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In re Zen T.

Appellate Court of Connecticut

April 19, 2016

IN RE ZEN T. [*]

         Argued February 11, 2016

          Amended 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 Middlesex, Child Protection Session, and tried to the court, Gleeson, J.; judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights, from which the respondent mother appealed to this court; thereafter, this court affirmed the judgment of the trial court; subsequently, the Supreme Court denied the respondent mother's petition for certification to appeal; thereafter, the United States Supreme Court denied the respondent mother's petition for certification to appeal; subsequently, the court, Abery-Wetstone, J., issued a decree of adoption of the minor child; thereafter, the court, Frazzini, J., dismissed the respondent mother's motion to open and set aside the adoption decree, and the respondent mother appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The respondent mother, whose parental rights as to her minor child had been terminated, appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court dismissing her motion to open and set aside the trial court's subsequent approval of the adoption of the child. The mother claimed that the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, had failed to provide an accurate declaration that there were no proceedings pending or contemplated affecting the custody of the child to be adopted, as required by the statute (§ 45a-727 [a]) applicable to adoptions. The court denied the mother's motion to open and set aside the adoption. The court ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to mootness because the proceedings that the mother had claimed were pending at the time of the adoption had subsequently been decided adversely to her. On appeal, the mother claimed that she had standing because the adoption had the effect, pursuant to the statute (§ 45a-719) applicable to motions to open judgments terminating parental rights, of preventing her from filing further motions to open the termination judgment. She further claimed, inter alia, that her motion to open was not moot because the trial court could open the adoption and stay its enforcement pending the resolution of her challenges to the termination of her parental rights.

         Held that the trial court properly dismissed the respondent mother's motion to open and set aside the approval of the adoption of the child on the ground that it lacked of subject matter jurisdiction: although the court ruled that the issue was moot because the proceedings the mother claimed were pending at the time of the adoption had subsequently been decided adversely to her, the mother lacked standing to move to open the approval of the adoption, as she had taken advantage of the avenues available to her to protect her rights by appealing from the judgment terminating her parental rights, moving to open that judgment, and appealing from the judgment denying her motion to open the termination judgment; moreover, contrary to the mother's claim that she had an interest in the adoption due to the potential that her motion to open the judgment terminating her parental rights could eventually be granted, her attempts to open that judgment did not make that judgment any less final, and, as her motion to open the judgment terminating her parental rights had not been granted and, thus, her parental relationship with the child and its rights and responsibilities had been severed, the child was free for adoption.

         Heather S., self-represented, 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).

         Gruendel, Prescott and Schaller, Js.[*] SCHALLER, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

          SCHALLER, J.

          [165 Conn.App. 247] The respondent, Heather S., whose parental rights had been terminated in a prior proceeding, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing, on the basis of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, her motion to open and set aside the adoption of her minor child, Zen T. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         This court affirmed the judgment of the trial court terminating the respondent's parental rights in In re Zen T., 149 Conn.App. 376, 88 A.3d 1286, cert. denied, 312 Conn. 911, 93 A.3d 593 (2014). In that opinion, we set forth the following facts and procedural history: " The petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and [165 Conn.App. 248] Families . . . filed a petition with the court, requesting that the parental rights of the [respondent] be terminated. The statutory ground alleged in the petition against the [respondent was] that the child [had] been denied, by reason of an act or acts of parental commission or omission, including, but not limited to, sexual molestation or exploitation, severe physical abuse or a pattern of abuse, the care, guidance, or control necessary for the child's physical, educational, moral, or emotional well-being, [pursuant to] General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (C). The matter was tried to the court . . . . The [respondent] was present and was represented at trial by counsel. . . . The petitioner called nine witnesses and introduced twenty exhibits. [The respondent] called nine witnesses, testified in her own behalf and introduced twenty-one exhibits.

         " After the trial concluded, the court held that the petitioner proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that: (1) the Department of Children and Families (department) made reasonable efforts to reunify the family, as required by § 17a-112 (j) (1); (2) termination was in the best interest of the child, pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (2); and (3) with respect to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (C), the child's various fractures and hematomas were serious physical injuries that were nonaccidental or were otherwise inadequately explained. The court further found that all seven grounds for termination delineated in § 17a-112 (k) existed. It then ordered the termination of the [respondent's] parental rights." (Footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 378-79.

         In her appeal from the termination judgment, the respondent claimed that she was denied effective assistance of counsel. Id., 379. This court determined that the respondent " did not meet her burden of demonstrating [165 Conn.App. 249] that any alleged inadequacy of counsel prejudiced her in a way that affected the outcome of the termination proceeding." Id., 384. We therefore affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Id.

         This court set out the subsequent procedural history of the termination of parental rights case in In re Zen T., 151 Conn.App. 724, 95 A.3d 1258, cert. denied, 314 Conn. 911, 100 A.3d 403 (2014), cert. denied sub nom. Heather S. v. Commissioner of Children & Families, __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 2326, 191 L.Ed.2d 991 (2015): " After she had filed her first appeal, the [respondent] filed a motion in the trial court to open or set aside the judgment on December 30, 2013, approximately four months after that court's judgment. She alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, unethical ...


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