553 A.2d 596 (Conn. 1989), 13477, McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut

Docket Nº13477-13479.
Citation553 A.2d 596, 209 Conn. 692
Opinion JudgePETERS, C.J.
Party NameJohn E. McCONNELL et al. v. BEVERLY ENTERPRISES-CONNECTICUT, INC., et al.
AttorneyRichard A. Lynch, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Henry A. Salton, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on the brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., for the appellants in the first appeal (defendant Atty. Gen., defendant Com'r of Health Services, and defendant Chief Medical Examiner)., Susann E. Gill, Asst....
Judge PanelIn this opinion CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO, JJ., concur. Before PETERS, CJ, and ARTHUR H HEALEY, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO
Case DateJanuary 31, 1989
CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut

Page 596

553 A.2d 596 (Conn. 1989)

209 Conn. 692

John E. McCONNELL et al.

v.

BEVERLY ENTERPRISES-CONNECTICUT, INC., et al.

Nos. 13477-13479.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

January 31, 1989

Argued Nov. 9, 1988.

Page 597

[209 Conn. 694] Richard A. Lynch, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Henry A. Salton, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on the brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., for the appellants in the first appeal (defendant Atty. Gen., defendant Com'r of Health Services, and defendant Chief Medical Examiner).

Susann E. Gill, Asst. State's Atty., with whom, on the brief, were John J. Kelly, Chief State's Atty., and Steven M. Sellers, Asst. State's Atty., for the appellant in the second appeal (defendant State's Atty. for the judicial dist. of Danbury).

Page 598

Jerome A. Mayer, Bethel, with whom was James M. Mannion, Philadelphia, for the appellant in the third appeal (defendant guardian ad litem).

Steven A. Wise, New Canaan, with whom was Fenella Rouse, New York City, for the appellees (plaintiffs).

Ruth L. Pulda and Susan Price-Livingston, Hartford, filed a brief for the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union Foundation et al. as amici curiae.

Christopher J. Smith, Bridgeport, and James Michael Thunder, Chicago, Ill., filed a brief for the Committee to Protect the Rights of the Medically Dependent and Disabled et al. as amici curiae.

Emanuel Margolis, Stamford, Fenella Rouse, Elena N. Cohen, M. Rose Gasner, New York City, and Richard Wasserman, Hartford, filed a brief for the Soc. for the Right to Die, Inc., as amicus curiae.

Lawrence W. Berliner, Sr. Staff Atty., Hartford, filed a brief for the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Handicapped and Developmentally Disabled Persons as amicus curiae.

[209 Conn. 695] Giles R. Scofield III, New York City, Hilary Fisher Nelson, Harwinton, and Sheila Taub, filed a brief for the Concern for Dying as amicus curiae.

Before PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO, JJ.

PETERS, Chief Justice.

This case concerns the right of a family, on behalf of a patient who is presently in a terminal coma, to implement the patient's clearly expressed wish for the removal of a gastrostomy tube that is artificially providing nutrition and hydration for the patient. The plaintiffs, John E. McConnell, Kathleen A. McConnell, James M. McConnell and Amy L. McConnell, brought an action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from the life support services being provided to Carol M. McConnell by a private nursing home, the defendants Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., doing business as Danbury Pavilion Healthcare, and John Horstman, the Pavilion's administrator. Other named defendants are the attorney general, the state's attorney for the judicial district of Danbury, the attorney appointed as guardian ad litem for Carol McConnell, the commissioner of health services for the state of Connecticut, and the chief medical examiner for the state of Connecticut. The trial court, after a hearing, found the issues for the plaintiffs and rendered judgment accordingly. Separate appeals have been taken by the attorney general, on his own behalf and on behalf of the defendant state officials, by the state's attorney, and by the guardian ad litem. 1 We find no error.

Many of the underlying facts reported in the trial court's memorandum of decision are undisputed. Carol McConnell is the fifty-seven year old wife of the plaintiff John E. McConnell and the mother of the three other coplaintiffs. By profession, she is a registered nurse. Her last nursing positions were as head nurse and manager of the emergency room at Danbury Hospital.

[209 Conn. 696] On January 18, 1985, Mrs. McConnell sustained a severe head injury as the result of an automobile accident. She has never regained consciousness, despite excellent medical care, first at Danbury Hospital, then at the Greenery Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, and, since July of 1986, at the defendant Danbury Pavilion. She is in an irreversible persistent vegetative state; there is no prospect of improvement. In the opinion of her attending physician, Dr. Robert L. Ruxin, her condition is terminal, and the trial court so found. Her life is presently sustained by means of a gastrostomy tube through which she receives nutrition and hydration.

