In re Shanaira C.

Connecticut Appellate Court

105 Conn. App. 713 (2008)

February 12, 2008

 

How much intervention should be allowed by an intervenor at a revocation hearing? The answer, according to the Appellate Court in Shanaira C., is not as much as the intervenor would have liked. The court upheld the trials court’s revocation of commitment, despite a thoughtful and well-reasoned dissenting argument.

The issues stem from allegations of medical and educational neglect, as well as domestic violence and drug abuse in Shanaira’s home. In March 2006, the Department of Children and Families (Department) sought and was granted an order of temporary custody, whereupon Shanaira’s father’s girlfriend, Stephanie E., moved not only to intervene in the case, but also filed motions to transfer guardianship of Shanaira to herself, and for visitation. At a three-day trial in October 2006, the court adjudicated Shanaira neglected, and denied Stephanie’s motions for guardianship and visitation. On December 15, 2006, the court heard the Department’s motion to revoke Shanaira’s commitment on the ground that reunification with her mother in Florida was in her best interest. Stephanie opposed the motion, indicating her desire to introduce testimony from her mother and Shanaira’s aunt (who was also the foster mother). After hearing testimony from the aunt, Stephanie, Shanaira’s teacher, and on the basis of statements by counsel and reports submitted by the Department, the court revoked Shanaira’s commitment and granted sole custody to the respondent mother.

The first issue on appeal was whether Stephanie had standing as an intervenor to bring the appeal. Citing Practice Book § 35a-4 (intervention permitted in dispositional phase of the trial), the court found that because the court’s ruling revoking the commitment was adverse to the intervenor’s interest in the dispositional phase of the neglect petition, Stephanie had standing to bring the appeal.

As to her claim that the court violated her due process rights by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to revoke commitment, the court used the time-honored Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976) test, which requires a consideration of the private interest that will be affected by the official action, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and probable value, if any of additional or substitute procedural safeguard – weighing the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirements would entail. The record indicated that Stephanie participated in every aspect of the neglect proceedings, including the revocation hearing, filing motions, cross-examining witnesses, calling witnesses on her behalf, and making arguments to the court. It also noted that it was not apparent that permitting Stephanie’s mother to testify or allowing the Stephanie to introduce the testimony of Shanaira’s aunt herself would have elicited any facts that were not already before the court.

In addition, Stephanie’s interest in the proceedings had diminished by the time the court ruled on the revocation of commitment motion due to the fact that her motions for guardianship and visitation had already been denied. In addition, the court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in revoking the commitment despite its failure to make a finding that a cause for commitment no longer existed. Noting the sparse record on appeal, the court inferred from the neglect petition that the allegations of neglect concerned Shanaira’s father, whom she was living with at the time the neglect petition was filed. In addition, the court “talked extensively” about the mother’s fitness to care for Shanaira – which translated into a conclusion that there was no longer a cause for commitment.

In a lengthy dissent, Justice Borden agreed with the majority’s finding regarding Stephanie’s standing to bring the appeal – but disagreed with the conclusion her due process rights were not violated. He agreed with the intervenor’s contention that she was entitled to a proper evidentiary hearing pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-129(m) and Practice Book 35a-14(c) and the hearing that was provided violated her due process rights.

The majority opinion may be found atwww.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP105/105AP111.pdf

The dissent may be found atwww.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP105/105AP111E.pdf

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