In re Allison G.

Connecticut Appellate Court

84 Conn. App. 718 (2004)

August 31, 2004

 

Does the type of adjudication entered by a juvenile court affect the resulting commitment of a child to the Department of Children and Families (“Department”) and provide the Department with grounds to appeal the “basis” for the commitment? No says the Connecticut Appellate Court inAllison G., an interesting procedural decision where the Department’s argument to the contrary fell on deaf ears and engendered a brief, but thoughtful opinion dismissing the appeal for mootness.

The facts of the case are undisputed. Allison was born in November 1999 with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. During the weekend of November 9-11, 2002, Allison’s maternal aunt and uncle sexually abused her while she resided in their care. On November 15, 2002, the Department filed a three count petition, alleging inter alia, that (1) Allison was denied proper care and attention; she was being permitted to live under conditions injurious to her well-being, and that she had been abused. The petition also alleged that Allison (2) was uncared for due to her special needs and (3) she was abused.

On May 7, 2002, the parties met for a pre-trial conference before the court, at which time they entered into a partial plea agreement where Allison’s parents agreed to admit that the child was uncared for and would agree to have Allison committed to the Department’s custody. The parents also agreed to comply with remediation measures as a condition precedent to the child’s return home. The parents were unwilling, however, to admit that their actions (and inactions) played a role in the sexual assault, thereby constituting neglect.

At the hearing that immediately followed the conference, the court dismissed the neglect count without finding and without prejudice and the Department subsequently filed this appeal. [1]

On appeal, the Department argued that the type of commitment adjudicated by the trial court was critical in that it affects future proceedings involving the child, including possible future prejudice because of the lack of adjudication on the neglect count. The court didn’t buy this argument, indicating that the Department failed to cite any authority that supports this position. Despite the “elegant” argument that the statutory scheme requires appropriate adjudication that provides fair notice of what the parents must do to regain guardianship of their parental rights, the statutory scheme contains no language supporting the Department’s proposition. The subsequent events to follow adjudication, namely revocation, reunification, termination, etc., are not affected by the type of adjudication entered. Because the trial court entered an order of commitment, the appellate court could offer the Department no practical relief, and as a result the court dismissed the appeal as moot.

The case may be accessed at the Judicial Branch website by going tohttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP84/84ap422.pdf.

(JES)

[1] In an interesting sidelight, the appellate court strongly rebuked the judge trial referee by indicating that conducting a settlement conference and accepting a plea without taking evidence or making finding on the record was “improper.” See footnote 3.

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