the specific steps ordered by the court to facilitate reunification, he had failed to demonstrate that within a reasonable time, he could safely or appropriately care for the child, who had complex medical needs, as he manifested an inability to work with service providers with whom he disagreed, he demonstrated controlling and manipulative behavior, he made misrepresentations to service providers and the department, and the child sustained certain injuries while in his care.

2. There was no merit to the respondent father's claim that the trial court violated the double jeopardy clause of the federal constitution when it permitted certain witnesses who had testified at a prior hearing on a motion to revoke commitment to testify at the present trial, as it is well settled that the double jeopardy clause does not apply to termination of parental rights cases.

3. There was no merit to the respondent father's claim that he suffered prejudice as the result of the commissioner's decision to change her position from supporting reunification to supporting termination of his parental rights, the trial court's decision having been based on the evidence in the record; although the trial court had before it certain evidence of a separate child protection matter in Massachusetts, which the father argued was the impetus for the commissioner's change in position, the trial court referred to that evidence as cumulative and did not base its ultimate determination on that evidence.

4. This court declined to review the respondent father's claim that the child's guardian ad litem had a conflict of interest or was biased against him, the claim not having been raised before the trial court.

Roger N., self-represented, the appellant (respondent father).

Tammy Nguyen-O'Dowd, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, Gregory T. D'Auria, solicitor general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (Commissioner of Children and Families).

Isidro Rueda, for the appellee (petitioner minor child).

Benjamin D. Hollander, guardian ad litem for the minor child.

Beach, Mullins and Bishop, Js. BEACH, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

OPINION

Page 610

[161 Conn.App. 606] BEACH, J.

The respondent father[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights with respect to his minor child, Victor D. The [161 Conn.App. 607] respondent essentially claims[2] that (1) the court erred when it found that the Department of Children and Families (department) had made reasonable efforts toward reunification and when it found that the respondent had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation, (2) the court violated the double jeopardy clause of the federal constitution, (3) the Commissioner of Children and Families (commissioner) prejudiced the respondent by withdrawing her support for reunification of the respondent with the child, and (4) the child's guardian ad litem was biased and had a conflict of interest. We do not agree and affirm he judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history. The child was born in May, 2010. The mother identified the respondent as the biological father of the child. The mother had a

Page 611

history of abusing substances since 2005, and both she and the child tested positive for cocaine and marijuana at the time of the child's birth. The commissioner immediately secured a ninety-six hour hold and filed a neglect petition and an ex parte order of temporary custody. The order was granted and specific steps were issued for the mother and the respondent on May 28, 2010. The respondent was not present at this proceeding.

In its memorandum of decision, the court found the following relevant facts. Although the respondent was aware that the mother was pregnant, he was not notified of the birth until June, 2010. When contacted by the department in September, 2010, the respondent stated [161 Conn.App. 608] that he wanted proof of his paternity. He did not participate in the September 21, 2010 neglect trial, at which the child was adjudicated neglected and committed to the commissioner. The respondent was determined by paternity testing to be the biological father on October 10, 2010; the child had been in the commissioner's custody for five months at that point. The child had " highly specialized needs and severe developmental delays which required a caregiver who was committed ...


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