In re Annessa J.

Decision Date03 August 2021
Docket NumberAC 44405, (AC 44497)
Citation206 Conn.App. 572,260 A.3d 1253
Parties IN RE ANNESSA J.
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals

Albert J. Oneto IV, assigned counsel, for the appellant in Docket No. AC 44405 (respondent mother).

Sara Nadim, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, Clare E. Kindall, solicitor general, and Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, for the appellee in Docket No. AC 44405 (petitioner).

Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, for the appellant in Docket No. AC 44497 (respondent father).

Sara Nadim, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, and Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, for the appellee in Docket No. 44497 (petitioner).

Bright, C. J., and Alexander and Norcott, Js.

BRIGHT, C. J.

In Docket No. AC 44405, the respondent mother (mother) appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights to, and denying her motion for posttermination visitation with, her minor child, Annessa J. On appeal, the mother claims that the trial court (1) violated her right to a "public civil trial at common law" by conducting proceedings over the Microsoft Teams platform,1 rather than in court and in person, in violation of article fifth, § 1, and article first, § 10, of the Connecticut constitution, (2) violated her right to due process of law by precluding her from confronting witnesses in court and in person when it conducted proceedings over the Microsoft Teams platform, and (3) violated her right to due process of law when it denied her motion for permission to allow her expert witness to review certain information. We are not persuaded.

In Docket No. AC 44497, the respondent father (father) appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating his parental rights to, and denying his motion for posttermination visitation with, his minor child, Annessa. On appeal, the father claims that the trial court improperly concluded that (1) the Department of Children and Families (department) had made reasonable efforts to reunify him with his daughter, (2) there was sufficient evidence to conclude that he was unable or unwilling to rehabilitate, and (3) termination of his parental rights was in the best interest of Annessa. We are not persuaded.

In addition, in Docket Nos. AC 44405 and AC 44497, the mother and the father, respectively, claim that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard when it considered their posttermination motions for visitation with Annessa. We are persuaded that the court employed an improper standard, and, accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the trial court as to the denial of the posttermination motions for visitation, and we remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings on those motions.

The following facts, as found by the trial court by clear and convincing evidence, and procedural history inform our review of both appeals.

On February 10, 2001, due to physical abuse at the hands of her mother, the mother was committed to the care and custody of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, where she remained until reaching the age of eighteen. The mother also elected to receive additional voluntary services from the department until she reached the age of twenty-three. She has become a licensed professional nurse.

At the time of the trial in this matter, the mother and the father had been married for six to seven years but had been in a relationship for approximately twelve years. Their only child, Annessa, was born in 2006. In 2009, the department became involved with the mother and the father because they had failed to provide adequate supervision and care for Annessa. The department also had concerns about intimate partner violence. Annessa subsequently was committed to the care and custody of the petitioner, and the court ordered specific steps for the mother and the father. The mother and the father completed a parenting program through the Village for Families and Children, although the mother failed to comply with many of the specific steps that had been ordered. In July, 2010, Annessa was reunified with the father under protective supervision, which expired in December, 2010. By approximately December, 2010, the mother and the father had reunited and begun to cohabitate again; intimate partner violence also resumed.

"On November 17, 2017, the department's Careline received a report alleging sexual abuse by the father of Annessa and physical neglect of Annessa by the mother. The mother had reported that sometime in late fall/early winter of 2016, or as late as March, 2017, the father [had] disclosed to her that Annessa's foot touched his penis and he woke up with an erection. This matter was never addressed further by the mother or the father. Then, sometime in July, 2017, the father admitted to the mother that he had touched Annessa's genitals over her underpants in order to teach her a lesson. According to the mother, she asked the father to leave the house in August, 2017. The father has reported that he was not asked to leave until October, 2017. After the department was alerted to the incident, efforts were made to connect with the mother and specifically to have her place Annessa in therapy. The mother [however] would not commit to doing so."

