In re Riley B., SC 20613

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtKELLER, J.
Citation269 A.3d 776,342 Conn. 333
Docket NumberSC 20613
Decision Date02 March 2022
Parties IN RE RILEY B.

342 Conn. 333
269 A.3d 776


SC 20613

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued November 18, 2021
Officially released March 2, 2022**

269 A.3d 778

Albert J. Oneto IV, assigned counsel, for the appellant (proposed intervenor).

Evan O'Roark, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were William Tong, attorney general, and Sara Nadim, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

Margaret Doherty filed a brief for the Connecticut Alliance of Foster and Adoptive Familes as amicus curiae.

Robinson, C. J., and McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Keller, Js.


342 Conn. 335

In In re Ava W. , 336 Conn. 545, 248 A.3d 675 (2020), this court held that, if a parent requests posttermination visitation in the course of the proceeding adjudicating the petition for termination of parental rights, the trial court has jurisdiction over such a request and the authority to grant posttermination visitation under appropriate circumstances. See id., at 548–49, 248 A.3d 675. This court underscored that its decision was limited to this specific procedural posture and explicitly left open the question of whether a trial court has the authority to adjudicate a request for posttermination visitation filed after parental rights have been terminated. Id., at 590 n.18, 248 A.3d 675. The present appeal arises under the circumstances on which we reserved judgment in In re Ava W .

The proposed intervenor, Jacquanita B., the biological mother of Riley B., appeals from the trial court's judgment dismissing her posttermination motion to intervene in Riley's juvenile case to obtain an order for

342 Conn. 336

visitation.1 Jacquanita B. claims that the trial court incorrectly concluded that her motion to intervene was barred by res judicata in light of the court's denial of a previously filed postjudgment motion for posttermination visitation. We conclude that, posttermination, biological parents lack a legally cognizable interest to support a right to intervene in the juvenile case for the purpose of seeking visitation. Therefore, the appeal must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The record reveals the following facts, as found by the trial court in its decision terminating Jacquanita B.’s parental rights or that are otherwise reflected in the record, and procedural history. The Department of Children and Families (department) has a long history of involvement with Jacquanita B. and her three biological children—half siblings Nyasia, Corrynn, and Riley—due to mental health issues and a pattern of inflicting physical abuse

269 A.3d 779

as discipline. Although this history is not directly relevant to the issue in this appeal, it provides an important context for the legal principles on which we rely.

In 2013, when Jacquanita B.’s eldest child, Nyasia, was six or seven years old, she was removed from Jacquanita B.’s care and placed in her father's custody after evidence came to light that Jacquanita B. had repeatedly physically abused her. Jacquanita B.’s second born child, Corrynn, who was then only an infant, was unharmed at that time and remained in Jacquanita B.’s care.

The department became involved with the family again in 2018, when Corrynn was six or seven years old, after a school nurse reported that she had observed

342 Conn. 337

extensive bruising and welts on Corrynn's inner fore-arms. Corrynn stated that Jacquanita B. had struck her with a belt because she had forgotten to do her homework. Jacquanita B. denied the allegations and minimized the nature of Corrynn's injuries but, eventually, was criminally charged with risk of injury to a child and assault in the second degree.

In June, 2018, following the report of the school nurse, the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families (commissioner), filed a neglect petition as to Corrynn and Jacquanita B.’s youngest child, Riley, after Jacquanita B. repeatedly failed to meet conditions of a safety plan that would have allowed them to remain in her care. The department thereafter received reports that Jacquanita B. had been physically and verbally abusing Corrynn on a regular basis. Jacquanita B. repeatedly thwarted the department's efforts to visit the home to investigate. In July, 2018, after the New Haven police informed the department that Jacquanita B. had been arrested on charges relating to her assault of a neighbor with a crowbar, the department invoked a ninety-six hour hold and obtained an ex parte order of temporary custody of the children. Both children were taken for medical examinations, which revealed that Corrynn had numerous injuries in various stages of healing but that Riley appeared unharmed. In August, 2018, the trial court sustained the order of temporary custody of the children, after Jacquanita B. elected to contest the order but failed to appear for most of the hearing. The children were placed in a nonrelative foster home.

Two months after the children entered the department's care, by which time Riley was almost two years old, Riley was adjudicated neglected and committed to the commissioner's custody.2 The trial court issued final

342 Conn. 338

specific steps for reunification. The department arranged for the provision of mental health and anger management services, but Jacquanita B. never participated and repeatedly asserted that she had never abused Corrynn or anyone else. Jacquanita B. attended weekly supervised visitation with Riley until August, 2018, at which time she ceased attending to evade arrest on a warrant that had been issued in connection with Corrynn's injuries.

In December, 2018, Jacquanita B. was located by the police and taken into custody. The department resumed Jacquanita B.’s supervised visitation with Riley once she was released on bond and continued to provide visitation after she began to serve a two year term of imprisonment in connection with the charges relating to the incidents involving Corrynn and the neighbor.

269 A.3d 780

In 2019, the court approved the commissioner's permanency plan of termination of parental rights and adoption for Riley. The commissioner thereafter filed a petition seeking to terminate Jacquanita B.’s parental rights as to Riley on the ground of failure to rehabilitate.3 While that petition was pending, Jacquanita B. filed a motion to open and modify the neglect disposition to transfer guardianship of Riley to a maternal relative who lived in New Jersey. The termination petition and the motion to open and modify the disposition were heard together. During the proceedings, Jacquanita B. made no request for visitation with Riley in the event that her parental rights were terminated.

In January, 2020, the trial court issued a memorandum of decision in which it found that the commissioner proved by clear and convincing evidence that Jacquanita

342 Conn. 339

B. had failed to rehabilitate pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i) and that termination of her parental rights was in Riley's best interest. The court cited, among other things, Jacquanita B.’s failure to address her mental health issues, to acknowledge her abuse of her other children, and to refrain from involvement with the criminal justice system. The court noted that it was barred from transferring guardianship of Riley to Jacquanita B.’s relative, despite the department's willingness to consider the relative as a potential adoptive resource, because the study mandated for an out-of-state placement under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children; see General Statutes § 17a-175 ; had not yet been completed.4 The court rejected Jacquanita B.’s request to stay disposition of the case until the study was completed, finding that a stay would not be in Riley's best interest. It emphasized the importance of achieving permanency for Riley, even if placement with the New Jersey relative ultimately was not approved. The court acknowledged credible testimony that Riley had a bond with Jacquanita B., having lived with her for the first two years of her life, but found that there was no reasonable likelihood that giving Jacquanita B. more time would result in her bringing her performance as a parent within acceptable standards that would allow for reunification. The court therefore denied Jacquanita B.’s motion seeking to transfer guardianship, rendered judgment terminating her parental rights, and appointed the commissioner as Riley's statutory parent.

Jacquanita B. timely appealed from the judgment terminating her parental rights. She did not request a stay of the execution of the judgment pending appeal. See Practice Book § 61-12. In August, 2020, after that appeal

342 Conn. 340

had been pending for more than six months, Jacquanita B. filed a motion for posttermination visitation with Riley. In the motion, she alleged that the...

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