Commission on Human Rights v. BD. OF EDUC., No. 17014

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation855 A.2d 212,270 Conn. 665
Decision Date31 August 2004
Docket Number No. 17014, No. 17015.
PartiesCOMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OF CHESHIRE et al.

855 A.2d 212
270 Conn. 665

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OF CHESHIRE et al

Nos. 17014, 17015.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued October 24, 2003.

Decided August 31, 2004.


855 A.2d 215
Charles Krich, for the appellant-appellee (plaintiff)

Stephen M. Sedor, with whom, on the brief, was Gary S. Starr, Hartford, for the appellees-appellants (named defendant et al.).

SULLIVAN, C.J., and BORDEN, NORCOTT, KATZ, PALMER, VERTEFEUILLE and ZARELLA, Js.1

Opinion

BORDEN, J.

The principal issue in these two appeals is whether the commission on human rights and opportunities has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-58 (a),2 to adjudicate a claim of racial discrimination brought by a student in a public school against the school principal and the local board of education on the basis of a discrete course of allegedly discriminatory conduct by the principal, or whether exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate such a claim is vested in the state board of education pursuant to General Statutes §§ 10-4b3 and 10-15c.4 We

855 A.2d 216
855 A.2d 217
conclude that the commission has such jurisdiction

The original complainant, Chillon Ballard, then a student at Cheshire High School, filed a complaint with the plaintiff, the commission on human rights and opportunities (commission), against the defendants, the board of education of the town of Cheshire (board) and Thomas Neagle, the principal of Cheshire High School. Ballard alleged racial discrimination by the defendants. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. The commission, acting through a presiding human rights referee (referee), granted the motion to dismiss. The commission, acting through its office of commission counsel, appealed to the Superior Court pursuant to General Statutes §§ 4-183(a)5 and 46a-94a (a).6 The court dismissed the appeal as to Ballard only, on the ground of mootness,7 sustained the commission's appeal on the jurisdictional issue, and remanded the case to the commission for further proceedings. These appeals followed.

The defendants and the commission appealed separately from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court, and we transferred the appeals to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199(c) and Practice Book § 65-1. The defendants' appeal challenges the trial court's determination that the commission has jurisdiction over the complaint before it. The commission's appeal challenges the trial court's determination that the appeal is moot as to Ballard. Although neither of these questions is free from difficulty, we conclude that: (1) the appeal is not moot as to Ballard; and (2) the commission has jurisdiction over Ballard's complaint.

For purposes of these appeals, the following facts and procedural history are undisputed. In December, 1997, Ballard, an African-American senior student at the high school, filed a sworn complaint with the commission alleging racial discrimination. Specifically, Ballard alleged that on October 9, 1997, he and a friend

855 A.2d 218
were called "nigger" by a white student, and a fight among the three students ensued. As a result of the altercation, Ballard and his friend were suspended from school for three days, but the white student was not suspended, in violation of the provision in the school handbook requiring the suspension of all students involved in fights. The complaint alleged further that, upon returning to school on October 16, 1997, the racial harassment against Ballard continued on a daily basis, with the white student calling Ballard names and threatening him, and that, when Ballard complained to Neagle, he told Ballard that he would document the information. According to the complaint, the harassment continued on a daily basis, and was reported to Neagle. On October 21, 1997, Ballard and his mother met with Neagle, who told them that it was one student's word against another's, and that nothing would be done about the harassment. At that point, Ballard "had to withdraw from" the high school. Ballard then withdrew from Cheshire High School, and later graduated from Hamden High School. In his complaint, Ballard also specifically requested that the commission "investigate my complaint, secure for me my rights as guaranteed to me ... and secure for me any remedy to which I may be entitled." In the prayer for relief portion of the complaint form, Ballard specifically requested "money damages."

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, and in May, 2000, the referee granted the motion, on the ground that exclusive jurisdiction over complaints based on racial discrimination in the public schools is vested in the state board of education (state board). The commission appealed from the dismissal to the trial court, but Ballard, who had been served as a party to the appeal, neither filed his own appeal nor joined the commission's appeal. The trial court concluded that: (1) the appeal was moot as to Ballard; and (2) contrary to the referee's conclusion, the commission has jurisdiction over the complaint. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal as to Ballard, sustained the commission's appeal, and remanded the case to the commission for further proceedings on the complaint.

