April 29, 2022

IN RE TEAGAN K-O (April 2022; AC 44918; AC 44923)

Parents filed separate appeals from the judgment of the trial court terminating their parental rights with respect to their minor child.  The child was born in Florida, and Florida DCF took emergency custody of her.  While Mother was pregnant, the parents had moved to Florida in order to avoid further involvement with Connecticut DCF. Regardless, DCF filed a motion in Connecticut seeking temporary custody of the child, and a petition seeking to adjudicate her neglected, which the trial court denied on the ground that she was not in Connecticut. After a Florida court ratified and adopted a magistrate’s recommendation to transfer jurisdiction to Connecticut, the trial court granted DCF’s renewed request for an ex parte order of temporary custody of the child. The court denied Father’s motion to dismiss the neglect petition on the ground of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and Father appealed. DCF subsequently filed a TPR petition.

Our Supreme Court in In re Teagan K.-O. (335 Conn. 745) had reversed the judgment of the trial court and remanded the case with direction to grant Father’s motion to dismiss the neglect petition, concluding that the court lacked jurisdiction over that petition because, when that petition was filed, the child was not present in Connecticut. Thereafter, the trial court dismissed the neglect petition. Subsequently, DCF filed a motion for order in which it asked the court to find that it had jurisdiction over the child’s case, including the pending TPR petition, which the court granted. After concluding that it had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), the court consolidated for trial the TPR petition with the father’s motion seeking to vacate the OTC. Following a trial, the court rendered judgment terminating the parents’ parental rights and denying Father’s motion to vacate the OTC.

The Appeals Court here declined to review Mother’s claim that the trial court lacked statutory authority to terminate her rights because the child was not in DCF custody, which was based on her claim that because our Supreme Court ordered the neglect petition to be dismissed, vitiated the predicate for the OTC that had been granted to DCF pursuant to § 46b-129.  Mother’s claim constituted an impermissible collateral attack on the OTC, as Mother did not appeal from the order of temporary custody, which was a final judgment for purposes of appeal; Mother had a chance to litigate any issue with respect to the OTC when it was issued and when the neglect petition was dismissed, but failed to do so.

Additionally, the Court here held that Father’s claim that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the TPR petition because the OTC was not a final custody determination for purposes of establishing jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and because there was no mechanism by which the OTC could become a final custody determination, was unavailing.  In adjudicating DCF’s motion for order, the court found that the OTC was a final custody determination for the purposes of jurisdiction under the UCCJEA, and determined that Connecticut would retain jurisdiction over the case and would move forward in adjudicating the TPR petition, as the three conditions required by statute (§ 46b-115n (b)) to make that determination were satisfied: Father did not dispute that Connecticut had become the child’s home state; proceedings had not been instituted in any other state; and the court explicitly determined that the OTC was a final child custody determination for the purposes of jurisdiction under the UCCJEA.