The trial court made a further finding, challenged on appeal, that prior to her accident, Mrs. McConnell had clearly and knowingly expressed her wishes about her treatment, were she ever to be in a permanent vegetative state. The court found that, because of her professional training and experience, Mrs. McConnell understood

Page 599

the status of patients with traumatic brain damage and was fully familiar with all forms of life-sustaining equipment, including respirators and gastrostomy tubes. She had, in fact, expressly and repeatedly told her family and her co-workers that, in the event of her permanent total incapacity, she did not want to be kept alive by any artificial means, including life-sustaining feeding tubes.

On the basis of these findings, the trial court concluded that the plaintiffs had proven a common law right to self-determination, supported by a constitutional right to privacy, under which they were entitled to the relief they sought. The court held that this common law right coexists with the provisions of General Statutes §§ 19a-570 through 19a-575, by which the legislature authorized the removal of life support systems under statutorily specified circumstances. Both of these legal rulings are challenged on appeal. If, however, the statute itself affords the plaintiffs the relief [209 Conn. 697] they seek in this case, we need not reach the issue of the statute's arguable exclusivity. 2 In addition, the defendants challenge the evidentiary support for the trial court's factual findings.

I

Before we reach the merits of the plaintiffs' claims for relief, we must consider whether the trial court had the requisite subject matter jurisdiction to entertain them. The defendant attorney general raised at trial the claim that John E. McConnell, as conservator for his wife, had an obligation first to seek permission from the Probate Court for the withdrawal of the gastrostomy tube from Mrs. McConnell. The trial court rejected this argument, which the attorney general renews on appeal. We agree with the trial court.

Independent equitable actions are properly brought in the Superior Court as a general court of equity jurisdiction. Palmer v. Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., 160 Conn. 415, 433, 279 A.2d 726 (1971). While probate courts are courts of equity as well as of law; Donovan's Appeal from Probate, 41 Conn. 551, 559 (1874); " '[a] Probate Court judge is not a chancellor. His only equity powers are those which are incidental to, and connected with, the settlement of a particular estate.' " Marcus' Appeal from Probate, 199 Conn. 524, 529, 509 A.2d 1 (1986), quoting Palmer v. Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., supra, 160 Conn. at 429, 279 A.2d 726. The legislature has endowed the Superior Court and not the Probate Court with general equitable powers; General Statutes § 52-1; 3 and specifically with the power to issue [209 Conn. 698] declaratory judgments. General Statutes § 52-29(a). 4 Furthermore, the "Probate Court may not adjudicate complex legal questions which are subject to the broad jurisdiction of a general court of equity.... Thus, the Probate Court lacks essential powers necessary to handle independent equitable actions...." Palmer v. Hartford National Bank & Trust Co., supra, 430, 279 A.2d 726; see also Ramsdell v. Union Trust Co., 202 Conn. 57, 73, 519 A.2d 1185 (1987); Carten v. Carten, 153 Conn. 603, 615, 219 A.2d 711 (1966).

The instant action is of a declaratory nature and poses complex constitutional and statutory questions. Thus, we conclude that the trial court did not err in finding that it had "the power to decide this case and rule on the relief requested in [the] absence of prior probate court consideration."

Page 600

II

We turn next to the terms of the Removal of Life Support Systems Act, General Statutes §§ 19a-570 to 19a-575, 5 in which the legislature, cognizant of a common law right of self-determination and of a constitutional [209 Conn. 699] right to privacy, sought to provide a statutory mechanism to implement these important rights. We must decide what role this act plays in the present litigation. The trial court held that the plaintiffs were entitled to relief without regard to the act, which the court construed to be nonexclusive. The defendants, by contrast, maintain that the act governs and precludes the relief sought by the plaintiffs. There is, however, a middle ground, a construction of the act that is consistent with the plaintiffs' affirmative claims for relief.

A

Although the United States constitution does not expressly provide a right to privacy, the United States [209 Conn. 700] Supreme Court has recognized a right to privacy in the penumbra of the Bill of Rights, specifically in the protections of the first, third, fourth and fifth amendments. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965). "[T]he Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution." Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 152, 93 S.Ct. 705, 726, 35 L.Ed.2d 147, reh. denied, 410 U.S. 959, 93 S.Ct. 1409, 35 L.Ed.2d 694 (1973). Justice Brandeis has referred to this right as "the right to be let alone--the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 478, 48 S.Ct. 564, 572, 72 L.Ed. 944 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). Although the court has recently...

