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In re Samuel R.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

February 8, 2016

IN RE SAMUEL R. [*]

         Argued January 12, 2016.

          Coterminous petitions to adjudicate the respondents' minor child neglected and to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Windham and tried to the court, Dyer, J.; thereafter, the court, Dyer, J., declared a mistrial; subsequently, the matter was transferred to the judicial district of Middlesex, Child Protection Session at Middletown, where the respondent father was defaulted for failure to appear; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court, Hon. Barbara M. Quinn, judge trial referee; judgment adjudicating the minor child neglected and terminating the respondents' parental rights; subsequently, the court, Hon. Barbara M. Quinn, judge trial referee, denied the respondent mother's motion to open the judgment, and the respondent mother appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The respondent mother appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court denying her motion to open the judgment adjudicating her minor child neglected and terminating her parental rights. The respondent had called a juvenile court clerk's office seeking to have her twelve year old son removed from her home. The petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, obtained an order of temporary custody and filed a petition seeking to have the minor child adjudicated neglected. The respondent refused to cooperate with any efforts at reunification made by the Department of Children and Families, and, thereafter, the petitioner filed a petition seeking to terminate the respondent's parental rights. The petitions were consolidated for trial and the trial court rendered judgment adjudicating the minor child neglected and uncared for. Thereafter, contrary to the respondent's stated wish at trial that she be reunited with her son, the trial court found clear and convincing evidence that the respondent had refused the department's reasonable reunification efforts, and that the petitioner had proven both her abandonment of the child and her failure to have an ongoing parent-child relationship. The trial court concluded that the respondent was unable to care for the child as her mental health appeared to be precarious and she had a distorted ability to understand the world around her. The trial court determined that the termination of the respondent's parental rights was in the child's best interests. The respondent did not appeal from the trial court's judgment terminating her parental rights. Thereafter, the respondent filed a motion to open the judgment alleging, inter alia, that she had been denied due process as her precarious mental health raised a reasonable doubt as to her competence. The trial court denied the motion without a hearing. On appeal, the respondent claimed that the trial court abuse its discretion by denying the motion to open without conducting an evidentiary hearing and addressing her competency.

          Held :

         1. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the respondent's motion to open the judgment terminating her parental rights without holding an evidentiary hearing; the motion to open did not present any new facts concerning the respondent's mental state that would not have been within the purview of the court during the trial on the merits where the court had ample opportunity to observe her demeanor, ability to assist her counsel, and participate in the proceedings, and this court deferred to the firsthand observations of the trial court regarding the respondent's competency.

         2. This court declined to consider the respondent's claim that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to open without addressing the standards regarding when a competency hearing of a parent is required for purposes of a termination of a parental rights hearing, as the claims concerning her competency were not raised during trial or on appeal.

         Lisa M. Vincent, for the appellant (respondent mother).

         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 (petitioner).

         Beach, Alvord and Norcott, Js.

          OPINION

          [163 Conn.App. 316] PER CURIAM.

          The respondent mother appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying her motion to open the judgment of neglect and terminating her parental rights to her minor child, Samuel R.[1] On appeal, the respondent claims that the trial court abused its discretion by denying the motion to open without (1) conducting an evidentiary hearing, and (2) addressing the competency of the respondent and other facts alleged therein. We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On July 21, 2014, the respondent contacted the clerk's office at the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters in Willimantic and requested that her son, Samuel, then twelve years old, be removed from her home because she no longer wanted to care for him. She stated, " I want him out of my house forever . . . . I want him out of my life forever." The petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, removed Samuel from the respondent's home. On July 23, 2014, the petitioner filed and was granted an ex parte order of temporary custody. The petitioner also filed a neglect petition. On July 29, 2014, the respondent agreed to the order of temporary custody. The same day, the court, Dyer, J., [163 Conn.App. 317] appointed a guardian ad litem to assist the respondent[2] and also appointed counsel for the respondent. Samuel was placed with a foster care family. After the agreed upon order of temporary custody entered, the respondent refused to cooperate with the Department of Children and Families (department), visit with Samuel, or directly contact him.

         On October 15, 2014, the petitioner filed a termination of parental rights petition against the respondent and Samuel's father, alleging abandonment and no ongoing parent child relationship. In January, 2015, the petitioner learned that the respondent was interested in visiting Samuel, but the respondent did not reply to letters relevant to this visitation request sent by the department. On March 17, 2015, the respondent's appointed counsel for the neglect petition requested that the court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III, judge trial referee, also appoint her as the respondent's counsel for the termination of parental rights proceeding and vacate the appointment of the respondent's guardian ad litem. The respondent's appointed counsel noted that there had been confusion as to the ...


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