I

Before reaching the substantive question of whether the commission has jurisdiction over the complaint in the present matter, we necessarily address two preliminary, subject matter jurisdictional questions, namely: (1) whether the trial court's remand to the commission was a final judgment for purposes of our appellate subject matter jurisdiction;8 and (2) whether the appeal is moot as to Ballard. We conclude that: (1) the remand was a final judgment for purposes of appeal; and (2) the appeal is not moot as to Ballard.

A

We first address the question of the finality of the trial court's remand. This question requires us to reexamine two of our recent cases, namely, Lisee v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 258 Conn. 529, 782 A.2d 670 (2001), and Morel v. Commissioner of Public Health, 262 Conn. 222, 811 A.2d 1256 (2002). Both cases involved remands by the trial court in administrative appeals pursuant to the Uniform Administrative Procedure

855 A.2d 219
Act (UAPA), General Statutes § 4-166 et seq

In Lisee v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, supra, 258 Conn. at 533, 782 A.2d 670, the trial court had issued a remand pursuant to § 4-183(h).9 We were called upon to determine the meaning of the final sentence of § 4-183(j),10 which provides: "For purposes of this section, a remand is a final judgment." (Emphasis added.) See Lisee v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, supra, at 534-35, 782 A.2d 670. That sentence had been added to the UAPA by virtue of No. 88-317, §§ 23 and 107, of the 1988 Public Acts. Lisee v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, supra, at 534-35, 782 A.2d 670. We held that, despite the use of the word "section," which would have rendered all remands pursuant to § 4-183 final judgments irrespective of the particular subsection of § 4-183 on which the trial court relied in issuing its remand order, the legislature intended that sentence to apply only to remands issued pursuant to subsection (j) of § 4-183. Id., at 539, 782 A.2d 670.

We also stated in Lisee, in dictum, that, when the legislature inserted the last sentence in § 4-183(j), it intended to codify our prior decision in Schieffelin & Co. v. Dept. of Liquor Control, 202 Conn. 405, 521 A.2d 566 (1987), "as it applies to remands after rulings on the merits of an administrative appeal." Lisee v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, supra, 258 Conn. at 541-42, 782 A.2d 670. In Schieffelin & Co., we distinguished, for purposes of appellate finality, between two different types of such remands: (1) those in which the trial court had determined that the administrative ruling was in error and ordered further administrative proceedings on that very issue; and (2) those in which the trial court had concluded that the administrative ruling was in some way incomplete and therefore not ripe for final adjudication, for example, where the court required further administrative evidentiary findings "as a precondition to final judicial resolution of all the issues between the parties." Schieffelin & Co. v. Dept. of Liquor Control, supra, at 410, 521 A.2d 566. In this regard, remands falling under the former category would constitute final judgments for purposes of appeal, but those falling under the latter category would not. Id. Thus, after Lisee, a trial court's remand, even if issued pursuant to

855 A.2d 220
subsection (j) of § 4-183; see footnote 10 of this opinion; would constitute a final judgment for purposes of appeal only if it satisfied the test in Schieffelin & Co.

In Morel v. Commissioner of Public Health, supra, 262 Conn. at 230-31, 811 A.2d 1256, we reaffirmed this reading of Lisee, as requiring the application of the Schieffelin & Co. test to remands issued pursuant to § 4-183(j). Furthermore, we expanded on that test by stating that it must be applied on a case-by-case basis, and that "an essential part of the test is the effect that the remand has on the rights of the party who seeks to appeal from it." Id., at 232, 811 A.2d 1256. Thus, under that test, in order to determine the finality of such a remand, a reviewing court would have to examine the nature of the remand, including the nature of the administrative proceedings, if any, that would be expected to follow it. Id., at 232-33, 811 A.2d 1256.

If we were to apply Lisee and Morel to the trial court's remand in the present case, it is doubtful that it would constitute a final judgment for purposes of appeal. We conclude, however, that, to the extent that Lisee and Morel rest on the notion that, by enacting the last sentence of § 4-183(j), namely, "[f]or purposes of this section, a remand is a final judgment," the legislature intended to codify...

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