Connecticut Ass'n of Health Care Facilities, Inc. v. Worrell

Decision Date13 May 1986
Citation508 A.2d 743,199 Conn. 609
PartiesCONNECTICUT ASSOCIATION OF HEALTH CARE FACILITIES, INC., et al. v. Audrey M. WORRELL, M.D., Commissioner of Mental Health. CONNECTICUT HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION, INC., et al. v. Audrey M. WORRELL, M.D., Commissioner of Mental Health.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Louis B. Todisco, Milford, with whom were Martha E. Meng, Deep River, and, on brief, Stephen E. Ronai, Milford, and Martha Fosdick, Legal Intern, for appellant (plaintiff in the first case).

William J. Doyle, with whom were Jeanette C. Schreiber, and, on brief, John Q. Tilson, Melinda A. Agsten, and Brian J. Casey, New Haven, for appellant (plaintiff in the second case).

William J. McCullough, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Richard J. Lynch, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., for appellee (defendant in both cases).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

The sole issue on these appeals is whether two health care associations have standing to bring declaratory judgment actions on behalf of their members. Both cases are appeals from judgments of the Superior Court dismissing the associations as plaintiffs on the ground that they lacked standing either individually or vicariously as representatives of their member health care providers. The plaintiffs are The Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, Inc. and The Connecticut Hospital Association, Inc., both nonstock corporations in which membership is voluntary. The defendant in both actions is the commissioner of the department of mental health (hereinafter the department). We find error in the conclusion of the court that the associations lack standing.

The complaints allege that prior to 1981 the department had accepted all patients committed to state mental hospitals pursuant to state statutory procedures. In July, 1981, however, the department adopted a policy of limiting admissions to state operated mental hospitals in order to maintain appropriate staff-patient ratios. In order to implement this policy, the plaintiffs claim that the department periodically refused to admit mentally ill patients committed to state facilities under the statutory procedures. They further allege that the department's failure to follow the statutory requirements has precipitated a crisis in their member health care facilities and hospitals because of their inability to obtain admission to state operated hospitals for patients who have developed acute psychiatric conditions that require specialized care available only in a mental hospital.

Pursuant to General Statutes § 4-176, 1 the plaintiffs separately petitioned the department for a declaratory ruling acknowledging the department's obligations under our statutes to accept committed patients into state operated mental hospitals. The department refused to issue the requested declarations and, instead, issued a ruling stating that the department is only required to accept "any indigent mentally ill person, not a pauper, who is committed by the Probate Court to a state hospital for mental illness which is equipped to receive him, at the discretion of the probate court."

Pursuant to General Statutes § 4-175, 2 the plaintiffs separately commenced the present actions in the Superior Court, seeking declaratory judgments that Chapter 306 of our statutes requires the department to accept as a patient any person committed to a state hospital under an emergency certificate as provided by General Statutes § 17-183 or by order of the Probate Court as provided by § 17-178(c). The department filed motions to dismiss, alleging, inter alia, that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the actions. The Superior Court granted the department's motions to dismiss only in respect to the two associations as plaintiffs in the cases, holding that these plaintiffs did not have standing to assert the claims of their members. 3 From these judgments the plaintiff associations have appealed to this court.

"The 'fundamental aspect of standing ... [is that] it focuses on the party seeking to get his complaint before [the] court and not on the issues he wishes to have adjudicated.' Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 99, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 1952, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 [1968]." Hartford Kosher Caterers, Inc. v. Gazda, 165 Conn. 478, 485, 338 A.2d 497 (1973). "Standing is not a technical rule intended to keep aggrieved parties out of court.... Rather it is a practical concept designed to ensure that courts and parties are not vexed by suits brought to vindicate nonjusticiable interests and that judicial decisions which may affect the rights of others are forged in hot controversy, with each view fairly and vigorously represented. See, e.g., Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962); Stern v. Stern, 165 Conn. 190, 192, 332 A.2d 78 (1973)." Maloney v. Pac, 183 Conn. 313, 320-21, 439 A.2d 349 (1981). The requirements of justiciability and controversy are "ordinarily held to have been met when a complainant makes a colorable claim of direct injury he has suffered or is likely to suffer, in an individual or representative capacity." Id., 321, 439 A.2d 349. "As long as there is some direct injury for which the plaintiff seeks redress, the injury that is alleged need not be great." Id.; see Bassett v. Desmond, 140 Conn. 426, 432, 101 A.2d 294 (1953). Where the nexus between the injury and the claim sought to be adjudicated is obvious and direct, a plaintiff has standing to maintain the claim. Maloney v. Pac, supra, 183 Conn. 322, 439 A.2d 349.

