Pellegrino v. O'Neill

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtSHEA; In this opinion PARSKEY; ARTHUR H. HEALEY; PETERS, Associate Justice, with whom GRILLO
Citation480 A.2d 476,193 Conn. 670
PartiesMary D. PELLEGRINO et al. v. William A. O'NEILL et al.
Decision Date09 October 1984

Wesley W. Horton, Hartford, with whom was Robert M. Shields, Jr., Milford, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Elliot F. Gerson, Deputy Atty. Gen., with whom were Henry S. Cohn, Asst. Atty. Gen. and, on the brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen. for appellees (defendants).


SHEA, Associate Justice.

The principal issue ultimately involved in this case is whether the judiciary, in order to implement the constitutional right to justice without delay in the disposition of civil jury cases, may direct the legislature to appoint additional trial judges for that purpose. We conclude that to do so would violate the basic principle of separation of powers and that the issue of whether a violation of that constitutional right is occurring in this state is nonjusticiable.

The plaintiffs have appealed from the dismissal of their complaint in which they claim that inadequate financing of the state judicial system has produced a backlog of civil jury cases in the judicial districts of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford, which has resulted in a deprivation of their rights both to the administration of justice without delay, as guaranteed by article first, § 10 1 of our Connecticut constitution and to due process of law, as provided both in our state 2 and federal constitutions. 3 In rendering judgment the trial court concluded that the question of whether the state's financing of the judicial system violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights because of delay in the disposition of their cases was nonjusticiable. The defendants, in accordance with Practice Book § 3012, have presented for review as an alternate ground for affirming the judgment, their defense of sovereign immunity, which the trial court also considered but rejected.

Because this appeal is from the dismissal of a complaint we must rely wholly upon the facts alleged therein. 4 Each of the thirteen plaintiffs is also a plaintiff in another action pending on the civil jury docket of the Superior Court of the judicial districts of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport or Stamford, for periods ranging from approximately six years and eight months to one year and ten months prior to the filing of the complaint on August 26, 1983. The defendants are the governor of the state, the treasurer, the comptroller, the chief court administrator, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate.

The complaint alleges that during the period July 1, 1982 through April 30, 1983, the average time consumed between the filing of a civil jury case and its disposition by judgment after trial varied from five years, nine months and five days in New Haven to four years, nine months and nine days in Bridgeport. The plaintiffs claim further that these delays exceed those to be found anywhere else in this country; that the number of full-time Superior Court judges available for trials in this state is among the very lowest in relation to population of forty-two states with which a comparison has been made; that the per capita income of the 3,153,000 residents of this state was second highest in the nation, but that we rank third from last in expenditures for the judicial department as a percentage of personal income; that the sum appropriated for the operation of the judicial department in the 1982 fiscal year, $49,413,846, was inadequate for the purpose of providing citizens of this state with adequate means of redress for their civil claims without delay.

The prayer for relief seeks a declaratory judgment that the financing of the state judicial system in Connecticut is unconstitutional under our state and federal constitutions because of the delays in the trial of civil jury cases in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford. Ancillary injunctive or other equitable relief needed to enforce such a declaratory judgment is also requested.

The defendants' motion raised both sovereign immunity and nonjusticiability of the questions presented by the complaint as grounds for dismissal of the action. The trial court, having concluded that the defense of sovereign immunity was inapplicable relied wholly upon nonjusticiability in granting the motion. Since we agree that the motion was properly granted upon that ground, it is unnecessary for us to consider the question of sovereign immunity.

The trial court granted the motion to dismiss upon the ground that the case was nonjusticiable, i.e., not capable of resolution on the merits by judicial action. "Justiciability requires (1) that there be an actual controversy between or among the parties to the dispute ...; (2) that the interests of the parties be adverse ...; (3) that the matter in controversy be capable of being adjudicated by judicial power ...; and (4) that the determination of the controversy will result in practical relief to the complainant." State v. Nardini, 187 Conn. 109, 111-12, 445 A.2d 304 (1982). The defendants have made no claim that the case does not meet the first and second of these requirements for justiciability, actuality of the controversy or adversity of the interests of the parties. They maintain that the third and fourth of these criteria are not satisfied, and the trial court agreed, concluding that the issue of the adequacy of appropriations for the courts was a political question which could not be adjudicated by judicial authority without violating the principle of separation of powers.

