GREGORY HOGAN v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT, DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, SC 18009

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Child Abuse and Neglect Registry; Whether General Statutes § 17a-101k, Which Established a Child Abuse and Neglect Registry, is Unconstitutionally Vague; Whether § 17a-101k Violates the Separation of Powers Doctrine and Constitutes a Bill of Attainder.  The plaintiff was employed as a shift supervisor at the New Haven juvenile detention center.  He was terminated from his employment because he allegedly encouraged one detainee to physically assault another detainee as a form of discipline.  This incident also led to the decision of the defendant department of children and families to place the plaintiff's name on the child abuse and neglect registry pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-101k.  After a hearing officer for the department upheld this decision, the plaintiff filed an administrative appeal, arguing, among other things, that § 17a-101k is unconstitutional in that it (1) provides a vague description of the conduct that will bring about the sanction of placement on the registry list; (2) violates the separation of powers doctrine because it amounts to an improper delegation of authority by the legislature to the department; and (3) constitutes a bill of attainder because it inflicts a legislative punishment without the benefit of a judicial trial.  He also maintained that the decision to place his name on the registry list was not supported by substantial evidence.  The trial court first rejected the plaintiff's vagueness claim, concluding that if the language contained in § 17a-101k were more precise, the statute would hinder the department's ability to provide an individualized assessment of the potential threat that a person poses to the safety of children.  The court also rejected the plaintiff's separation of powers claim on the ground that § 17a-101k clearly lays down a legislative policy on the subject legislated upon.  With regard to the bill of attainder claim, the court first noted that bills of attainder are legislative acts that apply either to named individuals or to easily ascertainable members of a group in such a way as to inflict punishment on them without a judicial trial.  It then held that § 17a-101k is not a bill of attainder because it does not single out any particular group or individual for unfavorable treatment.  It also found that although substantial evidence supported the hearing officer's conclusion that the plaintiff was responsible for the physical abuse of a detainee, there was insufficient evidence to support the determination that such abuse was not an isolated incident.  Accordingly, the court remanded the matter to the department for further consideration of whether the plaintiff's name should appear on the registry list.  Both sides have challenged the trial court's conclusions.