In re Shane M., 19295.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation122 A.3d 1247,318 Conn. 568
Decision Date28 August 2015
Docket NumberNo. 19295.,19295.
PartiesIn re SHANE M.

318 Conn. 568
122 A.3d 1247

In re SHANE M.*

No. 19295.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued Oct. 24, 2014.
Decided Aug. 28, 2015.

122 A.3d 1250

Jon L. Schoenhorn, Hartford, with whom was Irene J. Kim, for the appellant (respondent father).

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

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




318 Conn. 572

The primary issue in this appeal is whether the trial court properly relied on certain conduct of the respondent father, Matthew M. (respondent), in granting the petition to terminate his parental rights. The respondent appeals from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's decision to terminate his parental rights as to his minor child, Shane M., and to appoint the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families (commissioner), as statutory parent. In re Shane M., 148 Conn.App. 308, 330, 84 A.3d 1265 (2014). The respondent claims that

122 A.3d 1251

the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the trial court's judgment terminating his parental rights pursuant to General Statutes § 17a–112(j)(3)(B)1 because the trial

318 Conn. 573

court allegedly relied on conduct not within the scope of the court-ordered specific steps when concluding that the respondent failed to rehabilitate, that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that he had failed to rehabilitate, and that the trial court unfairly drew an adverse inference from his refusal to submit to a drug test. We reject these claims and affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The following facts, which the trial court found by clear and convincing evidence, and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of this case. The respondent is the biological father of Shane, who was one day shy of his third birthday when the respondent's parental rights were terminated on April 30, 2013. Three days after Shane was born, the Department of Children and Families (department) responded to a report that Shane's mother2 was homeless and refused to check in to a shelter. Approximately one month later, on June 8, 2010, police responded to a report of domestic abuse between the respondent and Shane's mother. The respondent refused to give Shane's car seat base to Shane's mother and physically moved her out of his way. The respondent then got into his car, at which point Shane's mother jumped on top of the respondent's car. The respondent started to drive away and caused Shane's mother to fall to the ground. As a result of this incident, both the respondent and Shane's mother were charged with breach of the peace and a protective order was issued between the two.

On August 23, 2010, the commissioner filed a petition of neglect based, in part, on the respondent's history of substance abuse, the history of violence between the respondent and Shane's mother and their recent cohabitation despite four protective orders against their

318 Conn. 574

doing so, the respondent's unaddressed mental health issues, and the fact that Shane was only three months old at the time and was incapable of protecting himself against violence. At that time, the department referred the respondent to Radiance Innovative Services (Radiance) for parenting education and to the Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center for substance abuse evaluation and counseling.

The respondent participated in a clinical assessment at Radiance on September 26, 2010. After that assessment, he was diagnosed with “adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ] by history and cannabis abuse by history.” Radiance staff recommended that the respondent start long-term therapy to address symptoms of depression, anxiety,

122 A.3d 1252

feelings of abandonment by his mother, and past dysfunctional relationships.3

318 Conn. 575

Two days later, the respondent went to the residence of Shane's mother and tried to break down the door with a chair. As a result of that incident, he was arrested for breach of the peace and trespassing, and a full protective order was issued against him.4

On November 16, 2010, due to the ongoing criminal issues and arrests and domestic violence regarding the respondent and Shane's mother, the commissioner invoked a ninety-six hour hold on behalf of Shane. Three days later, the commissioner filed a motion for order of temporary custody (order), which was granted and subsequently sustained in a preliminary hearing on November 24, 2010. At that hearing, the respondent received and agreed to court-ordered specific steps to facilitate reunification with Shane. The steps required him, inter alia, to participate in parenting counseling at Radiance to learn safe and nurturing parenting, and individual counseling at North Central Counseling to address issues of depression and anger management; to submit to random drug screens with the time and method of testing determined by the department; to refrain from using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol or medicine; to cooperate with court-ordered evaluations

318 Conn. 576

or testing; to

122 A.3d 1253

have no further involvement with the criminal justice system; and to cooperate with service providers' recommendations for parenting, individual and family counseling, in-home support services and/or substance abuse assessment treatment.5

During the respondent's initial Radiance sessions, he was considered “very focused and actively involved in the program,” and he completed an in-home father to father program on December 28, 2010. He was then referred to a nonviolence alliance program in January, 2011, to address issues of domestic violence. At that

318 Conn. 577

program, the respondent reported that he “did not feel that he was in need of domestic violence services and stated that he was the victim in the relationship with [Shane's] mother.” In February, 2011, the respondent was referred to services at Community Health Resources for “psychiatric treatment and individual counseling.” The report from the respondent's psychiatric evaluation indicated that the respondent “had no past history of violence and ... tried marijuana occasionally and denie[d] being addicted.” The trial court noted, however, that the information contained in the report “appear[ed] to be self-reported by [the respondent].” Notably, the report “[did] not indicate that any independent sources were contacted nor that any medical records were reviewed by the evaluator.” The respondent subsequently stated that he “did not want to participate in services” and that he attended “only ... to appease [the department]....”

In March, 2011, the respondent pleaded nolo contendere to the commissioner's neglect petition, and the trial court reiterated all but one of the specific steps the respondent previously had been ordered to follow. By this time, Shane had been in the commissioner's custody for five months.

The respondent's Radiance sessions resumed in April, 2011, but he missed several; when he did attend, he continued to

122 A.3d 1254

express that he did not need therapy and presented with “a very high anxiety level and with problems coping with stress.”

In May, 2011, the respondent was arrested for possession of a controlled substance and for driving unreasonably fast. Following the arrest, which the respondent did not report to the department, he tested positive for marijuana on August 18, September 2, September 9 and September 16, 2011.6 As a result of these positive

318 Conn. 578

screens, the respondent was referred to an Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Center program. He was subsequently discharged from the program because he missed three scheduled appointments starting in October, 2011, and subsequently tested positive for marijuana in a hair follicle drug screen.

Pursuant to General Statutes § 46b–129(k)(1)7 and Practice Book § 35a–14,8 which reflect the legislature's intent that committed children be provided with permanency and stability, the department filed a motion to review its proposed permanency plan for Shane. The trial court approved the permanency plan of terminating parental rights on September 27, 2011.9 At this point, Shane had been in the commissioner's custody for ten months.

In November, 2011, the respondent was again referred to...

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