Christopher R. v. Comm’r. of Mental Retardation

Connecticut Supreme Court

277 Conn. 594 (2006)

April 4, 2006

 

The Connecticut Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of what criteria are necessary for determining eligibility for services with the state Department of Mental Retardation (“DMR”). In an interesting decision that advocates for the intellectually disabled will surely decry, the Court rendered a decision strictly construing the eligibility statute and disallowing the consideration of one intelligence test that meets the statutory standard of mental retardation (“MR”), where conflicting evidence and test scores exist.

The case arose out of a challenge brought by Christopher M., a fifteen year old minor, by his father, seeking judicial relief from an administrative hearing decision indicating that Christopher was ineligible for services pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1g. The administrative hearing officer found, inter alia, that only one intelligence tests out of several that Christopher had taken – the 2002 WISC – III test – resulted in an IQ score in the range of the statutory definition of mental retardation; that although the full scale performance score were in the MR range, it was more likely that the verbal score was a more accurate reflection of his intellectual level; and that Christopher had not been diagnosed as MR by any of the mental health or educational professionals who had evaluated him over the years.

On appeal to the Superior Court (pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-183), Christopher successfully argued that the hearing officer had he had submitted a single, properly administered IQ test with a full scale score of less than seventy, and that his intellectual deficiency existed concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior. The trial court found that DMR’s preference of the verbal IQ to the general IQ was inappropriate and that it exceeded the department’s legal authority.

In a thorough decision, Supreme Court sided with DMR’s contention that it did not abuse its discretion in determining eligibility. Specifically, the court pulled apart Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 1-1g and 17a-212 (the statute directing DMR to promulgate regulations setting forth eligibility criteria for services). In interpreting the statutes, the court found that DMR is enabled to consider more than one general intelligence test to determine whether an applicant is mentally retarded, and thus eligible for DMR services. In addition, DMR did not exceed its statutory authority by considering evidence other than IQ test scores when confronted with conflicting results. The court went to great lengths to stress that the legislature intended to clarify and narrow the definition of mental retardation to ensure that persons with borderline normal intelligence were not classified as MR, to prevent the inappropriate commitment of these borderline individuals to institutions and MR facilities and to ensure that limited resources were devoted to those most in need. The court then found that based on the record before it, DMR’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, as it appropriately employed its gate-keeping function to determine eligibility given its expertise and experience in the field.

This case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch website atwww.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROcr/CR277/277CR42.pdf (JES).

1. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-1g provides: ”(a) For the purposes of [various statutes] mental retardation means a significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period. (b) As used in subsection (a), ‘general intellectual functioning’ means the results obtained by assessment with one or more of the individually administered general intelligence tests developed for that purpose and standardized on a significantly adequate population and administered by a person or persons formally trained in test administration; ‘significantly subaverage’ means an intelligence quotient more than two standard deviations below the mean for the test; ‘adaptive behavior’ means the effectiveness or degree with which an individual meets the standards of personal independence and social responsibility expected for the individual’s age and cultural group; and ‘developmental period’ means the period of time between birth and the eighteenth birthday.”

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