In re Matthew F.

Connecticut Supreme Court

August 3, 2010

JURISDICTION OF JUVENILE COURT/AUTHORITY TO ISSUE POST-MAJORITY ORDERS

The Supreme Court of Connecticut addressed two discrete topics in this case: (1) whether the Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over youths who have turned eighteen, and (2) whether § 17a-11 or § 46b-129 provide statutory jurisdiction for youths eighteen and older to bring cases in front of the Juvenile Court. The Court found that (1) turning eighteen was not a per se jurisdictional bar to the Juvenile Court, since it is a subdivision of the Superior Court and is therefore a court of general jurisdiction, and (2) Section 46b-129(j) provides a statutory basis for youths eighteen and older to bring claims in front of the Juvenile Court, so long as the factual jurisdictional predicates in the statute have been met.

After Matthew was adopted, he began exhibiting signs of serious mental health issues. His parents appealed to DCF for advice, help, and commitment; however, DCF declined to commit Matthew. When he was seventeen Matthew set fire to his parents’ dwelling twice, after which he was arrested and placed in a youth institution.

A month before Matthew turned eighteen, he petitioned the Juvenile Court to adjudicate him uncared for and commit him into DCF care. The Juvenile Court did so, and ordered DCF to work with DMHAS to transfer Matthew into the adult agency’s care. Matthew filled a petition to keep DCF from transferring him to DMHAS care as DMHAS could not provide him with the placement that he needed. He claimed that DCF was obligated to provide him services pursuant to an agreement DCF has with DMHAS that DCF will continue to provide care for youth committed to its care prior to their eighteenth birthday if they are in school or a training program.

The Juvenile Court ordered that DCF monitor and support Matthew while he was in treatment, and after completing the treatment, DCF had to continue to provide necessary services to Matthew. Matthew was to remain committed to DCF care until he turned twenty-one or voluntarily decided to leave and the DCF was to pay for all services Matthew received while he was in DCF care, citing §§ 17a-11 (g) as support.

DCF appealed this order arguing that the Juvenile Court loses jurisdiction when a youth turns eighteen and neither § 17a-11 nor § 46b-129 provide the court with statutory jurisdiction to issue post-majority orders binding DCF to provide services.

Regarding the threshold jurisdictional question, the Supreme Court chose to follow the decision by the Appellate Court in In re Shonna K., which held that the Juvenile Court is a division of the Superior Court, and, therefore, is a court of general jurisdiction. Therefore, the Juvenile Court does not automatically lose jurisdiction over a party simply because of the party’s age.

The Court then turned to the question of whether or not there was a statutory basis under § 17a-11 or § 46b-129 for the juvenile court to actually exercise jurisdiction. The Court held that § 17a-11 does not provide the juvenile court with a basis to exercise jurisdiction over an eighteen year old’s claim for support or services, because § 17a-11 addresses voluntary services and provides that such services are offered at DCF’s discretion. However, the Court held that § 46b-129(j), which provides that DCF shall remain the guardian for committed youth up until age 21 provided the youth is engaged in a vocational or educational program, gives the juvenile court continuing jurisdiction to order DCF to serve a qualified youth. The Court rejected DCF’s argument that the language of § 46b-129(j) was merely a grant of authority to DCF to provide services and did not confer jurisdiction on the juvenile court to compel the Department to provide such services. The Court also rejected DCF’s argument that a youth who turned 18 who have to exhaust his or her administrative remedies prior to seeking an order for relief from the juvenile court.

In Matthew’s particular case, the Court found, however, that the record had not been established at the trial level that Matthew was engaged at age 18 in a post-secondary education or vocational program, and therefore the factual predicate required for the juvenile court’s jurisdiction had not been met.

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