MISSIONARY SOC. v. Board of Pardons

Decision Date24 January 2005
Docket NumberNo. 17344.,17344.
Citation866 A.2d 538,272 Conn. 647
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Decided January 24, 2005.1

James A. Wade, Hartford, with whom was Andrea F. Donovan, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Richard Blumenthal, attorney general, with whom were Steven R. Strom and Henri Alexandre, assistant attorneys general, for the appellee (defendant).

Conrad Ost Seifert, Old Lyme, and Richard Emanuel, New Haven, filed a brief for the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.



The plaintiff, Missionary Society of Connecticut, appeals from the judgment of the trial court dismissing its application for an order requiring the defendant, the state board of pardons and paroles (board), to hold a commutation hearing regarding the death sentences scheduled to be imposed on Michael B. Ross on January 26, 2005; see State v. Ross, 272 Conn. 577, 581, 863 A.2d 654 (2005); and its application for an order to show cause why the court should not order the board to hold a hearing and for a temporary injunction staying Ross' execution. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts and procedural history. Ross was sentenced to death on six counts of capital murder and this court affirmed the sentences of death. Id., at 579-80, 863 A.2d 654. On October 6, 2004, the Superior Court set an execution date of January 26, 2005. Id., at 581, 863 A.2d 654. On January 4, 2005, the plaintiff sent a letter to the board requesting that it conduct an immediate hearing regarding the commutation of Ross' death sentences. In the letter, the plaintiff claimed that the board violated due process by failing to adopt a policy setting forth the procedure for considering a request for commutation as required by statute. See General Statutes § 54-124a(d) (chairperson of board "shall have the authority and responsibility for ... (2) adopting policies in all areas of pardons and paroles including ... commutations from the penalty of death"). It also claimed that § 54-124a(f) violated Ross' equal protection rights by granting the board "independent decision-making authority to ... grant ... commutations from the penalty of death in accordance with section 18-26 [now § 54-130a]."2 It argued that, because Connecticut is one of only three states that vest the power to commute death sentences solely in an administrative agency, Ross was deprived of the opportunity to have his death sentences commuted by the governor that he would have had if sentenced elsewhere.

The chairperson of the board denied the plaintiff's request. In his letter of denial, he stated that "[t]he [board] will consider written applications for clemency from eligible prisoners or from their authorized legal representatives. However, correspondence from others does not constitute an application for clemency and will not move the [b]oard to action.... Although your letter purports to make arguments on behalf of ... Ross, in fact, the [plaintiff] does not represent ... Ross and has no standing to make such arguments on his behalf. While we ... appreciate the [plaintiff's] self-described `long-standing opposition to the death penalty,' that stance alone does not provide legal standing to advocate on behalf of ... Ross."

The plaintiff then filed in the trial court (1) an application pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183(a)3 for an order requiring a commutation hearing and (2) an application pursuant to General Statutes § 52-471 et seq. for an order to show cause why an order should not issue requiring the board to conduct an immediate commutation hearing and for a temporary injunction staying Ross' execution. The board thereafter filed a motion to dismiss the action on the ground that the plaintiff lacked standing. After a hearing, the trial court granted the motion. Citing Bongiorno Supermarket, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 266 Conn. 531, 539, 833 A.2d 883 (2003), the trial court concluded that the plaintiff was not aggrieved by the board's decision because it had no "specific personal and legal interest in the controversy, as distinguished from a general interest which is shared by the community as a whole." On January 20, 2005, the Chief Justice granted the plaintiff's application for an immediate and expedited appeal to this court pursuant to General Statutes § 52-265a. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that it is aggrieved by the board's decision because: (1) it has a long-standing history of challenging the legitimacy of the death penalty and, therefore, had a specific interest in ensuring that the death penalty not be imposed unlawfully; and (2) that interest has been injured by the board's decision. It further claims that the board's ad hoc ruling precluding third parties from requesting a commutation hearing is arbitrary and capricious in light of its failure to adopt any policies or regulations defining who may request such a hearing. The board argues that the trial court properly dismissed the applications for lack of standing. It also raises several alternate grounds for affirmance, including, inter alia, that the trial court had no jurisdiction over this administrative appeal because there was no final decision within the meaning of § 4-183(a). We agree with the board that the trial court lacked jurisdiction because the plaintiff had no statutory right to appeal from the board's refusal to hold a commutation hearing.

Whether the plaintiff has a statutory right to appeal from the board's action under § 4-183(a) is a question of statutory interpretation over which our review is plenary. See Carmel Hollow Associates Ltd. Partnership v. Bethlehem, 269 Conn. 120, 129, 848 A.2d 451 (2004). We begin our analysis with the language of the statute. Section 4-183(a) provides in relevant part that "[a] person who has exhausted all administrative remedies available within the agency and who is aggrieved by a final decision may appeal to the Superior Court as provided in this section...." General Statutes § 4-166(3)(A) defines "'[f]inal decision'" as "the agency determination in a contested case...." Subdivision (2) of § 4-166 defines "`[c]ontested case'" as "a proceeding ... in which the legal rights, duties or privileges of a party are required by state statute or regulation to be determined by an agency after an opportunity for hearing or in which a hearing is in fact held, but does not include ... hearings conducted by the ... Board of Pardons and Paroles...." Because there is no statutory or regulatory requirement that the board determine the eligibility of any particular prisoner for...

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6 cases
  • Middlebury v. Dept. of Env. Protection
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • July 17, 2007
    ...department is a question of statutory interpretation over which our review is plenary. See Missionary Society of Connecticut v. Board of Pardons & Paroles, 272 Conn. 647, 651, 866 A.2d 538 (2005). Relevant legislation and precedent guide the process of statutory interpretation. General Stat......
  • State v. Ross
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 9, 2005
    ...re Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus by Dan Ross, 272 Conn. 653, 866 A.2d 542 (2005). 5. Missionary Society of Connecticut v. Board of Pardons & Paroles, 272 Conn. 647, 866 A.2d 538 (2005). 6. Ross v. Connecticut, U.S. , 125 S. Ct. 943, 160 L. Ed. 2d 766 (2005) (denying public defenders......
  • Reid v. Town of West Hartford
    • United States
    • Connecticut Superior Court
    • October 26, 2017
    ... ... aggrievement. Missionary Society of Connecticut v. Board ... of Pardons & Paroles, 272 Conn ... ...
  • Missionary Soc. v. Bd. of Pardons & Paroles
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • May 16, 2006
    ...substantive private rights. Since the courts, including the Connecticut Supreme Court in ... Missionary Society of Connecticut v. Board of Pardons & Paroles, 272 Conn. 647 [866 A.2d 538 (2005)], have made it clear that consideration of commutation of the penalty of death involves no substan......
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