On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County, Docket No. FC-07-258-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Newman.
J.S. appeals from an order denying a motion under Rule 4:50-1 to vacate a termination of parental rights as to her biological child, N.K. We affirm.
N.K. was born in January 2005, was removed from J.S.'s care in April 2005, and has been under the supervision of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services (the Division) ever since. On June 29, 2007, the trial court entered an order terminating J.S.'s parental rights to N.K. J.S. appealed and we affirmed. Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. J.S., Nos. A-0627-07 and A-0628-07 (App. Div. May 8, 2008), certif. denied, 196 N.J. 347 (2008).
Subsequently, the family with whom N.K. had been in foster care with contemplated adoption. Unfortunately, those plans to adopt unraveled due to allegations of domestic violence. Because of that, N.K. suffered from reactive attachment disorder. N.K. was placed in a resource home and stayed less than a month because of behavioral problems. N.K. was placed in a second resource home before placement in a pre-adoptive resource home. N.K. made progress and had an older sibling to whom he became attached. That family proceeded with the adoption, which was effectuated on November 19, 2009.
J.S. was immature when, at the age of sixteen, she gave birth to N.K. She later gave birth to another child on November 22, 2006, who was reunified with her on July 2, 2008, after being placed with the Division from birth. On this basis, she claims that the circumstances have changed and she could now care for N.K. Furthermore, N.K., it is asserted, could have a relationship with his younger sibling. J.S. now rents an apartment in Newark for $800 per month on a one-year lease and is employed by the Essex Valley Visiting Nurses Association, earning an hourly rate of $8.25, according to pay stubs. No other references support her suitability as a parent for this special-needs child, N.K.
In denying her motion under Rule 4:50-1, the trial court was satisfied that J.S.'s change of circumstances was not the standard to be met, but rather the standard was the best interest of N.K., relying on In re Guardianship of J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440 (2002). J.S. did not furnish sufficient information to warrant any evaluation of N.K. It was pointed out that she has had no contact with N.K. since her final goodbyes in July 2007 when her parental rights were terminated by order of June 29, 2007. The trial court was convinced that the best interest of the child was served by proceeding with the adoption.
On appeal, J.S. raises the following issue:
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF BOTH MOTHER AND CHILD HAVE CHANGED IMMENSELY SINCE THE JUDGMENT TERMINATING THE BIOLOGICAL MOTHER'S PARENTAL RIGHTS WAS ENTERED AND THESE CHANGES MEET THE TRULY EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCES STANDARD OF HOUSING AUTHORITY V. LITTLE, 135 N.J. 274 (1994), AND IN RE GUARDIANSHIP OF J.N.H., 172 N.J. 440 (2002).
We note that J.S.'s efforts to stay the adoption at the trial level, in this court, and the Supreme Court were all unsuccessful. As previously mentioned, that adoption has taken place, mooting this appeal. Indeed, there is no relief to be provided in the wake of the adoption. See Cinque v. N.J. Dep't of Corrections, 261 N.J. Super. 242 (App. Div. 1993) (holding an inmate's appeal was mooted by later state agency action). While mootness alone would suffice to dismiss this appeal with prejudice, we have reviewed the record in light of J.S.'s argument and are convinced, as was the trial court, that the best interest of N.K. was to proceed with the adoption. Any change of J.S.'s circumstances was "too little, too late" ...