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In re Elijah C.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

March 29, 2016

IN RE ELIJAH C. [*]

         Argued February 29, 2016.

          Petition by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondents' parental rights as to their minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Windham, Child Protection Session at Willimantic, and tried to the court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III, judge trial referee; judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights, from which the respondent mother appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The respondent mother appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights as to her minor child. The trial court made the statutory (§ 17a-112 [j]) findings by clear and convincing evidence that the Department of Children and Families had made reasonable efforts to reunify the minor child and the respondent, and that the respondent was unable to benefit from reunification services. On appeal, the respondent claimed that the trial court improperly determined that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunify her with the minor child because the department had curtailed services and filed a petition to terminate the respondent's parental rights less than one month after being ordered by the court to allow the respondent more time to benefit from services, and that the department had failed to provide services that would reasonably accommodate the respondent's intellectual disabilities. Held that the respondent's appeal from the judgment terminating her parental rights was moot, the respondent having failed to adequately challenge the trial court's finding that she was unable to benefit from the reunification services provided by the department; where, as here, a trial court finds both that the department made reasonable efforts at reunification and that the parent was unwilling or unable to benefit from the reunification services, either finding is an independent basis to terminate parental rights, and a review of the respondent's challenge to the trial court's finding that the department had made reasonable efforts at reunification could not have afforded her any practical relief.

         Matthew C. Eagan, assigned counsel, with whom were James P. Sexton, assigned counsel, and, on the brief, Michael S. Taylor, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

         Michael Besso, 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).

         DiPentima, C. J., and Beach and Flynn, Js. DiPENTIMA, C. J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          [164 Conn.App. 519] DiPENTIMA, C. J.

          The respondent mother, Marquita C.,[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights as to her son, Elijah C. On appeal, she raises and analyzes three issues to argue that the court erred in determining that the Department of Children and Families (department) made reasonable efforts to reunify her with Elijah. Specifically, the respondent claims that (1) the department failed to provide federally mandated services to reasonably accommodate her intellectual disabilities, (2) the department failed to follow a court order to continue certain reunification services, and (3) the department must provide services that allow intellectually disabled parents a reasonable opportunity to retain custody of their children as part of reasonable efforts to reunify. We dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction as it is moot.

          [164 Conn.App. 520] The record reveals the following procedural history. The court granted the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, an ex parte order of temporary custody of Elijah shortly after he was born. The petitioner filed a neglect petition on February 21, 2014, on the basis of the doctrine of predictive neglect as a result of the respondent's diminished cognitive abilities.[2] The order granting temporary custody of Elijah was sustained four days later.

         The court, Dyer, J., held a neglect trial on September 15, 2014. On October 2, 2014, the court adjudicated Elijah as neglected and ordered his care, custody, and guardianship committed to the petitioner. Additionally, the court ordered the department (1) to contact two state agencies to inquire about additional services for the respondent, (2) to ascertain from those agencies whether a group home existed where the respondent could potentially be reunified with Elijah and receive various forms of instruction, (3) to request the behavioral health center that was providing the respondent with psychotropic medications to conduct a medication management review, and (4) to file a written report with the court addressing various issues.

         On November 4, 2014, the petitioner filed a motion for review of the permanency plan seeking to terminate the parental rights of the respondent. Judge Dyer held a trial on January 22, 2015, and six days later, the court issued its memorandum of decision. After considering the evidence presented, the court concluded that it was in the best interest of Elijah that the respondent be " afford[ed] . . . a limited period of additional time to pursue reunification efforts," namely, to continue with the services provided by the department. (Footnote [164 Conn.App. 521] omitted.) The time period, the court believed, " should not exceed six or seven months." Ultimately, the court rejected the department's permanency plan of termination of parental rights.

         On February 24, 2015, the petitioner filed a petition pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 to terminate the parental rights of the respondent and Paul Y. See footnote 1 of this opinion. On September 8 and 10, 2015, the court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III, judge trial referee held a hearing on the termination of parental rights petition.[3] On September 18, 2015, the court issued a comprehensive memorandum of decision. The court found by clear and convincing evidence that " [the department had] made reasonable efforts to reunify the child with [the respondent] . . . [and the respondent] is unable to benefit from reunification services." Consequently, the court terminated the parental rights of the respondent. This appeal followed.

         The court's memorandum of decision from the termination hearing sets forth the following facts relevant to this appeal. Shortly after Elijah was born, the hospital personnel were concerned because the respondent " appeared to have cognitive limitations and serious mental health problems (schizophrenia) and that [the respondent] was reported to have poor judgment and no insight into parenting." Thus, the hospital contacted the department, who sent a social worker to observe the respondent ...


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