In re Elijah C.

Decision Date09 August 2017
Docket NumberSC 19695
Citation326 Conn. 480,165 A.3d 1149
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties IN RE ELIJAH C.

James P. Sexton, assigned counsel, with whom were Michael S. Taylor, assigned counsel, and, on the brief, Emily Graner Sexton, Matthew C. Eagan and Marina L. Green, assigned counsel, for the appellant (respondent mother).

Michael Besso, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Dan Barrett, Daniel J. Krisch, and Shira T. Wakschlag filed a brief for the Arc of the United States et al. as amici curiae.

Joshua Michtom, assistant public defender, filed a brief for the Office of the Chief Public Defender as amicus curiae.

Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Vertefeuille, Js.**

PALMER J.

In this certified appeal, the respondent, Marquita C., appeals from the judgment of Appellate Court, which dismissed her appeal from the judgment of the trial court terminating her parental rights as to her son, Elijah C.1 See In re Elijah C. , 164 Conn.App. 518, 519, 137 A.3d 944 (2016). The respondent claims that the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that she had failed to adequately brief one of the two independent grounds for reversing the judgment of the trial court and, consequently, that her appeal was moot. She further claims that the trial court incorrectly determined, first, that the Department of Children and Families (department) made reasonable efforts to reunify her with Elijah and, second, that she was unable to benefit from those efforts.2 We agree with the respondent that the Appellate Court improperly dismissed her appeal as moot. We further conclude, however, that the evidence supports the trial court's determination that the respondent was unable to benefit from reunification efforts. Because our resolution of that issue constitutes an independent basis for affirming the trial court's judgment, we need not address the respondent's claim that the trial court incorrectly concluded that the department made reasonable efforts to reunify her with Elijah. We therefore vacate the judgment of the Appellate Court and remand the case to that court with direction to affirm the trial court's judgment.3

The opinion of the Appellate Court sets forth the following relevant facts and procedural history. "The [trial] court granted the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, an ex parte order of temporary custody of Elijah shortly after he was born.4 The petitioner filed a neglect petition on February 21, 2014, on the basis of the doctrine of predictive neglect as a result of the respondent's diminished cognitive abilities.5 The order granting temporary custody of Elijah was sustained four days later.

"The court, Dyer , J. , held a neglect trial on September 15, 2014. On October 2, 2014, the court adjudicated Elijah as neglected and ordered his care, custody, and guardianship [be] committed to the petitioner. Additionally, the court ordered the department (1) to contact [the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) and the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) ] to inquire about additional services for the respondent, (2) to ascertain from those agencies whether a group home existed where the respondent could potentially be reunified with Elijah and receive various forms of instruction, (3) to request the behavioral health center that was providing the respondent with psychotropic medications to conduct a medication management review, and (4) to file a written report with the court addressing various issues.

"On November 4, 2014, the petitioner filed a motion for review of the permanency plan seeking to terminate the parental rights of the respondent. Judge Dyer held a trial on January 22, 2015, and, six days later, the court issued its memorandum of decision. After considering the evidence presented, the court concluded that it was in the best interest of Elijah ... '[to afford the respondent] ... a limited period of additional time to pursue reunification efforts,' namely, to continue with the services provided by the department.... The time period, the court believed, 'should not exceed six or seven months.' [Accordingly], the court rejected the department's permanency plan of termination of parental rights.

"On February 24, 2015, the petitioner filed a petition pursuant to General Statutes § 17a–1126 to terminate the parental rights of the respondent and Paul Y.... On September 8 and 10, 2015, the court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III , judge trial referee, held a hearing on the ... petition.7 On September 18, 2015, the court issued a comprehensive memorandum of decision. The court found by clear and convincing evidence that '[the department had] made reasonable efforts to reunify [Eliljah] with [the respondent] ... [and that the respondent was] unable to benefit from reunification services.' Consequently, the court terminated the parental rights of the respondent....

"The court's memorandum of decision from the termination hearing sets forth the following facts .... Shortly after Elijah was born, the hospital personnel were concerned because the respondent 'appeared to have cognitive limitations and serious mental health problems (schizophrenia

) and ... was reported to have poor judgment and no insight into parenting.' Thus, the hospital contacted the department, [which] sent a social worker to observe the respondent and Elijah. The social worker concluded that the respondent could not care for Elijah because of the severity of her limitations.

"The respondent's lengthy and exceptionally sad involvement in the child welfare system provides ... context to the present appeal. The respondent was born prematurely, addicted to cocaine and alcohol, and suffered serious medical conditions. In April, 1989, the respondent was placed in foster care with Gwendolyn C. and [Gwendolyn's] ... husband. In 1993, Gwendolyn and her ... husband adopted the respondent and another girl unrelated to the respondent. In 1994, the respondent's adoptive parents divorced. Between 1997 and 1999, Gwendolyn adopted three more children.

