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Taylor v. Taylor

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 31, 2018


          Argued April 23, 2018

         Procedural History

         Petition for visitation of the defendant's minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, and tried to the court, Klatt, J.; judgment denying the petition, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Jeffrey D. Brownstein, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Laura N. Zullo, guardian ad litem for the minor child.

          Sheldon, Prescott and Elgo, Js.


          ELGO, J.

         The plaintiff, James Taylor, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his petition for visitation filed pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-59. Although the plaintiff raises multiple claims on appeal, only one merits discussion-namely, his contention that the court improperly determined that he had not satisfied his burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that the denial of visitation would cause real and substantial harm to the minor child.[1] We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The relevant facts are not disputed. In 2012, the plaintiff filed a petition for visitation with the minor child of his niece, Tanya Taylor. While that matter was pending, a family services mediation report was prepared in May, 2013 (2013 report). That report was ‘‘an issue focused evaluation'' based, inter alia, on interviews with the minor child's therapist and school officials. The plaintiff subsequently withdrew that petition for visitation.

         On June 3, 2015, the plaintiff commenced the present action by filing a verified petition for visitation with the minor child.[2] In that petition, the plaintiff alleged that he had a parent-like relationship with the minor child, stating: ‘‘From 2002 [when the minor child was born, he] lived with me for around [nine] years [until] January 20, 2012, when [the defendant] came to visit and never returned [the minor child]. Have not seen nor talked to him since that time. I cared for him like a son. I scheduled and brought him to his [doctor's] appointments and was [the] contact person regarding his schooling and education.'' With respect to the harm that would result from the denial of visitation, the plaintiff alleged that the minor child ‘‘was emotionally attached to the plaintiff and [the] denial of visitation has resulted and/or will continue to result in the child doing poorly in school and have behavior issues which will continue if custody and/or visitation is denied. The minor child has no contact whatsoever with [his] biological father and needs a father like figure in his life. Child is neglected. The plaintiff requests custody and/or visitation with the minor child. The plaintiff seeks specific but only liberal visitation with the minor child. In addition to the above, as to real and significant harm, the plaintiff alleges that the minor child is being denied proper care and attention physically, educationally, emotionally and/or morally. . . . [T]he plaintiff alleges that during [the] time periods when the minor child was living with him, the [defendant] received and continued to receive welfare checks from the state of [Connecticut]. The plaintiff seeks custody and alleges that it would be detrimental to the child's best interest if it is not granted.'' On July 6, 2015, the plaintiff filed an ‘‘amended verified petition/affidavit for custody/visitation, '' which reiterated the salient allegations of his June 3, 2015 petition. That amended petition further detailed the plaintiff's allegedly parent-like relationship with the minor child from 2002 to 2012.

         On August 5, 2015, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, claiming that it lacked the requisite allegations of a parent-like relationship and substantial harm to the minor child pursuant to Roth v. Weston, 259 Conn. 202, 234-35, 789 A.2d 431 (2002). The court disagreed and denied that motion on August 24, 2015.

         The court thereafter entered an order, with the agreement of the parties, appointing Attorney Laura Zullo as guardian ad litem for the minor child. The court then held a hearing on the merits of the plaintiff's petition on October 13, 2015. At that hearing, Zullo testified that she recently had visited the minor child at his home. The child at that time was thirteen years old and in eighth grade. As Zullo stated, ‘‘[h]e tells me he's doing well in school, he tells me his favorite subject is science. And [his home] . . . it's appropriate. You know, his bedroom was fine. He's got all his Legos. It was very appropriate. I didn't see any sort of problem there.'' Significantly, Zullo testified that the minor child told her that ‘‘he didn't want to have any contact'' with the plaintiff. As she explained, the minor child indicated that ‘‘his life is happy, he's fine, there's no reason for him to have contact with [the plaintiff]. He remembers a time where it was Christmas Eve and [the plaintiff] wouldn't let him see his mother, and he remembers that in his mind. And he wants no contact with [the plaintiff]. That's what he told me.'' Zullo also testified that, on the basis of her investigation, she did not believe that the minor child would suffer any real and substantial harm if visitation with the plaintiff was denied.

         When Zullo's testimony concluded, the plaintiff submitted no further documentary or testimonial evidence. The defendant offered a copy of the 2013 report, to which the plaintiff objected but was overruled by the court.[3] The court then issued its ruling from the bench, stating in relevant part: ‘‘[E]ven if the first prong of plaintiff's complaint [alleging a parent-like relationship] was met, the second prong [alleging real and substantial harm] clearly is not. . . . I've heard testimony that the child is happy, that he's healthy, and that's a present day observation of the child. There's no need to look beyond that. The guardian ad litem is an experienced attorney [who has] done this particular type of evaluation many times over the years. And clearly she noted no indication of any problems within the child. I don't see the need to look beyond that.

         ‘‘Furthermore, I reviewed the [2013 report]. And I'll indicate that, quite frankly . . . I believe . . . [that] if I allowed visitation . . . it could harm the child. The [2013] report, in particular, noted an inappropriate relationship that had existed between the child and [the plaintiff] that caused enormous levels of anxiety with the child. And, in fact, the school even noted the anxiety level was rising in the child [at] the thought of having contact with [the plaintiff]. . . . So [the plaintiff's ...

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