In a 4-1 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that parents’ refusal for three years to acknowledge their role in the abuse of their infant daughter justified the termination of their parental rights to the girl’s younger sister, who was physically unharmed in the initial incident.
A majority of the high court upheld a Superior Court ruling that the failure caused the little girl’s prolonged separation from her home and thus fell under the broad scope of a statute, which provides ground for termination based on parental acts that deny children “care, guidance or control necessary for their physical, educational, moral or emotional well-being.”
The parents, identified in court papers as Morsy E. and Natasha E., had argued that the language in Connecticut’s General Statutes Section 17a-112 (j) (3) (C) only included harm that had already occurred, and there was no evidence that they had caused their daughter Egypt to suffer before she was removed from the home.
In a 21-page opinion, the justices agreed that the statute does not allow for a child’s removal on the grounds of “predictive” harm, but noted that the “unusual procedural circumstances” of the case warranted the Superior Court’s decision.
“There was sufficient evidence presented to establish that these omissions were harmful to Egypt who, although physically uninjured, nevertheless suffered the emotional and psychological trauma attendant to a sudden removal from her biological parents’ home, followed by years of foster placement during which she lacked the care, guidance or control of her biological parents and the stability and permanence necessary for a young child’s healthy development,” Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers wrote for the court.
According to the opinion, Egypt was less than 1 year old when her sister Mariam was hospitalized with multiple bone fractures throughout her body. The father, Morsey, later pleaded guilty to causing the injuries, but has since denied responsibility for Mariam’s injuries. Natasha, meanwhile, has also denied her husband’s culpability during counseling sessions aimed at reunifying the parents with their children, the opinion said.
On procedural grounds, the Supreme Court in 2016 reversed an initial Superior Court ruling terminating Morsey and Natasha’s parental rights. The case came back a second time after the Department of Children and Families amended its petition to include a new basis for termination—the parents’ failure to rehabilitate.
The Superior Court again ruled to revoke parental rights last January, specifically citing the parents’ failure to make progress toward developing a plan to keep Egypt safe under Section 17a-112 (j) (3) (C). On appeal, Morsey and Natasha contended that the lower court’s ruling was improperly predicated on prospective harm, which they argued fell outside the statute’s scope.
But Rogers said the first reversal in the case extended the adjudicatory date of the termination petition, allowing the court to take into account post-removal denials of responsibility by the parents. As a result, she said, the parents’ failure to acknowledge Mariam’s abuse fell under the purview of the statute in Egypt’s case.
“In light of the foregoing, we conclude that the respondents’ omissions in this case, namely, their continuing failures, over the course of three years, truly to acknowledge the cause of Mariam’s injuries and to take the therapeutic steps that would prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future, clearly fell within the purview of Section 17a-112 (j) (3) (C),” Rogers said.
The ruling came over the sole dissent of Justice Andrew J. McDonald, who faulted the court’s analysis for conflating two separate causes for termination of parental rights. The majority, he said, failed to identify any acts, specific to Egypt, that justify the decision.
“The majority cannot point to any direct act or omission by the respondents that is specific to Egypt, but, rather, point only to the respondents’ failure to accept responsibility for their respective roles in causing harm to Mariam,” he wrote in a four-page dissent.
“It is only by focusing on the consequence of that failure, namely, the respondents’ continued separation from Egypt, that allows the majority to avoid the fatal flaw of terminating the respondents’ parental rights with respect to Egypt based on predictive harm.”
Stein M. Helmrich of SMH Law represented the mother. The father was represented by Dana M. Hrelic, Brendon P. Levesque and Scott T. Garosshen of Horton, Dowd, Bartschi & Levesque.
Michael Besso, George Jepsen and Benjamin Zivyon of the Office of the Attorney General represented the Department of Children and Families.
The case was captioned In re Egypt E.