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In re Santiago G.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 4, 2017

IN RE SANTIAGO G.[*]

          Argued December 7, 2016

          Hugh D. Hughes, with whom, on the brief, was Glenn Formica, for the appellant (proposed intervenor Maria G.).

          Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Michael Besso, assistant attor- ney general, and George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

          Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, for the minor child.

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, J.

         The dispositive issue in this appeal is whether the denial of a third party's motion to intervene in a proceeding brought to terminate the parental rights of a minor child's biological mother is an appealable final judgment. The proposed intervenor, Maria G., appeals from the judgment of the trial court, Hon. Barbara M. Quinn, judge trial referee, [1] denying her motion to intervene as of right and permissively.[2] On appeal, Maria G. claims that her guardianship interests over the minor child, Santiago G., will effectively be extinguished if the court terminates the parental rights of the respondent Melissa E., [3] who is Santiago's biological mother. As such, she claims to have a right to intervene or, in the alternative, that she should be granted permissive intervention. We disagree, and conclude that Maria G. does not have a colorable claim of intervention as of right and, as such, is not appealing from a final judgment. Accordingly, we dismiss this appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         The record and our decision in a related matter reveal the following relevant facts and procedural history. ‘‘Santiago was born in Guatemala . . . on April 18, 2009. He was cared for since his birth, however, by Maria G., an Argentinian citizen and legal permanent resident of the United States who resided in Stamford, and, for some of that time, by Henry L., Maria G.'s husband.''[4] In re Santiago G., 318 Conn. 449, 453, 121 A.3d 708 (2015).

         Santiago was in Maria G.'s care from birth until October 16, 2012, when the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families (commissioner), filed a motion for an order of temporary custody of Santiago on the basis of neglect after having ‘‘received a report from the federal Department of Homeland Security (Homeland Security) stating that Maria G. and Henry L. possibly had purchased Santiago in Guatemala and smuggled him into the United States on June 14, 2009.'' (Footnote omitted.) Id. During the investigation, Maria G. told a social worker from the Department of Children and Families (department) and an investigator from Homeland Security that her former housekeeper's mother had introduced her to Melissa E., a pregnant teenage orphan at the time, who was interested in giving her baby away. Id., 453-54. Maria G. then told the investigators that she and Henry L. paid an unnamed physician at a clinic in Guatemala to deliver the baby. Id., 454. They then had a midwife falsely state that Maria G. was the biological mother in order to obtain a birth certificate naming Maria G. and Henry L. as Santiago's parents, and paid another party $6000 for a falsified United States passport for Santiago to allow his entry into the United States. Id. On the basis of this information, the department invoked a ninety-six hour hold over Santiago, during which he was placed in a foster home. Id. ‘‘On November 15, 2012, the trial court, Heller, J., adjudicated Santiago neglected, on the basis of abandonment by his biological parents, who [at that time] remained unknown, and ordered him committed to the commissioner's custody. After removing Santiago to a temporary foster home in November, 2012, the department placed him in a legal risk preadoptive foster home in December, 2012, where he remains today.'' Id., 457.

         On December 20, 2013, the commissioner filed a motion to open the judgment of neglect, requesting that the judgment be set aside because it was based on the mutual mistake of the parties that Santiago's biological parents were unknown and that Santiago had been a victim of human trafficking. Id., 460. A trial on the motion to open commenced, during which the trial court learned that Maria G. had pleaded guilty to a federal felony in connection with her act of using forged documents to bring Santiago into the United States, and that she soon would be deported to Argentina as part of her sentence. Id., 460-61.

         On April 22, 2014, the trial court, Mottolese, J., denied the motion to open the judgment and Melissa E.'s motion to revoke Santiago's commitment, both of which this court affirmed. Id., 463, 475. On October 7, 2015, the department filed a petition to terminate Melissa E.'s parental rights. Maria G. filed an amended motion to intervene as of right and permissively. On June 15, 2016, the trial court denied Maria G.'s motion to intervene. This appeal followed. See footnote 2 of this opinion

         Separate from the proceeding underlying the present appeal, Maria G. filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking custody of Santiago. In the course of these habeas proceedings, Maria G. produced a June, 2015 Guatemalan court order that recognizes her right to custody of Santiago. The habeas court, Colin, J., determined that the June, 2015 order was sufficient to establish prima facie evidence of Maria G.'s standing to pursue the habeas petition. On January 26, 2017, the habeas court, Hon. Barbara M. Quinn, issued a memorandum of decision resolving the parties' cross motions for summary judgment in the habeas action, in which it concluded that Maria G. could not establish that she is the parent or legal guardian of Santiago. Accordingly, the habeas court granted the commissioner's motion for summary judgment and denied the habeas petition.

         In the present appeal, Maria G. claims that the trial court improperly denied her motion to intervene in the termination of parental rights proceeding both as of right and permissively. Specifically, Maria G. asserts that she may intervene as a matter of right pursuant to the four factor test set forth in BNY Western Trust v. Roman, 295 Conn. 194, 205, 990 A.2d 853 (2010), because: (1) she has a direct and substantial interest in the termination of parental rights proceeding on the basis of the habeas court's decision in February, 2016, which recognized her prima facie interest in custody of Santiago; (2) her rights are not adequately represented by any party to the termination of parental rights proceeding; and (3) her interest could be impaired by the disposition because the termination of Melissa E.'s rights would effectively terminate Maria G.'s rights without due process, as the department could then move forward with the adoption proceedings for Santi-ago.[5] Maria G. further claims that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion for permissive intervention because the five factors governing such motions weigh in her favor.[6] See, e.g., Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, 279 Conn. 447, 461, 904 A.2d 137 (2006). Finally, Maria G. contends that the trial court erred in failing to consider in its decision federal law regarding the Act of State Doctrine, international comity of laws, and the Hague Convention.[7]

         In response, the commissioner contends that the trial court properly denied Maria G.'s motion to intervene, as she did not have a direct and substantial interest in the termination of parental rights proceedings against Melissa E. The commissioner also claims that this court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to decide this appeal, on its merits, because Maria G. has not appealed from a final judgment. Specifically, the commissioner contends that this interlocutory appeal must be dismissed because Maria G. does not have a colorable claim of right to intervene because she has no direct and substantial interest in the termination proceeding, which only concerns Melissa E.'s parental rights. Finally, the commissioner claims that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Maria G.'s motion to intervene permissively, because her actions in ...


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