On December 8, 2017, after the father left the home, he was arrested after he kicked in the door to the mother's apartment. Shortly thereafter, the first of four protective orders was issued against him in favor of the mother. The father pleaded guilty to numerous charges as a result of his December 8, 2017 arrest, and he received a sentence of one year of incarceration, execution suspended, with two years of probation.2

Annessa later reported that the mother would leave her alone for days at a time, that she would not know the whereabouts of the mother at those times, and that the apartment would have no heat or electricity. On December 4, 2017, during a forensic interview at Klingberg Children's Advocacy Center, Annessa reported that the father had touched her "bikini area" over her underwear.

"On January 16, 2018, the [petitioner] filed a petition of neglect. On April 5, 2018, the [petitioner] invoked a [ninety-six] hour administrative hold on [Annessa]. On April 9, 2018, the [petitioner] filed an ex parte motion for an order of temporary custody (OTC). The court issued the OTC on the same date, and it was sustained on May 7, 2018. On July 31, 2018, [Annessa] was adjudicated neglected and committed to the custody of the [petitioner] until further order of the court. She has remained committed to date." Annessa was placed in foster care with the woman who had been the foster mother to the mother. The mother and Annessa also had lived on the second floor of the foster mother's apartment house until shortly before Annessa was removed from the mother's care and custody. Annessa is bonded to the foster mother and has been clear in her desire to remain in the custody of the foster mother. Academically, she is excelling.

The mother and the father were given specific steps to facilitate reunification with Annessa, including addressing mental health issues, parenting deficiencies, and intimate partner violence; the father also was ordered to address the sexual abuse of his daughter. The mother neither kept appointments set by the department nor cooperated with the department. The father missed several administrative case review appointments, but he participated in counseling and made some progress. However, he falsely reported to the department that he had discussed with his therapist the sexual abuse of his daughter.

"On March 28, 2019, and February 6, 2020, the court approved a permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption. The trial on the [termination of parental rights] petition was conducted on September 2, 3, and 17, and October 6, 2020. The mother and the father appeared and were zealously represented by counsel."3

In its October 23, 2020 memorandum of decision, the court found, in accordance with General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (1), that the department had made reasonable efforts to locate and identify the mother and the father, that the department had made reasonable efforts to reunify each of them with Annessa, and that neither the mother nor the father was able or willing to benefit from reunification efforts. The court also determined that such efforts at reunification no longer were appropriate. Additionally, in accordance with § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), the court found that the petitioner had proven by clear and convincing evidence the "failure to rehabilitate" ground for termination of the respondents’ parental rights. Next, in accordance with § 17a-112 (k),4 the court considered each of the seven statutory factors and concluded that termination of the parental rights of both the mother and the father was in the best interest of Annessa.

In its memorandum of decision, the court also considered the motions for posttermination visitation that the mother and the father each had filed, finding that "neither the mother nor the father have met their burden to prove posttermination visitation for such parent is necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of [Annessa]." The court further concluded that the best interest of the child is not the proper standard for resolving motions for posttermination visitation. Finally, although noting that the father and Annessa have a good visiting relationship, the court found that posttermination visitation with the mother or the father was not required for Annessa's "well-being, welfare, protection, proper care or suitable support." Accordingly, the court denied each party's motion. These appeals followed.5 Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as appropriate.

We begin by setting forth the general legal...

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6 cases
  • In re Annessa J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 20, 2022
    ...on the ground that the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard when it considered those motions. See In re Annessa J. , 206 Conn. App. 572, 575–76, 260 A.3d 1253 (2021). The Appellate Court, however, did affirm the trial court's judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights,......
  • Gibson v. Jefferson Woods Cmty., Inc.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • August 3, 2021
  • In re Lucia C.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • March 14, 2022
    ...over the Microsoft Teams platform. These claims are virtually identical to the claims that this court rejected in In re Annessa J. , 206 Conn. App. 572, 584–88, 260 A.3d 1253, cert. granted, 338 Conn. 904, 258 A.3d 674 (2021), cert. granted, 338 Conn. 905, 258 A.3d 675 (2021), and cert. gra......
  • In re Annessa J.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • September 14, 2021
    ...opposition.The petition of the Commissioner of Children and Families for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 206 Conn. App. 572, ––– A.3d –––– (2021), is granted, limited to the following issue:"Did the Appellate Court properly expand the standard set forth in In re Ava W. , 3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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