In re Alison M.

Connecticut Appellate Court

March 8, 2011

TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS/GOLDING REVIEW/ADEQUACY OF RECORD/PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS/SCOPE OF INTERVENOR’S ROLE

In this termination appeal, the appellate upheld the trial court’s decision to terminate the respondent’s parental rights. The court found that though the respondent mother participate in services and made personal rehabilitate progress (maintained a clean home, psychiatrically stabilized, obtained employment), she did not demonstrate sufficient progress in her ability to parent her children or maintain appropriate adult relationships. Specifically, the respondent’s failure to make complete disclosures to treatment providers regarding her mental health and substance abuse history, along with her continued live-in relationship with an individual who did not cooperate with DCF, reasonably gave rise to a determination that she had not rehabilitated within the meaning of CGS 17a-112(j).

Additionally, the court declined to review the mother’s claim that she was denied reasonable efforts by the Department. The court noted that because the 17a-112(j) requires the court to find either DCF provided reasonable efforts or that the respondent parent is unwilling or unable to benefit from such efforts, that both findings must be appealed in order to be reviewed. See In re Jorden R., 293 Conn. 539, 979 A.2d 469 (2009). The court also upheld the best interests finding, despite the evidence of a strong bond between the mother and her children and statements by the court appointed evaluator that appeared to caution against termination of parental rights. The appellate court held that there was still sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s finding and that ”Although [courts] often consider the testimony of mental health experts . . . such expert testimony is not a precondition of the court’s own factual judgment as to the child’s best interest.” Additionally, the appellate court upheld the trial court’s denial of mother’s motion for a continuance. Trial counsel sought the continuance because his letter-request to DCF to disclose case records had not been complied with. Respondent sought Golding review of the trial court’s decision to deny the continuance. The appellate court held that though the TPR trial deal with matters of constitutional importance, the issue failed Golding review because there was no due process violation inherent in the court’s denial of the motion for continuance. Applying the Matthews v. Eldridge due process analysis, the appellate court found that there was little risk of erroneous deprivation of a constitutional right because the trial court asked that the records be delivered immediately to counsel and the court offered counsel additional trial dates and affirmed respondent’s right to recall witnesses. The appellate court next found that the denial of the continuance was also not an “abuse of discretion,” in part because the appellate court could not determine the scope of the sought documents or what had been delivered to counsel’s office during trial.

The appellate court further declined to review respondent’s claim that the trial court improperly precluded mother’s therapist from testifying as an expert witness. The trial court ruled that the therapist could testify as a fact witness only due to the respondent’s failure to properly disclose the therapist as an expert prior to trial. Respondent sought Golding review of this issue as no constitutional objection was raised at trial. The appellate court held that the record was not adequate for review because there had been no offer of proof regarding the basis and substance of the therapist’s expert testimony. For the same reason, the appellate court could not subject the claim to an “abuse of discretion” review.

Finally, the appellate court denied respondent’s claim that the trial court improperly permitted the intervenor grandmother to participate in the adjudicator phase of the termination trial. Trial counsel had objected numerous times to grandmother’s cross-examination of various witnesses as to what counsel perceived were adjudicator matters. While the appellate court acknowledged that grandmother was permitted to intervene for “dispositional purposes,” the trial court’s response to the objections was to opine that the matters did relate to dispositional issues. On appeal, respondent did not demonstrate why those rulings were erroneous.

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