"It is a basic principle of our law ... that the plaintiffs must have standing in order for a court to have jurisdiction to render a declaratory judgment." Connecticut Assn. of Boards of Education, Inc. v. Shedd, 197 Conn. 554, 558, 499 A.2d 797 (1985). Our statutes enable judges of the Superior Court to implement a declaratory judgment procedure. General Statutes § 52-29. The purpose of a declaratory judgment action is to secure an adjudication of rights where there is a substantial question in dispute or a substantial uncertainty of legal relations between the parties. Practice Book § 390(b); Lipson v. Bennett, 148 Conn. 385, 388, 171 A.2d 83 (1961). Although our state constitution contains no "case or controversy" requirement like that found in article three of the United States Constitution; Flast v. Cohen, supra, 392 U.S. at 95, 88 S.Ct. at 1949; our rules of practice provide that the court will not render a declaratory judgment on the complaint of a person "unless he has an interest, legal or equitable, by reason of danger of loss or of uncertainty as to his rights or other jural relations which requires settlement between the parties." Practice Book § 390(a). As we have long recognized, a person is not " 'entitled to set the machinery of the courts in operation except to obtain redress for an injury he has suffered or to prevent an injury he may suffer, either in an individual or representative capacity.' Bassett v. Desmond, [140 Conn. at supra, 430, 101 A.2d 294]." (Emphasis added.) Alarm Applications Co. v. Simsbury Volunteer Fire Co., 179 Conn. 541, 546, 427 A.2d 822 (1980); see Belford v. New Haven, 170 Conn. 46, 53, 364 A.2d 194 (1975).

In Conn. Soc. of Architects, Inc. v. Bank Bldg. & Equipment Corporation, 151 Conn. 68, 75-76, 193 A.2d 493 (1963), the plaintiff association was denied standing in part because it had no personal interest in the subject of the controversy and was, therefore, not a member of the class it purported to represent. The court concluded that a sufficient personal interest is " 'something more than is comprised in the most ardent wish or partial feeling. It implies a right in the subject of controversy, which a decree, more nearly or remotely, may affect.' Crocker v. Higgins, 7 Conn. 342, 346 [1829]." (Emphasis in original.) Id., 74, 193 A.2d 493. "[N]o matter how zealous the plaintiff may be in its desire to assist its members, it cannot represent them to enforce their rights, unless it has a right, in itself, in the subject of the controversy which a decree will affect." Id.

Relying on Conn. Soc. of Architects the defendant claims that the association plaintiffs here lack standing to bring the declaratory judgment actions because they do not have individual interests in the actions separate from the health care providers who comprise their membership. We disagree with the views expressed in Conn. Soc. of Architects concerning the standing of an association to bring a suit in behalf of its members. In so doing, we adopt the federal standards for association standing that provide for efficient, expeditious and vigorous resolution of controversies affecting similarly situated persons. 4

In Hunt v. Washington state apple advertising commission, 432 U.S. 333, 337, 97 S.Ct. 2434, 2438, 53 L.Ed.2d 383 (1977), a North Carolina statute requiring all closed containers of apples shipped into the state to bear the applicable United States grade was challenged by the Washington state apple advertising commission. The commission, an entity organized to protect and advance the interests of the Washington apple industry, petitioned for an exemption to allow the use of Washington state grades, which it claimed to be more stringent, on its apple containers. Id., 336-38, 97 S.Ct. at 2438-39. After its request for an exemption was refused the commission brought suit in federal court claiming that the statute violated the commerce clause of the United States constitution. Id., 339, 97 S.Ct. at 2439. The federal district court invalidated the North Carolina statute. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission v. Holshouser, 408 F.Supp 857 (E.D.N.C.1976). On appeal before the United States Supreme Court, North Carolina challenged the standing of the commission to bring the action. Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, supra at 432...

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