IN RE SHANE M., SC 19295

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Termination of Parental Rights; Failure to Rehabilitate; Whether Trial Court Properly Terminated Father’s Parental Rights on the Ground that he had “Failed to Rehabilitate”; Whether Trial Court Properly Considered Evidence that was Unrelated to Prescribed Specific Steps.  The Department of Children and Families (department) filed a petition to terminate the respondent father’s parental rights in his minor child, Shane M.  Prior to the filing of the petition, the department had provided the respondent with specific steps to facilitate his reunification with Shane, who was in the custody of the department.  The specific steps directed the respondent to refrain from drug and alcohol use, submit to substance abuse evaluations, participate in treatment, and undergo random drug testing.  The trial court granted the petition pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B), finding that the respondent had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation such that he could function as a responsible parent.  On appeal, the respondent argued that the court misinterpreted the term “rehabilitation” in § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) by considering evidence that was unrelated to the prescribed specific steps in contravention of In re Elvin G., 310 Conn. 485 (2013).  He also maintained that the evidence was insufficient to support the court’s decision terminating his parental rights and that the court improperly drew an adverse inference from his refusal to take a drug test without first giving him notice of its intent to do so.  The Appellate Court (148 Conn. App. 308) rejected the respondent’s claims, concluding first that his reliance on In re Elvin G. was misplaced because, in that case, the Supreme Court merely held that parents must be provided with specific steps where the ground for termination is the failure to rehabilitate pursuant to § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B).  The Appellate Court opined that, in arriving at this holding, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the longstanding principle that a finding of a failure to achieve personal rehabilitation can be based on conduct that is unrelated to the specific steps.  The Appellate Court also found that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s determination that the respondent had failed to rehabilitate himself.  The court reasoned that the evidence showed that, by continuing to use marijuana and refusing to undergo drug testing and an assessment of his potential need for psychiatric medication, the respondent failed to comply with the specific steps.  The court also emphasized that the evidence demonstrated that the respondent tended to blame others for his problems and had expressed the belief that he did not need the services that the department had recommended.  Finally, the Appellate Court declined to review the respondent’s adverse inference claim, reasoning that the claim had not been raised before the trial court and that the respondent had failed to establish, as required by State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233 (1989), that the unpreserved claim could be reviewed on appeal because it was of constitutional magnitude alleging a deprivation of a fundamental right.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court correctly determined that the respondent had failed to rehabilitate himself.