In re Devon B.

Connecticut Supreme Court

264 Conn. 572 (2003)

July 1, 2003

 

In re Devon B., the Connecticut Supreme Court held that where a cognitively limited parent is a client of the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR), this agency is a necessary party in a child protection proceeding involving the client’s child.

The State Department of Children and Families (DCF) committed Devon to its custody adjudicating her as “uncared for due to homeless[ness]. Devon’s mother, Tammy, a young woman with a long history of DMR involvement moved the trial court to add DMR as a “necessary party.” She argued that the DCF’s obligation to “help the parent, if possible, regain custody of her child” demanded DMR involvement in the formulation and follow through of DCF’s specific steps. Specifically, she claimed that as a DMR client, DMR owed her the statutory obligation to provide services, including housing assistance. The trial court denied this request and proceeded to commit Devon to DCF’s custody.

On appeal, DCF argued that DMR involvement was neither necessary nor appropriate because the statutes governing the formulation of specific steps do not mention parties aside from DCF and the child’s parents. In addition to this, DCF argued that although DMR is statutorily obligated to assist mentally retarded persons, DMR does not have the duty to assist in child protection proceedings or ensure care for the children of the mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court rejected DCF’s arguments, finding that the exclusion of DMR was in direct conflict with DCF’s duty to aid a parent in cases where reunification is possible. The court reasoned that because DCF is not able to attend to the specific needs of mentally retarded parents, it must involve the agency that possesses that mandate. In response to DCF’s interpretation of “necessary party,” the court stated that a more inclusive definition is consistent with case law. In particular, the court cited the case of Biro v. Hill, 214 Conn. 1,6 (1990), which held that “a party is deemed necessary if its presence is absolutely required to assure a fair and equitable trial.” Given Tammy’s reliance on DMR for basic living assistance, DMR’s absence as a party would be improper. While the court noted that ordering DMR to continue to work with Tammy did not necessarily ensure that custody would be reclaimed, it would give the trial court the authority to compel DCF and DMR to work together to work together to provide necessary services.

In a strongly worded dissent, Chief Justice Sullivan opined that the trial did not err in its decision to exclude DMR because Tammy had not exhausted the administrative remedies available to her through the DMR appeals process. In addition, he reasoned that without a legally imposed duty, DMR did not did not have a stake in the outcome and therefore, should not be joined as a party. He noted that the majority had taken significant liberties in its interpretation of what constitutes a “necessary party,” indicating that the Practice Book §9-18, concerning the addition of parties, does not use the phrase “necessary party.” The resultant confusion from adding numerous ancillary parties to a child protection case would bear disastrous results – significantly complicating and undermining the process that is designed to protect involved parties. It is not clear from this decision whether or not this holding would extend to include the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The case may be accessed on the state Judicial Branch’s web site athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROcr/CR264/264cr98.pdf

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