In re November H., 123120 CTCA, AC 44120

Docket Nº:AC 44120
Opinion Judge:MOLL, J.
Party Name:IN RE NOVEMBER H. [*]
Attorney:Benjamin M. Wattenmaker, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Amir Shaikh, for the appellant (respondent father). Krystal L. Ramos, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, and Stephen G. Vitelli, Jessica Gauvin and Evan O'Roark, assistan...
Judge Panel:Moll, Suarez and DiPentima, Js.
Case Date:December 31, 2020
Court:Appellate Court of Connecticut


No. AC 44120

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 31, 2020 [**]

Argued November 12, 2020

Procedural History

Petition by the Commissioner of Children and Families to terminate the respondents' parental rights with respect to their minor child, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, Juvenile Matters, and tried to the court, Hon. Robert G. Gilligan, judge trial referee; judgment terminating the respondents' parental rights, from which the respondent father filed an appeal to this court. Affirmed.

Benjamin M. Wattenmaker, assigned counsel, with whom, on the brief, was Amir Shaikh, for the appellant (respondent father).

Krystal L. Ramos, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, and Stephen G. Vitelli, Jessica Gauvin and Evan O'Roark, assistant attorneys general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Robert Johnson Moore, for the minor child.

Moll, Suarez and DiPentima, Js.



The respondent father, Marcus H., appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families, terminating his parental rights as to his minor daughter, November H., on the ground that he failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).1On appeal, the respondent claims that (1) the court made internally inconsistent statements regarding his parent-child relationship with November, (2) there was insufficient evidence supporting the court's determination that he failed to sufficiently rehabilitate, (3) as a matter of law, the court, in terminating his parental rights, improperly relied on its finding that additional time was necessary for him and November to develop a ‘‘normal and healthy'' parent-child relationship when the petitioner and November's mother, Natachia G., interfered with his ability to develop such a relationship, and (4) the court improperly compared him to November's foster parent in the adjudicatory part of its decision. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, as found by the trial court, and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. The respondent and Natachia G. began a relationship in 2010. November was born in 2011. The respondent has been incarcerated for the entirety of November's life, and he remains incarcerated with a maximum release date in March, 2024.2 Although Natachia G. informed the respondent of November's birth, she refused to permit the respondent to have contact with November and declined to disclose the respondent's identity to November. November was unaware that the respondent was her father until May, 2018, when, in a therapeutic setting, the petitioner and a clinician informed November of the respondent's relationship to her. Prior to that disclosure, November believed that a man named Patrick G., whom Natachia G. had married in February, 2016, was her father.

On June 24, 2017, police officers responded to a call reporting that Natachia G., while intoxicated, had stabbed Patrick G. in the presence of November and two of Natachia G.'s other children. Natachia G. was arrested and charged with several crimes in connection with the stabbing. On June 27, 2017, the petitioner invoked a ninety-six hour hold on November and removed her from her home. On June 29, 2017, the petitioner applied for an ex parte order of temporary custody and filed a neglect petition in the interest of November. The same day, the trial court, Dannehy, J., issued an order of temporary custody, which was subsequently sustained by the court, Burgdorff, J., on July 7, 2017. On October 10, 2017, November was adjudicated neglected by the court, Dyer, J., and committed to the care and custody of the petitioner. The court also ordered specific steps for the respondent to take to facilitate his reunification with November. On November 22, 2017, November was placed in the custody of a foster mother, who is a cousin of Natachia G.

On March 5, 2019, the petitioner filed a motion to review and approve a permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption in the interest of November. On April 25, 2019, following a hearing, the court, Hon. Robert G. Gilligan, judge trial referee, granted the motion. On June 20, 2019, the petitioner filed a petition to terminate the parental rights of the respondent with respect to November (petition).3 In support thereof, the petitioner alleged three grounds for termination: (1) under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (A), the respondent had abandoned November; (2) under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i), November had been found to be neglected, abused, or uncared for in a prior proceeding and the respondent had failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, considering the age and needs of November, he could assume a responsible position in her life; and (3) under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (D), there was no ongoing parent-child relationship between the respondent and November.

A trial on the petition was conducted on February 4, 2020. The respondent appeared and was represented by appointed counsel. Numerous witnesses testified, including the respondent.

On April 9, 2020, the court issued a memorandum of decision terminating the parental rights of the respondent. The court determined that the petitioner failed to demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, abandonment under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (A) or a lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (D), but that the petitioner met her burden of proof to establish that November had been adjudicated neglected on October 10, 2017, and that the respondent had failed to sufficiently rehabilitate under § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i). The court also found that the petitioner had made reasonable efforts to locate the respondent and to reunify him with November.

In determining that the respondent had failed to sufficiently rehabilitate, the court relied on the following relevant findings concerning November. ‘‘[At the time of trial] November . . . [was] eight years old. November was removed by [the petitioner] on June 28, 2017, and was placed in a relative foster home with her sister . . . on November 22, 2017. . . . At the time of trial, November was placed at Eagle House where she was receiving care and services provided by the Village for Families and Children due to her recent emotional dysregulation. November receives weekend passes to her foster home.

‘‘November has witnessed substance abuse, domestic violence, police involvement, parental incarceration and adult mental health problems while residing with [Natachia G.]. Until she was therapeutically told by her clinician and [the petitioner] in May, 2018 that [the respondent] is her father, November believed that Patrick G., with whom she lived, was her father. Following the death of Patrick G. in August, 2017, [the petitioner] referred November to mental health counseling to address her behavior issues resulting from her neglect and trauma from witnessing [Natachia G.] stab Patrick G. and to process her grief in connection with Patrick G.'s death.4 . . .

‘‘November has been diagnosed with anxiety, [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], and [post-traumatic stress disorder] as a result of the multiple traumas she has experienced. November suffers from suicidal ideations.

‘‘November began therapy with a therapist, Milagros Montalvo-Stewart, in September, 2017. November met with Montalvo-Stewart weekly to address her trauma and coping skills. November left therapy with Montalvo-Stewart when she began exhibiting unsafe behaviors including suicidal ideations by running into the street. November's behaviors at school and in her foster home escalated including getting physical with others, refusal to follow rules, screaming and running out of the school building. [The petitioner] made a referral to [Intensive In-Home Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services (IICAPS)]5 in January, 2019, to address November's behaviors. IICAPS met with November two to three times per week in the home and at school, which was followed by November's entering the Institute of Living (IOL) intensive outpatient services in April, 2019, where she was scheduled to attend three day[s] per week. November's clinician at the IOL reported that November had a breakdown on April 26, 2019, started to cry and said she missed her mother. . . . On April 29, 2019, November had another breakdown, said she wanted to kill herself and had to be physically restrained from running into the street. She was taken from the IOL to [the Connecticut Children's Medical Center] on an emergency basis and later admitted inpatient to the IOL on May 3, 2019. On May 13, 2019, November's clinician reported that she continued to state that she wanted to kill herself and continued to believe that [Natachia G.] had killed Patrick G. November's foster mother testified that November said she wanted to go to heaven to ‘get Daddy Patrick.' Social worker [Nadia] Pelaez testified that when asked if she could be granted three wishes, what she would wish for, November said she only needed one wish, which was to have ‘Daddy Patrick' back. On May 15, 2019, the IOL recommended that November be placed at Eagle House at the Village for Families and Children, where she was receiving services at the time of trial. . . .

‘‘[At the time of trial] November [was] in second grade. Educationally, November is described as ‘solid average student but struggles behaviorally and emotionally.' '' (Citations omitted; footnotes added.)

The court also made the following relevant findings regarding the respondent. ‘‘[At...

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