Ramos v. Vernon

Decision Date21 November 2000
Docket Number(SC 16152)
Citation761 A.2d 705,254 Conn. 799
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesANGEL RAMOS ET AL. v. TOWN OF VERNON ET AL.

McDonald, C. J., and Borden, Norcott, Katz, Palmer, Sullivan and Vertefeuille, JS. Ann M. Parrent, with whom was Jon L. Schoenhorn, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Wesley W. Horton, with whom were Susan M. Cormier, Jerome D. Levine and Martin B. Burke, assistant town attorney, for the appellees (defendants).

Mary-Michelle U. Hirschoff filed a brief for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities as amicus curiae.

Opinion

KATZ, J.

This case, which comes to us upon our acceptance of six certified questions from the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut pursuant to Public Acts 1999, No. 99-107, § 4,1 asks us to consider the facial2 validity, under the Connecticut constitution, of the nighttime juvenile curfew ordinance (ordinance) of the named defendant, the town of Vernon (town). Vernon Code of Ordinances § 8-4 (Curfew Ordinance). Specifically, the certified questions require us to determine whether the town's ordinance: (1) violates minors' rights of free speech and assembly as secured by article first, §§ 4,3 54 and 14,5 of the Connecticut constitution; (2) violates minors' rights of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures as secured by article first, § 7,6 of the Connecticut constitution; (3) violates minors' rights of personal liberty as secured by article first, § 9,7 of the Connecticut constitution; (4) violates minors' rights of equal protection as secured by article first, §§ 18 and 20,9 of the Connecticut constitution; (5) violates parents' rights of due process as secured by article first, § 10,10 of the Connecticut constitution; or (6) is unconstitutionally vague in violation of article first, § 8,11 of the Connecticut constitution. We conclude that the plaintiffs have failed to sustain "the heavy burden of proving [the ordinance's] unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Floyd, 217 Conn. 73, 79, 584 A.2d 1157 (1991). Therefore, we conclude that the town's ordinance is not facially unconstitutional under any of these provisions of the constitution of Connecticut. Accordingly, we answer certified questions one through six in the negative.

The following facts and procedural history, as provided by the District Court in its certification request pursuant to Practice Book § 82-3,12 are relevant to our disposition of the certified questions. "The plaintiff, Richard Ramos, is a fourteen year old13 resident of [the town].... The other plaintiff, Janet Ramos, is a resident of [the town] and the mother of Richard Ramos....14 [The town] is a Connecticut municipality organized under the laws of the State of Connecticut that [has adopted] and enforces [the ordinance] as a matter of official policy.... [The defendant] Rudolf Rossmy is the chief of police for [the town] and is responsible for the enforcement of the ordinance."15

"On August 2, 1994, [the town] enacted [the ordinance, entitled] `An Ordinance Establishing a Curfew'.... The ordinance creates a general curfew for persons under eighteen that is in effect from 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. on weeknights and 12:01 a.m to 5:00 a.m. on weekends.... The [ordinance] states that it was enacted to: `1. protect minors from each other and from other persons on the streets during nocturnal hours; 2. promote parental responsibility for and supervision of minors; and 3. protect the general public from nocturnal mischief and crime committed by minors.' Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (a) ....

"The [ordinance] establishes the following offenses: `1. Curfew for Minors. It shall be unlawful for any minor to remain, idle, wander, stroll or play in any public place or establishment in the Town during curfew hours unless accompanied by a parent, guardian, custodian or other adult person having custody or control of such minor or unless the minor is on an emergency errand or specific business or activity directed or permitted by his parent, guardian, or other adult person having the care and custody of the minor or where the presence of such minor is connected with or required by some legitimate employment, trade, profession or occupation, or unless the minor is exercising his/her [f]irst [a]mendment rights.16

"`2. Parents' Responsibility. It shall be unlawful for the parent, guardian or other adult person having custody or control of any minor under the age of sixteen (16) to suffer or permit or by inefficient control to allow such person to be on the streets or sidewalks or on or in any public property or public place or establishment within the Town during the curfew hours. However, the provisions of this Section do not apply to a minor accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, custodian or other adult person having the care, custody or control of the minor, or if the minor is on an emergency errand or specific business or activity directed by the minor's parent, guardian, custodian or other adult having the care and custody of the minor or if the parent, guardian or other adult person herein has made a missing person notification to the Police Department.' Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (c)....17

