February 23, 2021

In Re Miyuki M. (AC 44186)

TPR, Transfer of Guardianship, Constitutional Claim, Canvass, Supervisory Authority, Suitable and Worthy Guardian

Mother appealed the judgment terminating her parental rights as to her child, and denying her motion to transfer guardianship to her maternal grandmother. The court conducted a consolidated the TPR trial and motion to transfer guardianship, and properly canvassed Mother pursuant to In re Yasiel R. (317 Conn. 773), advising her of the purpose and consequences of the termination. DCF submitted a stipulation of facts, signed by Mother. Mother’s attorney agreed that there was no need for the court to conduct a canvass of Mother before accepting the stipulation of facts. The court accepted the stipulation. The court subsequently declared a mistrial after Mother’s attorney withdrew from the case. Following the mistrial, the case proceeded to a new trial, where the court again canvassed Mother at the start of trial, pursuant to In re Yasiel R. The court then accepted into evidence Exhibit P, which consisted of the stipulation of facts from the first trial. Mother’s attorney did not object to the exhibit. After considering all of the evidence, the court determined that, pursuant to statute (§ 17a112 (j) (3) (B) (i)), Mother had failed to achieve such a degree of personal rehabilitation as would encourage the belief that within a reasonable time she could assume a responsible position in her child’s life. The court also found that it was not in the child’s best interest to transfer guardianship to her maternal grandmother, as there was insufficient evidence that she was a suitable guardian.

On appeal, Mother claimed, inter alia, that the trial court violated her right to due process when it failed to canvass her separately regarding the stipulation of facts, which she contends was essentially the equivalent of a consent to TPR, and that this failure constituted plain error and required the exercise of this Court’s supervisory authority.

The Appellate Court held that Mother could not prevail on her unpreserved claim that her right to due process was violated when the trial court failed to canvass her before accepting into evidence Exhibit P.  Although the record of her claim was adequate for review under State v. Golding (213 Conn. 233), the claim was not of constitutional magnitude.  Rather, it was an evidentiary claim that involved the court’s discretion, and the fact that the case involved a TPR did not transform an evidentiary matter into a constitutional matter.  Moreover, it found that even if the claim were of constitutional magnitude, the claim would still fail because Mother could not establish that a constitutional violation existed and deprived her of a fair trial, as the court thoroughly canvassed her at the start of the trial in accordance with the requirements set forth in In re Yasiel R., and it was not required to conduct a separate canvass solely because her attorney made a tactical decision not to contest the exhibits offered at trial by DCF;  Mother had the opportunity to dispute the facts contained in Exhibit P and explain why she entered into the stipulation. Furthermore, the Court here declined to employ the plain error doctrine or to exercise its supervisory authority because neither action was warranted under the facts of this case.

Lastly, the Appellate Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the maternal grandmother was not a suitable and worthy guardian.  The court found that there was little evidence in the record to enable it to conclude that she was a suitable and worthy guardian and that transfer of guardianship was in the child’s best interest.  A review of the evidence revealed that the grandmother had moved several times, lacked insight into Mother’s mental health and substance abuse problems, was inconsistent in her desire to be a resource for the child, refused DCF access to her home on at least one occasion, and the child was bonded to her foster family.  Accordingly, on the basis of the record before this Court, it would not second guess the trial court’s determinations.