August 1, 2023

AC 46293; AC 46327

Father and DCF filed separate appeals challenging the trial court’s order granting an emergency motion filed by child’s attorney, which required DCF to cease reunification efforts.  Father also appealed from the trial court’s order rejecting DCF’s proposed permanency plan, which called for reunification with Father. After the child had been adjudicated neglected and committed to the care and custody of DCF, her attorney filed the emergency motion because she had been diagnosed with a reactive airway disease and it was unclear whether there was secondhand smoke in Father’s apartment, which would exacerbate her condition. DCF filed a motion for reconsideration of the emergency order, arguing that DCF was statutorily (§ 17a-111b) required to make reasonable efforts to reunify. The trial court denied the motion and instructed DCF to consider how to protect the child from secondhand smoke. The trial court also indicated that it was returning the matter of the permanency plan to DCF for the filing of a different permanency plan. The Court here held:

1. The trial court exceeded its authority under § 17a-111b (a) when it ordered DCF to cease reunification efforts, and, accordingly, vacated the order.  The plain language of § 17a-111b required DCF to make reasonable efforts to reunify unless certain specific conditions were met, and the trial court did not make any findings that would satisfy the conditions enumerated in § 17a-111b; the parties did not dispute that none of the exceptions applied.  Moreover, contrary to the argument of the child’s attorney, although a trial court does have broad authority pursuant to statute (§ 46b-121 (b) (1)) to issue orders that are necessary and appropriate for the welfare, protection, proper care, and suitable support of a child, nothing in the text of that statute indicated that the authority granted therein superseded DCF’s mandate under § 17a-111b to make reasonable reunification efforts.

2. This Court dismissed Father’s claim that the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting DCF’s proposed permanency plan for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the rejection did not satisfy the second prong of the test established in State v. Curcio (191 Conn. 27) and, therefore, was not a final judgment.  Father would not suffer irreparable harm in the absence of an immediate appeal. 

Father’s argument that his claim satisfied the second prong of Curcio because the trial court’s failure to revoke commitment following the permanency hearing was functionally the same as an extension of the commitment was unavailing as, under the statutory scheme, the permanency plan did not implicate a right that was then held by Father but, instead, set a goal that would not influence his custodial rights until a future date.  Moreover, Father’s argument that, because the trial court could revoke commitment during a permanency hearing if a cause for it no longer existed and it was in the best interests of the child, any decision following a permanency hearing implied that the trial court decided that revocation of commitment was not in the best interests of the child, was unpersuasive because it failed to account for the plain language of the statute, which provided that commitment could be revoked at any time.

Father’s argument that his claim satisfied the second prong of Curcio because the trial court’s rejection of the permanency plan impaired his custodial rights was unavailing.  Rejection of the permanency plan did not necessitate that DCF propose a permanency plan with a goal other than reunification, as nothing in the language of § 17a-111b suggested that the trial court’s rejection of the permanency plan foreclosed the possibility of DCF including that same goal in subsequent proposed permanency plans.  Rather, it merely required the trial court to approve a permanency plan that would be in the best interests of the child and that would take into consideration the child’s need for permanency.  Moreover, the trial court’s rejection of a permanency plan did not affect DCF’s duty to make reasonable efforts toward reunification.