July 24, 2018

In re Zoey H.

183 Conn. App. 327 (2018)

Procedural Due Process

Substantive Due Process

Revocation of DCF Commitment

Respondent father appealed from the judgement of the trial court denying his second motion to revoke the commitment of his daughter, Zoey, to the Department of Children and Families.

Zoey was born in May 2015 and was removed from her mother’s custody days after her birth. In September 2015, Zoey was adjudicated uncared for and committed to DCF custody. Genetic testing proved that the man Zoey’s mother identified to be Zoey’s father was not Zoey’s biological father and he was dismissed from the case.

In March 2016, respondent father identified himself as Zoey’s biological father, confirmed by genetic testing. Respondent father filed a motion to revoke Zoey’s commitment to DCF. The trial court denied the motion, citing respondent father’s failure to present a prima facie case that would permit a revocation of commitment.

In June 2017, respondent father filed a second motion to revoke commitment. The trial court denied this motion, citing respondent father’s failure to comply with the specific steps drafted by DCF to aid reunification with Zoey.

Respondent father appealed, claiming his right to procedural due process under the United States Constitution was violated because there was no adjudicative hearing to establish his fitness as a parent before infringing on his right to custody. Respondent father also claimed his substantive due process right to custody was violated because he was not adjudicated to be an unfit parent.

The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision regarding both of the respondent father’s claims. Respondent father’s late involvement in the case and biological relationship to Zoey did not change the fact that Zoey was uncared for at the time of her DCF commitment in September 2015, before respondent father was determined to be Zoey’s father and before he was involved in Zoey’s life in any capacity.

Respondent father had sufficient opportunity to present evidence of his fitness to have custody of Zoey at each hearing on his motions to revoke commitment. The Court stated that an additional procedure to adjudicate respondent father’s fitness as a parent after Zoey had already been adjudicated and committed to DCF was inappropriate.

The Connecticut Appellate Court recognized that while the interest of a parent in the custody of his or her children is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, respondent father was not entitled to an adjudication determining his fitness as a parent after Zoey had already been adjudicated uncared for and committed to DCF. The Court determined that Zoey’s commitment to DCF was rationally related to the compelling state interest in protecting Zoey from harm.