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77 practice notes
  • 587 A.2d 1014 (Conn. 1991), 13921, Bartholomew v. Schweizer
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 12, 1991
    ...underlying intent. State v. Floyd, 217 Conn. 73, 79, 584 A.2d 1157 (1991); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 705-706, 553 A.2d 596 (1989). A The defendants' principal claim for the unconstitutionality of § 52-216b focuses on the alleged incompatibility of th......
  • 635 A.2d 783 (Conn. 1993), 14733, Perkins v. Freedom of Information Com'n
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 21, 1993
    ...v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965) (contraception); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 699-702, 710-11, 553 A.2d 596 (1989) (linking Connecticut case law with United States Supreme Court jurisprudence concerning the right to pr......
  • 692 A.2d 849 (Conn.App. 1997), 15846, State v. Guess
    • United States
    • Connecticut Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 22, 1997
    ...the act of the defendant as the cause of death within the terms of the statute. See McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 710, 553 A.2d 596 (1989). The finding of probable cause for murder after the hearing held pursuant to General Statutes § 54-46a 7 was warran......
  • Marsala v. Yale-New Haven Hosp., Inc., 103013 CTSUP, AANCV126010861S
    • United States
    • Connecticut Superior Court of Connecticut
    • October 30, 2013
    ...and health care providers are clearly a class whom the statute was intended to protect. In McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, 209 Conn. 692, 698-99, 703, 553 A.2d 596 (1989), the Supreme Court suggested that the legislature had additional purposes in the enactment of the statute,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
65 cases
  • 587 A.2d 1014 (Conn. 1991), 13921, Bartholomew v. Schweizer
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 12, 1991
    ...underlying intent. State v. Floyd, 217 Conn. 73, 79, 584 A.2d 1157 (1991); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 705-706, 553 A.2d 596 (1989). A The defendants' principal claim for the unconstitutionality of § 52-216b focuses on the alleged incompatibility of th......
  • 635 A.2d 783 (Conn. 1993), 14733, Perkins v. Freedom of Information Com'n
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • December 21, 1993
    ...v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965) (contraception); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 699-702, 710-11, 553 A.2d 596 (1989) (linking Connecticut case law with United States Supreme Court jurisprudence concerning the right to pr......
  • 692 A.2d 849 (Conn.App. 1997), 15846, State v. Guess
    • United States
    • Connecticut Appellate Court of Connecticut
    • April 22, 1997
    ...the act of the defendant as the cause of death within the terms of the statute. See McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 710, 553 A.2d 596 (1989). The finding of probable cause for murder after the hearing held pursuant to General Statutes § 54-46a 7 was warran......
  • Marsala v. Yale-New Haven Hosp., Inc., 103013 CTSUP, AANCV126010861S
    • United States
    • Connecticut Superior Court of Connecticut
    • October 30, 2013
    ...and health care providers are clearly a class whom the statute was intended to protect. In McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Connecticut, 209 Conn. 692, 698-99, 703, 553 A.2d 596 (1989), the Supreme Court suggested that the legislature had additional purposes in the enactment of the statute,......
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11 books & journal articles
  • 64 CBJ 1. 1989 Connecticut Supreme Court Review.
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Journal Nbr. 2009, January 2009
    • January 1, 2009
    ...argument to the jury. 24. Horton & Davis, supra, note 2, at 6. 25. 209 Conn. 169, 549 A.2d 1074 (1988) (en banc). 26. 209 Conn. 692, 553 A.2d 596 (1989) (en banc). 27. State v. Daniels, 209 Conn. 225, 550 A.2d 885 (1988) (Healey in majority with Peters, Hull and......
  • Guidelines for state court decision making in life-sustaining medical treatment cases.
    • United States
    • Issues in Law & Medicine Vol. 7 Nbr. 4, March - March 1992
    • March 22, 1992
    ...App. 3d 186, 195, 209 Cal. Rptr. 220, 225 (state constitutional right to privacy); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprise-Connecticut, Inc., 209 Conn. 692, 704, 553 A.2d 596, 602, (1989) (state statute); In re A.C., 573 A.2d 1235, 1243, (D.C. 1990) (common law); Corbett v. D'Alessandro, 487 So. 2d......
  • Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking as a Viable End-of-Life Option in Ohio
    • United States
    • Capital University Law Review Nbr. 47-4, December 2019
    • December 1, 2019
    ...529 A.2d 434, 444 n. 9 (N.J. 1987); In re Drabick, 245 Cal. Rptr. 840, 846 n.9 (Ct. App. 1988); McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Conn., 553 A.2d 596, 603 (Conn. 1989). 160See Pope & West, supra note 1, at 68. See also Pope & Anderson, supra note 1, at 363; Cruzan, 497 U.S. at 288 (O......
  • Brief of Amici Curiae not dead yet et al.: Jeb Bush v. Michael Schiavo.
    • United States
    • Issues in Law & Medicine Vol. 20 Nbr. 2, September 2004
    • September 22, 2004
    ...person's right to refuse life-sustaining treatment. Browning, 543 So. 2d at 273; see also McConnell v. Beverly Enterprises-Conn., 553 A.2d 596, 604-05 (Conn. 1989); In the Matter of Tavel, 661 A.2d 1061, 1070 (Del. 1995); In re Martin, 538 N.W. 2d 399,409-11 (Mich. 1995); Matter of Conroy, ......
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