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In re Kyllan v.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 27, 2018

IN RE KYLLAN V. [*]

          Argued January 11, 2018

         Petition by the mother of the minor child to terminate the respondent father's parental rights with respect to the child, brought to the Regional Probate Court for the district of New London and transferred to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, Juvenile Matters at Waterford, and tried to the court, Driscoll, J.; judgment terminating the respondent's parental rights, from which the respondent appealed to this court. Reversed; new trial.

          David J. Reich, for the appellant (respondent).

          James P. Sexton, with whom were Megan L. Wade and, on the brief, Michael S. Taylor, for the appellee (petitioner).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Prescott and Norcott, Js.

          OPINION

          NORCOTT, J.

         The respondent father appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights with respect to his biological daughter, K, pursuant to General Statutes § 45a-717 (g).[1] The respondent claims on appeal that the trial court improperly relied on the adjudicatory findings from a prior proceeding involving two of his other children to support the adjudicatory ground in the present case, namely, that because of a parental act of commission or omission, K was denied care, guidance, or control necessary for her physical, educational, moral, or emotional well-being as required by the statute. We agree with the respondent that the trial court improperly applied collateral estoppel in determining that K was denied the care, guidance, or control necessary for her physical, educational, moral, or emotional well-being as a result of the respondent's act of commission or omission. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand the case for a new trial.

         The following facts, which were found by the trial court in its memorandum of decision or are otherwise undisputed, and procedural history are pertinent to our decision. K was born to the petitioner mother and the respondent in 2001. Since shortly after K's birth, the petitioner and the respondent have been in almost constant litigation regarding custody, visitation, and support of K. During this time, the respondent has sought to exercise his parental rights, but the petitioner has opposed any contact between him and K.

         On March 24, 2012, K was visiting the respondent along with two of her half-siblings, M and P.[2] On that day, the respondent assaulted M while P and K were in another room. On the basis of this assault, the respondent was arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. M and P's mother then filed petitions to terminate the respondent's parental rights as to the two children. In re Pay-ton V., 158 Conn.App. 154, 158, 118 A.3d 166, cert. denied, 317 Conn. 924, 118 A.3d 549 (2015). The court granted the petitions, concluding as to P that the adjudi-catory ground of § 45a-717 (g) (2) (B) had been met because, as a result of the respondent's assault of M, which P heard, the respondent was arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, which resulted in the denial to the children of the respondent's financial and emotional support and guidance. Id. This court affirmed the termination of the respondent's parental rights as to M and P. Id., 167.

         On June 16, 2015, six days after this court released its decision in In re Payton V., the petitioner filed a petition in the Probate Court seeking to terminate the respondent's parental rights as to K pursuant to, inter alia, § 45a-717 (g) (2) (B). The case was then transferred to the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters. See General Statutes § 45a-715 (g).

         Before trial, the petitioner's counsel moved the court, in essence, to apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel to the adjudicative facts underlying In re Payton V., specifically, that the respondent had committed an assault through a deliberate and nonaccidental act that resulted in serious bodily injury to another child of the respondent. See General Statutes § 45a-717 (g) (2) (F). The respondent's counsel objected on the basis that the prior proceeding was not applicable to K. The court then stated: ‘‘[T]o the extent that [the petitioner] has filed a claim that [K] has been denied care, guidance, control necessary, et cetera, by reason of acts of parental commission or omission by [the respondent], that issue was . . . fully litigated.'' The court clarified that the finding in In re Payton V. that M had been abused was limited to whether M or P had been denied care, guidance, or control by reason of an act of commission or omission by the respondent; see In re Payton V., supra, 158 Conn.App. 158; not whether M suffered serious bodily injury. See id., 158 n.3. After that clarification, the court granted the motion. The trial then ensued.

         In its memorandum of decision terminating the respondent's parental rights, the court noted: ‘‘[K] also was present at [the respondent's] home at the time of [the respondent's] assault of the child's half-brother, [M], and her exposure to the incident was the same as her half-sister, [P].'' The court then found by clear and convincing evidence that the criteria for § 45a-717 (g) (2) (B) had been met because ‘‘[K] is in privity with [P], so the adjudicatory issues are the same, '' and applied collateral estoppel as to the entire adjudicatory ground. After then finding that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of K, the court terminated the respondent's parental rights. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, the respondent claims that the trial court improperly relied on the adjudicatory findings from a prior proceeding involving two of his other children to support the same adjudicatory ground in the present case, namely, that because of a parental act of commission or omission, K was denied care, guidance, or control necessary for her physical, educational, moral, or emotional well-being as required by statute. Specifically, the respondent argues that collateral estoppel would be appropriate only to determine whether the act of commission or omission had occurred, not whether K was denied care, guidance, or control necessary for her physical, educational, moral, or emotional well-being. We agree with the respondent.

         We begin with the applicable legal principles. Termination of parental rights is defined as ‘‘the complete severance by court order of the legal relationship, with all its rights and responsibilities, between the child and the child's parent . . . .'' General Statutes § 45a-707 (8). ‘‘It is, accordingly, a most serious and sensitive judicial ...


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