In Re Matthew F. *

Decision Date03 August 2010
Docket NumberNo. 18583.,18583.
Citation4 A.3d 248,297 Conn. 673
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesIn re MATTHEW F. *


John E. Tucker, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, and Susan T. Pearlman and Amor C. Rosario, assistant attorneys general, for the appellant (department of children and families).

Rosemarie T. Weber, for the appellee (respondent father).

Kimberly A. Pisinski, for the appellee (petitioner).

Anne Louise Blanchard and Jillian Griswold filed a brief for Connecticut Legal Services, Inc., et al., as amici curiae.



The department of children and families (department) appeals from the order of the trial court granting the motion for services filed by the petitioner, Matthew F., which required the department to, inter alia, provide and pay for appropriate private placement services for Matthew, who had been committed to the department's care prior to his eighteenth birthday, until he attains the age of twenty-one. 1 The department's principal claim on appeal is that the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters lacked jurisdiction over the motion because it was filed after Matthew had attained the age of eighteen and there is no statutory basis for the court's jurisdiction to compel the department to provide services to an individual beyond the age of eighteen. Although we disagree with the department's underlying premise, we conclude that, under the facts established by the trial court, there was no basis for that court's exercise of jurisdiction. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's decision and remand the case with direction to dismiss the motion for services.

The record reveals the following facts, as found by the trial court or otherwise undisputed, and procedural history. The respondent parents (parents) adopted Matthew and an unrelated girl, both of whom eventually manifested serious mental health issues that the parents had difficulty managing, necessitating intervention by the department starting when Matthew was fourteen years old. After substantiating allegations of physical abuse against Matthew, the department loosely monitored him and made some effort to support the family, but concentrated its efforts toward assisting Matthew's sister. 2 Matthew's parents kept the department informed about his behavioral problems and repeatedly requested help and advice from the department. Matthew's parents also sought to have him voluntarily admitted to the department's care, pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-11, 3 but the department never moved to seek commitment.

In March, 2007, Matthew set a fire that damaged his family's residence, and in June, 2007, he set a fire at the condominium complex where his family temporarily was residing while their house was being repaired. Matthew was arrested and charged in connection with both fires. After his arrest for the second fire, his parents did not post bond, and Matthew was placed at the Manson Youth Institution (Manson) under the care of the department of correction. 4

On February 28, 2008, approximately one month before his eighteenth birthday and while he still was at Manson, Matthew, through his attorney, filed a petition in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-129, 5 seeking to have himself adjudicated as an uncared-for youth. In connection with the petition, Matthew alleged that his home could not “provide the specialized care which the physical, mental or emotional condition of the child/youth requires,” and sought an order of commitment to the department's care. Although Matthew's parents appeared in support of the petition, the trial court, Olear, J., deferred adjudication of the matter until April 2, 2008, in order to obtain a social study from the department.

At the April 2 hearing, the department challenged the petition, contending, inter alia, that, because Matthew's commitment would expire in three days, as a matter of law, upon his eighteenth birthday, it was not possible to identify and place Matthew in an appropriate placement prior to the expiration of the commitment. The department further contended that Matthew's parents could seek voluntary services from the department of mental health and addiction services (department of mental health). At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court, Baldwin, J., adjudicated Matthew uncared for, committed him to the care of the department until further order of the court and ordered the department to facilitate his eventual transfer to the department of mental health.

On May 14, 2008, after he had turned eighteen, Matthew, through his attorney, filed in the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters: (1) a motion for continuation of court jurisdiction; and (2) a motion for emergency relief seeking an injunction barring the department from transferring Matthew to the department of mental health and an order compelling the department to comply with its obligations to provide him with an adequately supported placement. On May 19, 2008, the trial court granted the motion for emergency relief insofar as it enjoined the department from acting to change or alter the status quo until after the hearing that it had scheduled for May 28, 2008, and until further order of the court.

At the May 28 hearing, Matthew's attorney claimed that, pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-3, 6 Matthew had a statutory right to an appropriate placement. She contended that the department of mental health neither could provide such a placement, because Matthew needed a twenty-four hour placement with a training component to address his fire starting compulsions, nor would accept him without his first having obtained the benefits of that intervention. She further claimed that the department was obligated to provide services to Matthew pursuant to a memorandum of agreement between the department and the department of mental health, which provided, inter alia, that [the department] will serve youth in its care (committed or voluntary) until age [twenty-one], provided that the client was in [the department's] care on his/her [eighteenth] birthday, remains in school or in a work training program, and is willing to accept [the department] services voluntarily.” Finally, Matthew's attorney claimed that the department's failure to provide care violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the equal protection clauses of the state and federal constitutions. The department's position was that the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters had been divested of subject matter jurisdiction to grant equitable relief once Matthew had turned eighteen years of age.

In its September 5, 2008 memorandum of decision, the trial court rejected the department's jurisdictional argument, citing the fact that, prior to Matthew's eighteenth birthday, the court had entered its order directing the department to maintain the commitment until the provision of proper care was in place. With respect to the merits of the motions, the trial court issued the following order: “To clarify and implement the orders entered by this court on April 2, 2008, the court hereby orders [the department] to promptly secure an appropriate placement for [Matthew] designed to provide [twenty-four] hour supervisory care to [him] with the objective of complying with its obligation to meet the requirements of its memorandum of agreement regarding client transfers to [the department of mental health] for continuing appropriate care and services to be provided by that agency.”

On September 25, 2008, the department filed a motion to open and set aside the September 5 order in light of Matthew's anticipated placement, pursuant to pending proceedings in the criminal court, at Abraxas Youth Services (Abraxas), a secure treatment facility located in Pennsylvania that is dedicated to the treatment of fire starting behaviors. 7 The court granted the motion in part, vacating that part of its September 5 order that had required the department promptly to secure an appropriate placement for Matthew. The court left in place, however, that part of its order directing the department to meet the requirements of its memorandum of agreement with the department of mental health.

On October 14, 2008, in the criminal proceedings relating to the arson charges, which were pending in the criminal court, Matthew entered into a plea agreement under which he received a suspended sentence and was conditionally discharged as a youthful offender. As a condition of his release, the criminal court, Alexander, J., ordered Matthew to enter into treatment at Abraxas. Accordingly, Matthew was released from Manson directly into the custody of Abraxas.

On March 13, 2009, Matthew's attorney filed in the trial court the motion for services that is the subject of the present appeal, seeking an order compelling the department to provide Matthew with a twenty-four hour placement and to discontinue any efforts to transfer him to the custody of the department of mental health. In effect, that motion sought to have the department pay for Matthew's treatment at Abraxas and to obligate the department to provide an appropriate placement upon his release from that facility. The department objected to the motion, claiming that the court had lost jurisdiction on the date of Matthew's eighteenth birthday. It further claimed that the department provides only voluntary services pursuant to § 17a-11 to persons after they attain the age of eighteen and that it has no obligation to provide Matthew with such services because he has a felony conviction.

In its May 21, 2009 decision granting the motion for services, the trial court chronicled in detail Matthew's troubled history, his parents' efforts to obtain assistance from the department, the department's failure to provide Matthew with appropriate services and...

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