"The respondent's childhood with Gwendolyn was difficult. Under her care, the respondent and the other children were 'cruel[ly] discipline[d] ... [by her] making them run up and down stairs, standing them on one leg with their arms outstretched holding a book in each arm, [and] beating [them] with a stick and with a belt.' In July, 2001, just prior to the respondent's thirteenth birthday, Gwendolyn abandoned three of her adoptive children, including the respondent, at the department's Meriden office. Gwendolyn explained that she could no longer care for [them]. All three children were underweight, which lent credence to claims that Gwendolyn routinely withheld food from [them].

"After being abandoned by Gwendolyn, the respondent remained in the custody of the petitioner as a committed child for approximately six years. The respondent qualified for postmajority services through [DDS] and [DMHAS]. The department developed a postmajority plan in which both agencies were to provide the respondent with 'life skills, vocational training, and supportive housing.' The postmajority plan, however, never came to fruition because, prior to her nineteenth birthday, the respondent returned to Gwendolyn's care. The respondent resided with Gwendolyn for the next several years before cohabitating with Paul Y. After the respondent and Paul Y.'s relationship ended, she returned to Gwendolyn's home. Approximately four months later, Elijah was born.

"The court's memorandum of decision also detailed the department's efforts to reunite Elijah with the respondent. It noted that the department offered the respondent case management services, three in-home visits per week with a parenting skills component, the opportunity to attend Elijah's medical visits by providing transportation, and services from two agencies [namely, Nurturing Seeds and Family Network] to provide supervised visitation and training in basic childcare skills. Concerned that the respondent was 'being overwhelmed with too many services,' the department sought and was granted permission for the respondent to undergo psychological evaluations.

"The respondent underwent two psychological evaluations that informed the court's decision. The first evaluation, conducted by Madeleine Leveille, a licensed psychologist, was completed in August, 2014, prior to the neglect trial. In addition to providing the court with the respondent's background, Leveille's evaluation [contained] key observations and opinions. For example, when discussing her mental illness, the respondent told Leveille that she regularly saw a 'shadow,' which Leveille characterized as a visual hallucination. Leveille concluded that the respondent had a 'limited conceptual understanding, [was] highly dependent socially on others, and [had] odd and occasionally paranoid and cynical thought processes.' Moreover, the respondent's 'thinking processes show[ed] clear evidence of her [i]ntellectual [d]isability, [s]chizophrenia and a mood disorder.' Leveille was unequivocal that '[h]aving an [i]ntellectual [d]isability does not mean that one cannot parent a child. In [the respondent's] case, however, her intellectual disability, coupled with her psychiatric conditions, particularly her personality disorder, render[ed] her incapable of parenting a child independently.'

"Approximately two months before the termination trial, in July, 2015, the respondent underwent a second evaluation. This evaluation was funded by the department in an effort to assess the respondent on an 'individualized basis.' The 'Cognitive/Adaptive Functioning Evaluation' was conducted by Stephanie Stein Leite, a licensed psychologist. Leite concluded that the respondent had an [intelligence] quotient that placed her in the '[e]xtremely [l]ow...

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26 cases
  • In re Avia M.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • March 22, 2019
    ...of the adjudicatory phase of the proceeding; In re Elijah G.-R. , 167 Conn. App. 1, 32, 142 A.3d 482 (2016), and In re Elijah C. , 326 Conn. 480, 500, 165 A.3d 1149 (2017) ; and, hence, would be appropriately measured as of the adjudicatory date. The authors of the annotated practice book m......
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    • United States
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  • Harris v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • November 1, 2022
    ... ... termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, we hold that a ... termination-of-parental-rights proceeding is not a service, ... program, or activity within the meaning of the ADA and that, ... therefore, the ADA does not apply to such a ... proceeding."); In re Elijah C ., 165 A.3d 1149, ... 1164-65 (Conn. 2017) (same); In re Jeanette L ., 69 ... N.E.3d 918, 922 (Ill.App.Ct. 2017) (same); In re Adoption ... of Gregory , 747 N.E.2d 120, 125 (Mass. 2001) (same); ... In re Terry , 610 N.W.2d 563, 570 (Mich. Ct. App ... 2000); In ... ...
  • Harris v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals
    • November 1, 2022
    ... ... termination-of-parental-rights proceedings, we hold that a ... termination-of-parental-rights proceeding is not a service, ... program, or activity within the meaning of the ADA and that, ... therefore, the ADA does not apply to such a ... proceeding."); In re Elijah C ., 165 A.3d 1149, ... 1164-65 (Conn. 2017) (same); In re Jeanette L ., 69 ... N.E.3d 918, 922 (Ill.App.Ct. 2017) (same); In re Adoption ... of Gregory , 747 N.E.2d 120, 125 (Mass. 2001) (same); ... In re Terry , 610 N.W.2d 563, 570 (Mich. Ct. App ... 2000); In ... ...
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