November 30, 2020

In re D’Andre T.

201 Conn. App. 396 (November 2020)[1]

Termination of Parental Rights, Transfer of Guardianship, Supervisory Authority, Procedural Rules

  • TAKEAWAY: Distinguishes between when the Appellate Court would use its supervisory authority to address an issue, and when legislative determinations re: policy should be used instead.

Mother appealed the trial court judgments terminating her parental rights as to her two minor children, and denying her motion to transfer guardianship of them to her sister, B. The trial court had determined that, pursuant to statute (§ 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i)), Mother had failed to achieve the necessary degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time, she could assume a responsible position in the children’s lives. The trial court also found that it was not in the children’s best interests to transfer their guardianship to B, as B was not a suitable guardian in light of her having allowed one of the children to be in Mother’s care, in contravention of directives by DCF. On appeal, Mother claimed that the trial court denied her a fundamentally fair proceeding by treating her motion to transfer guardianship with less regard than the petitions to terminate her parental rights. She further claimed that the Appellate Court should exercise its supervisory authority over the administration of justice, to require the Superior Court to make certain written findings in all cases in which a court is considering a transfer of guardianship motion and a petition to terminate parental rights concurrently.

The Appellate Court here held that it did have jurisdiction over Mother’s appeal, which presented an actual, justiciable controversy, notwithstanding the assertion by DCF that her appeal should be dismissed because her request for a new procedural rule was not tethered to any actual controversy and she did not claim that the trial court erred in its TPR decisions or the motion to transfer guardianship.  As such, in light of Mother’s contention that the trial court’s failure to rule on her motion to transfer guardianship, prior to ruling on the termination of parental rights petitions, created an appearance that the court’s default preference was to terminate her parental rights, the requirements of justiciability were satisfied: there was an actual live controversy as to whether the court properly handled the TOG motion, the parties’ interests were adverse, and the Appellate Court was capable of adjudicating whether the trial court properly considered Mother’s motion, which could result in practical relief to her.

The Appellate Court, however, declined to exercise its supervisory authority over the administration of justice to adopt Mother’s proposed procedural rule, which implicated a policy consideration best addressed by the legislature, as her proposed rule would not create a new procedural rule but instead, would ask this court to rewrite the statutory scheme controlling transfer of guardianship motions (§ 46b-129 (j) (3)).  Rather, this Court felt the legislature is better suited to gather and to assess the facts necessary to make that policy determination.  The Court here held that the failure to adopt Mother’s proposed rule did not implicate the fairness of the proceeding, and would not enhance public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system, as there was no evidence of pervasive, significant problems, or conduct that threatened the sound administration of justice.  Under the existing statutory (§ 17a-112 (k) (4)) scheme, the trial court, having been obligated to make certain written findings concerning guardians when considering a TPR petition, did indeed make such written findings on the motion to transfer guardianship, and explained why it did not believe that B was a suitable guardian, which is all it was required to do.