Hogan v. Dept. of Children and Families

Decision Date10 March 2009
Docket NumberNo. 18009.,18009.
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesGregory HOGAN v. DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES.

Raymond J. Rigat, Clinton, for the appellant-appellee (plaintiff).

John E. Tucker, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, Gregory T. D'Auria, associate attorney general, and Susan T. Pearlman, assistant attorney general, for the appellee-appellant (defendant).

ROGERS, C.J., and NORCOTT, KATZ, ZARELLA and SCHALLER, Js.

KATZ, J.

The plaintiff, Gregory Hogan, filed an administrative appeal in the trial court from the decision of the defendant, the department of children and families, challenging its findings that the plaintiff was responsible for the abuse of a child and that he posed a risk to the safety and well-being of children such that his name should be placed on the central child abuse and neglect registry (registry) maintained by the defendant pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-101k.1 The plaintiff also challenged the constitutionality of the registry scheme on the grounds that it is vague, violative of separation of powers and constitutes a bill of attainder. The trial court rejected the plaintiff's constitutional claims, but concluded that it could not determine whether the defendant's decision to place the plaintiff's name on the registry was proper because one factor cited in that decision was not supported by the record. Accordingly, the trial court remanded the case to the defendant for a determination of whether the plaintiff's name should appear on the registry in the absence of this factor. The plaintiff appeals, and the defendant cross appeals, from that decision.2 We conclude that: (1) the trial court improperly determined that one of the factors relied on by the defendant in deciding that the plaintiff's name should be placed on the registry was not supported by the record and therefore improperly remanded the case to the defendant; (2) the defendant's finding that the plaintiff posed a risk to children such that his name should be placed on the registry was supported by the record; and (3) the trial court properly rejected the plaintiff's constitutional challenges to the registry scheme. Accordingly, we reverse in part the decision of the trial court.

The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The plaintiff was employed as a shift supervisor at the New Haven juvenile detention center (detention center) during the period pertinent to the issues in this appeal. In early 1999, the defendant commenced an investigation into conduct of the detention center's staff and management after receiving an anonymous complaint alleging abuse and neglect of juvenile detainees. As a result of that investigation, the defendant concluded that several allegations of abuse or neglect against the plaintiff had been substantiated and thereafter terminated his employment. One of those allegations related to an incident in May, 1998, in which a detainee, Felix P.,3 had been physically assaulted by another detainee whom the plaintiff had placed in Felix' room. The plaintiff thereafter unsuccessfully challenged his termination, first through arbitration and later through an action in federal court.

At some point in early 2005, the plaintiff learned that his name had been placed on the registry maintained by the defendant. At that time, the defendant had no internal procedures in place to challenge such decisions. In June, 2005, the plaintiff sought to have his name removed from the registry by way of an action in federal court, claiming that the defendant had placed his name on the registry without affording him due process. While that case was pending, the legislature enacted Public Acts 2005, No. 05-207, § 1 (P.A. 05-207), which, inter alia, added the administrative procedures now set forth in subsections (b) through (i) of § 17a-101k. See footnote 1 of this opinion. Thereafter, the parties reached a settlement agreement under which the federal case would be dismissed with prejudice, and, in accordance with P.A. 05-207, the defendant would provide the plaintiff with an internal review of its allegations and, upon request, an administrative hearing if the review upheld the defendant's findings.

After the defendant conducted an internal review and notified the plaintiff that it had substantiated allegations of physical abuse by the plaintiff against Felix and two other detainees to support its decision to place the plaintiff's name on the registry,4 the plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. Thereafter, a hearing officer of the defendant conducted a hearing and issued a final decision. The hearing officer upheld the defendant's finding that the plaintiff was responsible for Felix' physical abuse, but reversed its finding with respect to the two other detainees.5 The hearing officer further found that the recommendation to place the plaintiff's name on the registry should be upheld.

In support of its finding that the plaintiff was responsible for the abuse of Felix, the hearing officer made the following factual findings. On May 29, 1998, Felix had acted out verbally and physically when the plaintiff asked him to go to his room. Two officers had to escort Felix to his room, where the plaintiff put handcuffs and leg irons on him and directed him to remain on his bed. After Felix refused to remain on his bed and stood up, the plaintiff placed him back on the bed and left the room. Some time later, detention officers heard Felix "banging" in his room and other detainees shouting, demanding to be let into Felix' room. The plaintiff went to Felix' room and told him that, instead of using restraints, he was going to place another detainee, Michael C., in the room to counsel him. Michael was much larger than Felix and known to be a bully. A detention officer heard the plaintiff tell Felix that he would not open the door again and that Michael would not be disciplined if he beat up Felix. Michael was left in the room with Felix while all but one officer left the floor for a staff meeting. Michael thereafter assaulted Felix to the extent that, two days later, his face still was swollen and bruised. The hearing officer did not find the plaintiff's claim credible that he had intended only for Michael to offer "peer counseling," noting the "virtual lynch mob atmosphere" that had preceded the decision to put Michael in the room and Felix' smaller stature that undoubtedly had put him at a "serious disadvantage...." Thus, the hearing officer found that the evidence supported the conclusion that the plaintiff had abused Felix by allowing a nonaccidental injury to be inflicted on one child by another.

To determine whether it was appropriate to place the plaintiff's name on the registry, the hearing officer noted the following principles. Registry placement was required "when there has been a determination that the person responsible for child abuse or neglect poses a risk to the health, safety or well-being of children." To determine whether there was such a risk in the present case, various criteria had to be considered, including the plaintiff's intent, the severity of the incident, the "chronicity" of the plaintiff's behavior—meaning whether the substantiated abuse was not an isolated incident—and whether excessive force had been used. Applying these factors, the hearing officer found: "[The plaintiff's] conduct demonstrates either a conscious decision to use one child to harm another, or else a serious disregard for [Felix'] well-being. The evidence supports a finding that this was not an isolated incident, but, rather, a pattern of behavior by the [plaintiff] to induce compliance on his unit. Other detainees feared for their own safety as a result of the [plaintiff's] conduct. All of these factors support the [defendant's] decision to place the [plaintiff's] name on the [registry] as a person responsible for the physical abuse of [Felix]."

Pursuant to General Statutes §§ 4-183(a) and 17a-101k(e), the plaintiff appealed from the decision to the trial court, seeking reversal of the hearing officer's findings with respect to: (1) the physical abuse of Felix; and (2) the placement of the plaintiff's name on the registry. The plaintiff also claimed that the registry scheme was unconstitutional on several grounds. The trial court rejected the plaintiff's challenges to the constitutionality of the registry scheme and to the hearing officer's finding that the plaintiff was responsible for the physical abuse of Felix. The court did not decide however, whether the hearing officer properly found that the plaintiff's name should be placed on the registry because the court concluded that one factor—chronicity—was not supported by the record; specifically, there was no evidence to support the hearing officer's finding that "this was not an isolated incident...." Because it did not know to what extent the chronicity factor had influenced the hearing officer's decision, the trial court remanded the case to the defendant "for further consideration of whether the plaintiff's name should appear on the registry list." The plaintiff's appeal and the defendant's cross appeal followed.

In his appeal, the plaintiff asserts the following constitutional challenges to the registry scheme, as set forth under P.A. 05-207: (1) it violates the doctrine of separation of powers by delegating the legislature's authority to the defendant without setting forth intelligible principles to guide the defendant's registry decisions and by delegating such authority to the defendant instead of the courts; (2) it is violative of due process because it is overbroad and vague; and (3) it constitutes a bill of attainder. In its cross appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court improperly remanded the case to the hearing officer because the record was sufficient to support the...

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