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In re Leo L.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 26, 2019


          Argued May 13, 2019

         Procedural History

         Petitions by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor children, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Middlesex, Child Protection Session, where the court, Woods, J., granted the maternal grandfather's motion to intervene; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court; judgments terminating the respondents' parental rights and denying the intervenor's motion to transfer guardianship, from which the intervenor appealed to this court.


          Christopher DeMatteo, for the appellant (intervenor).

          Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, Clare Kindall, solicitor general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).


          MOLL, J.

         The intervening grandfather, Eugene L. (intervenor), appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his motion to transfer the guardianship of his two minor grandchildren, Leo L. and Dakota F. H., to himself and his fiance´e, Crystal H. On appeal, the intervenor contends that the court erroneously determined that the transfer of guardianship would not be in the children's best interests and, thus, abused its discretion in denying his motion. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following procedural history and facts, as set forth in the trial court's memorandum of decision, are relevant to our disposition of the intervenor's claim. Leo L. and Dakota F. H. are the children of Monique L., and the intervenor is their maternal grandfather. On August 4, 2016, the children were committed to the care and custody of the Department of Children and Families (department) upon being adjudicated neglected. Shortly thereafter, on August 10, 2016, they were placed with nonrelative foster parents in whose care they have remained.

         In September, 2017, the department changed its plan for the children from reunification with their mother to the termination of parental rights and eventual adoption. On September 27, 2017, after the intervenor had learned of the department's intentions, he successfully moved to intervene in the case. On December 21, 2017, Monique L. consented to the termination of her parental rights with respect to the children.[1] On January 8, 2018, pursuant to Practice Book § 35a-12A, [2] the intervenor moved to transfer guardianship of the children to himself and Crystal H. Following a four day trial during the period of February to June, 2018, the trial court issued a memorandum of decision denying the motion on the basis that, while the intervenor and his fiance´e might be suitable and worthy guardians, the requested transfer of guardianship would not be in the children's best interests.[3]

         In support of its ruling, the court made the following relevant factual findings. The children had transitioned well into their foster home. The current foster parents are seeking to adopt the children. The children refer to their foster parents as ‘‘mom'' and ‘‘dad'' and have maintained a close relationship with them. Although Leo L. initially expressed hesitation about being adopted, that reluctance was no longer present. Indeed, both children indicated a desire to be adopted by, or otherwise to remain with, their foster parents. The court also found that Leo L. was enjoying school and was ‘‘meeting grade level expectations'' and that Dakota F. H. had ‘‘greatly improved her academic skills'' while in the care of her foster parents. When concerns arose regarding the ability of Dakota F. H. to self-regulate, she engaged in therapy that improved her interactions with others.

         Additionally, the court found that the children had ‘‘grown, matured, and adjusted to their current living placement'' and that they had lived with their foster parents for more than two years. They also had bonded with their foster sibling. Against these findings, the court emphasized the stability that the foster family had provided the children: ‘‘Although other living arrangements might also provide the children with love, affection, safety, and guidance, the court notes that the children's preadoptive placement provides all of these things and that disrupting their current placement would introduce great instability into their lives.'' Furthermore, the court noted that the intervenor had declined three prior opportunities to obtain guardianship of the children.[4] This appeal followed. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         On appeal, the intervenor generally does not challenge the factual findings underpinning the court's determination that a transfer of guardianship would not be in the children's best interests.[5] Rather, he maintains that the court failed to consider certain evidence adduced at trial that undermined its determination that placement with the intervenor and Crystal H. would not be in the children's best interests. Specifically, the intervenor points to testimony from both Crystal H. and a department social worker regarding the foster father's alleged anger and use of violence toward the children. The intervenor also relies on evidence that the foster parents moved the children to Massachusetts during the trial, which he claims was ‘‘surprising and deceitful'' and not in the children's best interests, particularly in light of a department policy that proscribes the removal of foster children from Connecticut without prior department approval. The intervenor submits that this evidence requires the conclusion that the court abused its discretion in denying his motion. We are not persuaded.

         We begin our analysis with the standard of review and applicable legal principles. The adjudication of a motion to transfer guardianship pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-129 (j) (2)[6] requires a two step analysis. ‘‘[T]he court must first determine whether it would be in the best interest[s] of the child for guardianship to be transferred from the petitioner to the proposed guardian. . . . [Second, ] [t]he court must then find that the third party is a suitable and worthy guardian. . . . This principle is echoed in Practice Book § 35a-12A (d), which provides that the moving party has the burden of proof that the proposed guardian is suitable and worthy and that transfer of guardianship is in the best ...

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