The question as framed by the plaintiffs for adjudication by declaratory judgment in this case is whether "the financing of the state judicial system in Connecticut is unconstitutional ... because of the delays in reaching trial in civil jury cases in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Stamford." Before the justiciability of this issue is addressed, it is necessary to understand the statutory and constitutional structure underlying the availability of funds for the operation of the judicial department. That department, like other budgeted state agencies, is required to submit annually to designated officials of the executive and legislative branches detailed estimates of anticipated expenditures and revenues for the next fiscal year. General Statutes §§ 4-69(11), 4-77. These estimates are transmitted in the form of a tentative budget by the secretary of the office of policy and management to the governor. General Statutes § 4-79. After a series of hearings upon the tentative budget, the figures submitted by the agencies may be revised by the governor and incorporated into his proposed budget which is transmitted to the General Assembly. General Statutes §§ 4-80, 4-71. Legislative committees hold hearings on various aspects of the governor's budget proposal, which is published and distributed as a public document. General Statutes §§ 4-76, 4-75. Ultimately the General Assembly must enact appropriation and revenue bills to provide the funds deemed necessary for operation of the state government for the ensuing fiscal year. General Statutes § 4-74. A criminal penalty is provided for any agent of the state who wilfully authorizes or contracts for an expenditure in excess of the amount specifically appropriated by the General Assembly for a particular purpose. General Statutes § 4-100.

"In the establishment of three distinct departments of government the Constitution, by necessary implication, prescribes those limitations and imposes those duties which are essential to the independence of each and to the performance by each of the powers of which it is made the depositary." McGovern v. Mitchell, 78 Conn. 536, 547, 63 A. 433 (1906). The principle has been widely recognized that the judiciary, as an independent branch of government, has inherent power to direct other governmental agencies to provide such funds as may be necessary for the reasonably efficient operation of the courts. See, e.g., O'Coin's, Inc. v. Treasurer of the County of Worcester, 362 Mass. 507, 287 N.E.2d 608 (1972); Commonwealth ex rel. Carroll v. Tate, 442 Pa. 45, 274 A.2d 193, cert. denied, 402 U.S. 974, 91 S.Ct. 1665, 29 L.Ed.2d 138 (1971); Zylstra v. Piva, 85 Wash.2d 743, 539 P.2d 823 (1975); cf. Ex Parte Peterson, 253 U.S. 300, 312, 40 S.Ct. 543, 547, 64 L.Ed. 919 (1920); see generally note, "The Courts' Inherent Power To Compel Legislative Funding of Judicial Functions," 81 Mich.L.Rev. 1687 (1983); note, 59 A.L.R.3d 569 (1974). The duty imposed upon the courts to provide a constitutionally adequate system of justice capable of securing the rights and liberties of the people cannot be thwarted by a refusal of the legislature to appropriate funds necessary for that purpose. "In the absence of a special appropriation the existence of a law requiring an expenditure to be incurred is an appropriation of money for that purpose, and the law imposes on the comptroller the duty of settling and adjusting demands against the state for such expenses." State v. Staub, 61 Conn. 553, 563, 23 A. 924 (1892). A fortiori, the constitutional obligations to provide justice without undue delay and to afford due process of law must be taken to empower the courts charged with that responsibility to have access to the state treasury in an emergency for any funds reasonably necessary for that purpose.

Legislative recognition of the inherent power of the judicial branch to operate an effective system of justice in this state may be found in several statutes. General Statutes § 51-51v authorizes the judges of the Superior Court to appoint clerks as well as such administrative and clerical assistants as the business of the court requires. The state is required to provide such suitable quarters and furniture as are necessary for holding...

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