Pet v. Department of Health Services

Decision Date10 May 1988
Docket NumberNo. 13163,13163
Citation542 A.2d 672,207 Conn. 346
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Thomas J. Ring, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom were Paul J. Lahey, Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on the brief, Joseph I. Lieberman, Atty. Gen., and Robert E. Walsh, Richard J. Lynch and Arnold B. Feigin, Asst. Attys. Gen., for the appellants (defendants).

James A. Wade, with whom were Kathleen C. Stone and Caren A. Senter, for the appellee (plaintiff).


ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

The issue on this appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting interlocutory injunctive relief to the plaintiff physician in an administrative action brought by the defendant department of health services (department) before the defendant Connecticut medical examining board (board). 1 The department alleged that the plaintiff, Donald Pet, a psychiatrist, had violated General Statutes § 20-13c 2 by, inter alia, not providing proper psychiatric care and treatment to certain patients. We find error and remand the case to the trial court because the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.

It is necessary to set out briefly the procedural history of the action. In an amended statement of violations, the department charged that the plaintiff provided psychiatric care to employees, engaged in sexual conduct with patients, mishandled the "transference phenomenon" with several patients, and improperly conducted "sexological examinations" of the genital areas of several patients. After the plaintiff was served with a notice of hearing on or about April 15, 1986, he filed the following motions on May 6, 1986: a motion for disclosure and production; a motion for hearing by the entire medical examining board; a motion for issuance of subpoena duces tecum; a motion for a more specific statement- ; and a motion for continuance. The board granted a continuance until June 24, 1986, and required the department to include every statute and regulation that it claimed had been violated by the plaintiff. The rest of the motions were denied by the board as were the following motions: a motion to dismiss filed on June 12, 1986; a motion for a continuous hearing and retention of the same panel members to hear these proceedings to conclusion; and a motion for sequestration of witnesses filed on June 23, 1986. Although the motion for a continuous hearing was denied, the panel chairperson expressed his willingness to schedule consecutive hearing dates on weekends if it could be worked out among all parties.

The hearing commenced on June 24, 1986. A second hearing date was scheduled for August 19, 1986, but was postponed at the plaintiff's request. It was eventually held on November 4, 1986. Two additional hearing dates were scheduled for December 2 and December 16, 1986, but these were also continued at the request of the plaintiff. In the meantime, the plaintiff instituted an action in the Superior Court in which he applied for a temporary injunction and order to show cause on November 13, 1986. The defendants department and board filed a motion to dismiss on December 4, 1986, claiming that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The trial court, O'Neill, J., denied this motion on January 15, 1987. 3 The plaintiff also filed an amended complaint on December 11, 1986, adding a second count based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 4 The plaintiff's action seeking injunctive relief was heard on January 28, 1987. In its decision, the trial court, Spada, J., inter alia, rejected, the defendants' renewed claim of failure to exhaust administrative remedies, denied the plaintiff's request for a hearing by the full board, determining rather that General Statutes § 4-179 governs the manner of majority voting, and concluded that the plaintiff had proven both irreparable harm and an inadequate remedy at law. The trial court, Spada, J., issued the following orders on February 17, 1987: "(1) The plaintiff is accorded the right of pre-hearing discovery, concomitant to those rights provided under our civil rules of discovery. (2) The complaining witness' testimony is to be stricken if she continues to remain silent because of the exercise of her attorney-client privilege. (3) The plaintiff is entitled to have his case recommenced on or before May 1, 1987; scheduling shall be performed so that this hearing is concluded on or before June 30, 1987. Time exceptions may be allowed by the court for necessary discovery or by mutual agreement of the parties. (4) Whichever member of the panel participates in the decision shall be required to either hear the case or read the record in toto. The defendants are enjoined from proceeding further against the plaintiff on their hearing of the amended statement of charges dated June 9, 1986, by virtue of Sec. 20-8a(e), unless compliance is effectuated by the defendants of the orders promulgated herein."

The defendants appealed the decision to the Appellate Court and this court transferred the case to itself pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

On appeal, the defendants claim that the trial court erred in: (1) concluding that the plaintiff was not required to exhaust his administrative remedies and had no adequate remedy at law; (2) concluding that irreparable harm had been established; (3) ordering that the plaintiff be accorded prehearing discovery "concomitant" to what is provided in the civil rules of discovery; (4) ordering that each board member who participates in the decision be required either to hear the case or to read the record in toto; (5) ordering that the ongoing hearing before the board recommence on or before May 1, 1987, and conclude on or before June 30, 1987, absent further court order; and (6) ordering that the testimony of a witness in the hearing before the board be stricken if she continued to exercise her attorney-client privilege as she had done. We agree with the defendants that the plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.


