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In re Natalie S.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 6, 2017

IN RE NATALIE S.[*]

          Argued January 24, 2017

          Michael S. Taylor, assigned counsel, with whom was Marina L. Green, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

          Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, was George Jepsen, attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

          Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, for the appellee (respondent father).

          Joseph A. Geremia, Jr., for the minor child.

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

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         In this certified appeal, the respondent mother, Heather S., appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the judgment of the trial court adjudicating the minor child, Natalie S., neglected and granting temporary custody and guardianship to the respondent father, Matthew B.[1] On appeal to this court, the respondent asserts that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the Department of Children and Families (department) was not required to provide reunification efforts to her in the present case because the father was awarded temporary guardianship of Natalie. The petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, asserts that the department was not required to continue providing reunification efforts to the respondent because the trial court granted custody and guardianship to the father. We affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.[2]

         The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following facts and procedural history that are relevant to this appeal. ‘‘In the neglect petition, the petitioner alleged, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-120 (6), that Natalie was being denied proper care and attention, physically, educationally, emotionally, or morally, and was being permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to her well-being. . . . [The neglect petition, identified the father] as John Doe [and indicated that his] whereabouts were unknown. ...

         ‘‘[Thereafter, the father] appeared. He identified himself . . . was appointed counsel, advised, and a pro forma plea was entered. [On the basis of results from] paternity tests ordered by the court, [the father] was adjudicated [to be Natalie's biological father] on July 14, 2015, and a judgment of paternity entered. On August 17, 2015, he moved the court to vacate [a previous order of temporary custody] and transfer guardianship and custody of Natalie to him. The motion was continued and consolidated with the neglect trial. . . .

         ‘‘[At the neglect trial, the petitioner and the respondent presented witnesses and exhibits.] The father introduced one exhibit and testified.'' (Footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Natalie S., 165 Conn.App. 604, 607-609, 139 A.3d 824 (2016). ‘‘[The trial court subsequently determined that the respondent had] failed to demonstrate that she is now or [could] in the reasonably foreseeable future be a consistent, stable, sober caregiver to Natalie, able to meet her daily and emergency needs.

         ‘‘The father was noncustodial at the time of Natalie's removal by [the department]. [The respondent] purposefully concealed and kept her and Natalie's whereabouts from being made known to him. At a . . . meeting with [the department on] or about April 28, 2015, [the respondent] identified the father for the first time as the putative father of Natalie. After being noticed, the father appeared in[Connecticut] on or prior to May 27, 2015. Prior to May 2015, he had not seen Natalie since she was a few months old. His absence in her life is due solely to [the respondent's] efforts to keep Natalie's whereabouts unknown to him. She knew he was Natalie's father. He was prevented from coming forward earlier and providing support for Natalie and presenting himself as a resource for her. He approached [the department] contending he was Natalie's biological father. He provided [the department] with a copy of the results of a paternity test done on July 1, 2013 in [North Carolina]. He has been fully cooperative with [the department] in every respect since then. No specific steps were issued for the father. [The department] did not recommend any services for him. [The department] could not identify any areas for services which he [needs]. He has been very responsive and fully cooperative with all requests made of him by [the department].

         ‘‘The father recognizes the need and desires to keep [the respondent] involved in Natalie's life. He [is] willing to allow her to enjoy liberal and flexible visitation and other contact with Natalie. He has never been married and is not in a dating relationship. He continues to reside in [North Carolina] with his [parents]. [A social worker from the department, Rodney Moore] flew to [North Carolina] on October 15, 2015, to interview [the father's] parents and inspect their home. His parents are his support system. They are committed to helping him care for Natalie. A records check by [the department] into the background of the paternal grandparents revealed no concerns. Their home is a big single-family house situated on a large property. It is childproofed, there is a bedroom fully furnished with a bed already set up for Natalie's sole use, lots of toys, clothing, and pictures. It is a safe, nurturing, and appropriate residence for Natalie.

         ‘‘The father served . . . as a parachute rigger in the 82nd Airborne Division [of the United States Army] and was honorably discharged. A background check by [the department] disclosed no criminal or domestic violence history for the father. Substance abuse test results for the father were all negative. [The respondent's] unsubstantiated allegation that he abused illegal and prescription drugs is given no weight by this court. He previously worked as a commercial scuba diver and with the Boy Scouts of America. He currently works with youth groups within his church. He is employed full-time as a horse farm manager. He earns about $20, 000 a year. He has . . . health insurance. It is available for Natalie should she be in his care. Since May 2015, he has travelled regularly on weekends from [North Carolina] to [Connecticut] to visit Natalie. He has driven to ...


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