Hogan v. Department of Children and Families

Connecticut Supreme Court

March 10, 2009

CONSTITUTIONALITY OF DCF’S ABUSE AND NEGLECT CENTRAL REGISTRY.

A former staff member at a state-licensed juvenile detention facility challenged the validity of his placement on the child abuse and neglect registry maintained by the Department of Children and Families pursuant to C.G.S. §17a-101k on the grounds that the factual record did not support the hearing officer’s conclusions; and that the registry statute itself was unconstitutionally vague, overbroad, violated the separation of powers doctrine and constituted a bill of attainder. The Supreme Court rejected all of plaintiff’s claims.

The court first outlined the statutory and agency policy criteria for placement on the central registry which requires placement “when there has been a determination that the person responsible for child abuse or neglect poses a risk to the health, safety or well-being of children.” In making such a determination, various criteria must be considered, including the plaintiff’s intent, the severity of the incident, the ”chronicity” of the plaintiff’s behavior-meaning whether the substantiated abuse was not an isolated incident-and whether excessive force had been used. Noting the narrow standard of review of agency decisions–which requires the court to determined only whether the agency acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion–the Supreme Court determined that there was indeed adequate evidence in the administrative record to support the finding that the plaintiff was properly placed on the central registry.

As to the constitutional claims, the Court held that the state claims were inadequately briefed due to the plaintiff’s failure to provide the analysis set forth in State v. Geisler, 222 Conn. 672, 684-85, 610 A.2d 1225 (1992)–a prerequisite to asserting an independent claim under the state constitution.

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s first federal constitutional claim, holding that the registry scheme does not violate the separation of powers doctrine because the parameters in the statute are “sufficiently clear to guide the [agency] in light of the aim of the legislation. The [agency] must consider the nature, extent and cause of the abuse or neglect-terms defined by statute-to determine whether the person responsible for the abuse poses a risk to the health, safety or well-being of children.”

Secondly, the Court held that the registry scheme is not unconstitutionally vague given that the statutory provisions, the DCF policy manual and ample case law regarding abuse and neglect standards “provide sufficient specificity to give fair notice and to preclude arbitrary enforcement.”

Finally, the Court determined that the registry scheme does not constitute a bill of attainder (a legislative act that applies 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). The Court held that the registry does not inflict “punishment” in the manner envisioned or described by the case law on bills of attainder, and that there was a valid legislative purpose for the registry scheme, namely to ensure that children are protected from the risk of physical and emotional harm.

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