" 'It is a settled principle of administrative law that, if an adequate administrative remedy exists, it must be exhausted before the Superior Court will obtain jurisdiction to act in the matter. Connecticut Life & Health Ins. Guaranty Assn. v. Jackson, 173 Conn. 352, 358-59, 377 A.2d 1099 (1977); State ex rel. Golembeske v. White, 168 Conn. 278, 282, 362 A.2d 1354 (1975); see 3 Davis, Administrative Law § 20.01; General Statutes §§ 4-175, 4-183.' Connecticut Mobile Home Assn., Inc. v. Jensen's, Inc., 178 Conn. 586, 588, 424 A.2d 285 (1979)." Cummings v. Tripp, 204 Conn. 67, 75, 527 A.2d 230 (1987). "Because the exhaustion doctrine implicates subject matter jurisdiction, we must decide as a threshold matter whether that doctrine requires dismissal of the plaintiff['s] claim." Concerned Citizens of Sterling v. Sterling, 204 Conn. 551, 556, 529 A.2d 666 (1987). " ' "[W]henever a court discovers that it has no jurisdiction, it is bound to dismiss the case, without regard to its previous rulings." ' Chzrislonk v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 101 Conn. 356, 358, 125 A. 874 (1924)." Cahill v. Board of Education, 198 Conn. 229, 238, 502 A.2d 410 (1985).

"The doctrine of exhaustion is grounded in a policy of fostering an orderly process of administrative adjudication and judicial review in which a reviewing court will have the benefit of the agency's findings and conclusions." Concerned Citizens of Sterling, v. Sterling, supra, 204 Conn. at 557, 529 A.2d 666; Connecticut Life & Health Ins. Guaranty Assn. v. Jackson, supra. "The doctrine of exhaustion 'furthers the salutary goals of relieving the courts of the burden of deciding questions entrusted to an agency ... in advance of possible judicial review.' Watergate II Apartments v. Buffalo Sewer Authority, 46 N.Y.2d 52, 57, 385 N.E.2d 560, 412 N.Y.S.2d 821 (1978)." Cahill v. Board of Education, supra, 198 Conn. at 242, 502 A.2d 410. Most important, a favorable outcome will render review by the court unnecessary as the United States Supreme Court has noted: "A complaining party may be successful in vindicating his rights in the administrative process. If he is required to pursue his administrative remedies, the courts may never have to intervene." McKart v. United States, 395 U.S. 185, 195, 89 S.Ct. 1657, 1663, 23 L.Ed.2d 194 (1969); see Kashani v. Nelson, 793 F.2d 818, 825-26 (7th Cir.1986); Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. v. CHRO, 202 Conn. 150, 156, 520 A.2d 186 (1987).

The defendants assert that "when a party has a statutory right of appeal from a decision of the administrative agency, he may not, instead of appealing, bring an independent action to test the very issues which the appeal was designed to test." Carpenter v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 176 Conn. 581, 598, 409 A.2d 1029 (1979); Laurel Park, Inc. v. Pac, 194 Conn. 677, 685, 485 A.2d 1272 (1984). The defendants claim that General Statutes § 4-183(a) 5 provides the proper avenue for reviewing an agency's actions. We agree. Not only does that statute provide a right of appeal from a final agency decision by an aggrieved party, but it also includes an immediate right to appeal from an adverse preliminary ruling if review of the final agency decision would not provide an adequate remedy. Moreover, the statutory framework includes a means of staying an agency decision pending appeal. General Statutes § 4-183(c). 6 Thus, a potentially aggrieved party is well protected by statute. Although the plaintiff complains of the adverse effects of the board's actions, he chose not to avail himself of the safeguards under § 4-183(a).

There are some exceptions to the exhaustion doctrine, "although we have recognized such exceptions only infrequently and only for narrowly defined purposes." LaCroix v. Board of Education, 199 Conn. 70, 79, 505 A.2d 1233 (1986). Among the exceptions is where recourse to the...

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