Neglect, Parental Right to Direct Health Care, Mootness Doctrine
Mother appealed, challenging the order of the trial court that permitted her child to undergo a nonemergency surgical procedure to correct the severe curvature of her spine, despite Mother’s objection to it on religious grounds.
On appeal, Mother claimed that the trial court had violated her constitutional right to direct the health care decisions and religious upbringing of her daughter. After the child had been adjudicated uncared for and committed to DCF, she was examined by a physician in 2017, who strongly recommended that she have the surgery. In February 2020, the child’s attorney filed a motion on her behalf, seeking the trial court’s authorization for the surgery, which DCF joined. The child, who was 17 years old at the time, sought to expedite the surgery and to complete her recovery before she entered college. Although a hearing on the child’s motion had been scheduled for February 2020, the motion was not heard until October 2020, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The trial court determined that it was in the child’s best interest that the court grant the motion, and the surgery was scheduled for January 13, 2021. While her appeal was pending, Mother filed a motion to stay the trial court’s order, which the court denied after a hearing on January 4, 2021.
The Appellate Court then considered Mother’s emergency motion for expedited review of the trial court’s order, but denied the relief requested on January 11, 2021, stating that there was then no stay that would prevent the surgery from going forward.
After the child underwent the surgery on January 13, 2021, DCF filed a motion with the Appellate Court to dismiss Mother’s appeal on the ground that it was moot. The Appellate Court denied the motion without prejudice to the parties’ addressing the mootness issue in their briefs. On appeal, Mother claimed that, although the Appellate Court could grant her no practical relief, her appeal came within the exception to the mootness doctrine of Loisel v. Rowe (233 Conn. 370) for claims that are capable of repetition, yet evade review.
The Court here held that Mother’s appeal was properly dismissed as moot, there being no practical relief that could be afforded to her. She could not satisfy the requirement of Loisel that the challenged action of the trial court, or the effect of the challenged action, by its very nature, was of a limited duration such that there was a strong likelihood that the substantial majority of cases raising a question about its validity would become moot before appellate litigation could be concluded. Appellate rules provide wide-ranging authority to expedite the appellate process, and it was unlikely that the majority of cases involving parental objection to a necessary but nonemergency medical procedure will encounter a delay in requesting court involvement, a delay of almost nine months before adjudication, and a desire to expedite the procedure on the basis of educational plans. Moreover, notwithstanding Mother’s contention that all medical treatment disputes are inherently time limited such that they would always escape appellate review, the Court here found that such review has been conducted in scores of cases without resort to the capable of repetition yet evading review exception to the mootness doctrine.