"[In addition to the exceptions listed within the ordinance provision establishing the `Curfew for Minors'; Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (c) (1); the ordinance] provides the following exception for special functions: `Any minor attending a special function or event sponsored by any religious, school, club, or other organization that requires such minor to be out at a later hour than that called for in this section shall be exempt from the provisions of this ordinance provided such minor has the approval of his or her parent or guardian to attend said function or event. Such minors who attend said function or event shall be required to be in their homes or usual place of abode within one half hour after said function or event is ended.' Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (d)....

"The [ordinance] authorizes police officers to issue citations to minors sixteen or seventeen years old. See Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (e) (1). For minors under the age of sixteen, the ordinance requires police officers to issue a warning for the first infraction. See Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (e) (2) (A). If a minor under sixteen fails to heed a warning or has been warned on a previous occasion, a police officer can take the minor to the Police Department and notify the parent, guardian or other adult person having the care and custody of the minor. See Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (e) (2) (B).

"For minors sixteen and seventeen years of age who violate the curfew, the ordinance provides that they shall be fined no more than $50 for the first infraction, $75 for the second infraction, and $90 for all subsequent infractions. See Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (f) (2). For minors under sixteen, the ordinance provides that the parent, guardian or other adult person having the care and custody of a minor, who has received notice under § 8-4 (e) (2), shall be fined no more than $50 for the first infraction, $75 for the second infraction, and $90 for all subsequent infractions. See Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (f) (3) (A)." The ordinance also provides that "any minor under the age of sixteen (16) violating the provisions of this ordinance may be referred to juvenile authorities and dealt with in accordance with the Juvenile Court law and procedure." Curfew Ordinance § 8-4 (f) (3) (C).

The District Court's certification request also provided: "[Richard Ramos] alleges that, with his mother's permission, he has engaged and continues to engage in social activities with his friends that continue past the start of curfew.... He claims that he has literally had to run home from such activities for fear of being caught out during curfew hours.... [Janet Ramos] alleges that the curfew ordinance usurps her parental authority and violates her right to set her own limits on her son's activities as she sees fit."

The plaintiffs brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the defendants in the District Court challenging the validity of the town's ordinance. The plaintiffs alleged that the ordinance violates their constitutional rights as guaranteed by the first, fourth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution, and their rights as guaranteed by various provisions of article first of the constitution of Connecticut.

Subsequently, the District Court issued a ruling that upheld the ordinance against the challenges predicated upon the federal constitution. See generally Ramos ex rel. Ramos v. Vernon, 48 F. Sup. 2d 176 (D. Conn. 1999). The District Court reserved judgment on the plaintiffs' state constitutional claims pending resolution of this certification request. Id., 188. Pursuant to Public Act No. 99-107, § 4; see footnote 1 of this opinion; we accepted the District Court's certification request to answer six certified questions.18 We answer questions one through six in the negative.

I STANDING

Before considering the certified questions, we first address the issue of whether the plaintiffs have standing to raise claims challenging the facial validity of the ordinance. "If a party is found to lack standing, the court is without subject matter jurisdiction to determine the cause. Housing Authority v. Local 1161, 1 Conn. App. 154, 157, 468 A.2d 1251, cert. denied, 192 Conn. 802, 471 A.2d 244 (1984). Further, the court has a duty to dismiss, even on its own initiative, any [portion of the] appeal that it lacks jurisdiction to hear. Sasso v. Aleshin, 197 Conn. 87, 89, 495 A.2d 1066 (1985).... Tomlinson v. Board of Education, 226 Conn. 704, 717-18, 629 A.2d 333 (1993); see Daley v. Hartford, 215 Conn. 14, 27-28, 574 A.2d 194, cert. denied, 498 U.S. 982, 111 S. Ct. 573, 112 L. Ed. 2d 525 (1990) (the question of subject matter jurisdiction, because it addresses the basic competency of the court, can be raised by any of the...

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