The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Singh, determined that father was entitled to an expedited post-dispositional hearing after the children were removed from the father’s custody based upon a failed trial discharge. The children were eventually returned to father, but the hearing took six months and the children were not returned to father until eight months after the decision was issued. The First Department ruled on the appeal as an exception to the mootness doctrine, finding that this situation was likely to recur. The court held that father was entitled to an “expedited hearing” after the children were removed under due process principles:
We find that a parent’s private interest in having custody of his or her children, the children’s private interest in residing with their parent, and the undisputed harm to these interests are factors that merit equal consideration. On this record, ACS [Administration for Children’s Services] fails to establish that the lengthy delay was related to its interest in protecting the children. Rather, the hearing was prolonged over six months because of the court’s and attorneys’ scheduling conflicts. There is no indication that the completion of the hearing was caused by difficult legal issues, or by the need to obtain elusive evidence, or by some other factor related to an accurate assessment of the best interest of the children … .
Even though this is a post-dispositional matter, the father is entitled to the strict due process safeguards afforded in neglect proceedings. “The fundamental liberty interest of natural parents in the care, custody, and management of their child does not evaporate simply because they have not been model parents or have lost temporary custody of their child to the State” … . This rationale equally applies to the primacy of a parent’s fundamental liberty interest, and the importance of procedural due process in protecting that interest, particularly when a parent and child are physically separated … . Accordingly, we find that a parent is entitled to a prompt hearing on the agency’s determination to remove the children from his or her physical custody through a failed trial discharge. Matter of F.W. (Monroe W.), 2020 NY Slip Op 02385, First Dept 4-23-20