Earl B. v. Commissioner of Children and Families

2008 Conn. LEXIS 297


In this juvenile justice case, the Connecticut Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a juvenile adjudicated as delinquent and committed to the custody of the Department of Children and Families pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-140(j) is entitled to a hearing pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-15 to challenge his continued placement at Connecticut Juvenile Training School (“CJTS”). The Supreme Court, in reversing the judgment of the trial court, held that the department’s decision to continue placement at CJTS was reviewable in a treatment plan hearing under § 17a-15.

Immediately after his delinquency conviction in September 2005, Earl was committed to the custody of DCF, which prepared a treatment plan pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-15 calling for a one-year placement at CJTS. However, in April 2005 DCF developed a new treatment plan, requiring that Earl remain at CJTS for a minimum of two years, after which he would be eligible for placement in a residential treatment facility. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-15(c), Earl requested a hearing claiming to be aggrieved by his new treatment plan’s recommendation for an extended commitment to CJTS. The hearing officer dismissed his request, finding that in seeking to be moved from CJTS to a residential treatment program, Earl was making a request for parole, and such requests were governed by Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-140(j) and 17a-7. The hearing officer determined that requests for parole are discretionary decisions for the commissioner under § 17a-7 and could not be challenged in a treatment plan hearing. On appeal, the trial court adopted the adjudicator’s reasoning and dismissed Earl’s request for a hearing.

The Supreme Court first addressed the threshold jurisdictional issue of whether DCF’s decision during the appeal to place Earl in a residential treatment program in Pennsylvania rendered the case moot. The court held that, although moot, the claim qualified for review under the capable of repetition, yet evading review exception. Turning to the substantive issues of statutory interpretation at issue in the case, the Court first worked to discern the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-15, and the availability of treatment plan hearings to challenge placement in juvenile detention. Based on the inclusive language of § 17a-15(c), which entitled any child aggrieved by any provision of a treatment plan to a hearing, the Court held that the statute established broad rights to hearings within the department. Indeed, the Court could find nothing in the language of the statute to suggest that the legislature had intended to prohibit a treatment plan hearing in particular cases. Furthermore, the Court held that neither § 17a-7 nor § 46b-140, which were invoked by the adjudicator and the trial court but do not reference treatment plans or treatment plan hearings, rendered § 17a-15 susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.

The Court was also not persuaded by the commissioner’s argument that under Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 17a-7 and 46b-140(j), Earl’s challenge to his placement at CJTS was a request for parole. Again examining the statutory language, the Court found that both §§ 17a-7 and 46b-140(j) treat parole as a placement option distinct from placement at CJTS or in a residential treatment facility. Earl’s request for a hearing on his treatment plan was thus not a request for parole, as suggested by the adjudicator, since parole is an independent placement option distinct from a request for placement in a private treatment facility.

Finally, the Court dismissed the commissioner’s argument that the Appellate Court in In re Darien S., 82 Conn. App. 169, had already considered and rejected the claim that there exists a statutory right to challenge one’s placement at CJTS in a treatment plan hearing. In that case, a juvenile who was adjudicated delinquent claimed that DCF was required to make an evidentiary showing to sustain his delinquency commitment at a permanency plan hearing pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-141. The Court responded that the reasoning of In re Darien S. did not apply here, since the present case involved a request for a hearing to address DCF’s choice of placement under § 17a-15, and not a challenge to the essence of the juvenile commitment itself under § 46b-141.

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