The principal issue in this consolidated appeal is whether, despite its failure to comply with the time requirements for investigating and making a final disposition prescribed in General Statutes § 46a-64c (f),
The record discloses the following undisputed facts. On September 6, 2000, Patricia Wright-Khan filed two complaints with the commission,
On October 4, 2002, the defendants elected to proceed in a civil action in lieu of an administrative appeal, pursuant to § 46a-83 (d). See footnote 5 of this opinion. In response to the defendants' notice of election, the commission filed two civil complaints dated November 12, 2002, on behalf of Wright-Kahn, McCormack and commissioner Andrew M. Norton. See footnotes 2 and 4 of this opinion. On January 27, 2003, the defendants moved to dismiss the action, claiming that the trial court did not have subject matter jurisdiction because the commission had not conducted a timely investigation and had not issued a timely final administrative disposition as required under § 46a-64c (f). Additionally, the defendants claimed that the commission's failure to notify them of its intent to pursue the investigation until well after the statutory deadlines had lapsed deprived them of their rights to due process.
The commission claims that its failure to comply with § 46a-64c (f) did not divest it of jurisdiction over the complaint. Specifically, it contends that the trial court improperly dismissed the action because, even if the commission had not investigated and made a final disposition of the complaints within the time periods prescribed by § 46a-64c (f), these facts did not deprive the commission, and concomitantly the trial court, of subject matter jurisdiction. The defendants assert in response that the mandatory time requirements of § 46a-64c (f) are a prerequisite to jurisdiction because the legislature imposed the deadlines solely to ensure speedy resolution of discrimination claims, and this result can be achieved only through strict enforcement of the deadlines. Alternatively, the defendants contend that, even if we disagree with their jurisdictional claim, we nevertheless should affirm the judgment of the trial court because the commission's notification to the parties that it could not complete its investigation in the time prescribed by statute was so untimely that they were denied their rights to due process. We agree with the commission and reject the defendants' alternate ground for affirmance.
The principal issue involves the trial court's interpretation of the time requirements of § 46a-64c (f). We begin with our well established principles of statutory interpretation in analyzing the commission's claim. Our legislature recently has enacted General Statutes § 1-2z, which provides: "The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered." The present case involves not merely the meaning of the words outlining the time requirements, but, rather, requires an analysis of what jurisdictional significance, if any, the legislature intended to attach to those requirements. We do not write on a clean slate.
In Williams v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 257 Conn. 258, 266-69, 777 A.2d 645 (2001), this court, before deciding that the 180 day filing requirement for discrimination complaints under General Statutes § 46a-82 (e) is not subject matter jurisdictional, clarified the analysis for deciding whether a time limit is subject matter jurisdictional. "A conclusion that a time limit is subject matter jurisdictional has very serious and final consequences. It means that, except in
We concluded in Williams that a determination that a time limit is mandatory does not necessarily mean that it also is subject matter jurisdictional. Id., at 269-70, 777 A.2d 645. "Although we acknowledge that mandatory language may be an indication that the legislature intended a time requirement to be jurisdictional, such language alone does not overcome the strong presumption of jurisdiction, nor does such language alone prove strong legislative intent to create a jurisdictional bar. In the absence of such a showing, mandatory time limitations must be complied with absent an equitable reason for excusing compliance, including waiver or consent by the parties. Such time limitations do not, however, implicate the subject matter jurisdiction of the agency or the court." Id. Therefore, in deciding whether the filing requirement of § 46a-82 (e) implicates the commission's subject matter jurisdiction, we examined in Williams whether the legislature, in imposing the time limitation, intended to impose a subject matter jurisdictional requirement and concluded that, despite statutory language that appeared mandatory, the genealogy and legislative history of the statute, as well as our case law addressing the policy underlying the statute, reflected a legislative intent not to impose a jurisdictional bar to complaints filed after the prescribed period. Id., at 270-71, 777 A.2d 645.
We therefore turn to the question in the present case of whether the legislature, in imposing the time limitation in § 46a-64c (f), intended to impose a subject matter jurisdictional requirement. Section 46a-64c (f) provides in relevant part that "complaints alleging a violation of this section shall be investigated within one hundred days of filing and a final administrative disposition shall be made within one year of filing unless it is impracticable to do so. If the [commission] is unable to complete its investigation or make a final administrative determination within such time frames, it shall notify the complainant and the respondent in writing of the reasons for not doing so." Although the word "shall" certainly reflects the legislature's intent to have the commission fulfill its obligation to investigate and issue a final determination on a complaint within the time limitations set forth in the statute, that obligation must be read in conjunction with the language that follows the limitations period — "unless it is impracticable to do so" — expressly excusing the commission's noncompliance. That statutory proviso, in conjunction with the notice requirement that follows, indicates the legislature's recognition that there may be instances in which it is not practicable to conduct a full investigation and issue a final decision within the time limitations and, thus, its intention to provide a condition under which the commission's noncompliance is excused. Indeed, to construe the statute as reflecting an intent to divest the commission of jurisdiction over
Reference to General Statutes § 46a-82e, a statute setting forth remedies for the commission's failure to adhere to certain time limitations applicable to discrimination claims other than housing claims, reinforces that assessment. See Cagiva North America, Inc. v. Schenk, 239 Conn. 1, 12, 680 A.2d 964 (1996) ("[w]hen construing a statute, we may look for guidance to other statutes relating to the same general subject matter, as the legislature is presumed to have created a consistent body of law"). Section 46a-82e (a) provides: "Notwithstanding the failure of the [commission] to comply with the time requirements of [General Statutes §§] 46a-83 and 46a-84 with respect to a complaint before the commission, the jurisdiction of the commission over any such complaint shall be retained." The legislature enacted § 46a-82e in response to this court's decision in Angelsea Productions, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 236 Conn. 681, 700, 674 A.2d 1300 (1996), wherein we held that the commission's failure to comply with statutory timelines under § 46a-83 or § 46a-84 for investigating a complaint deprived the commission of jurisdiction to adjudicate complaints pending before it.
We further note that, not only would the imposition of a jurisdictional bar in § 46a-64c (f) create an inconsistency in the treatment of housing and nonhousing discrimination cases, it also would create an internally inconsistent reading of the time periods governing housing discrimination complaints themselves. Section 46a-64c (f) controls only the relevant time period for investigation, whereas § 46a-83 (d) controls the time period for the investigator's finding of reasonable cause, which triggers the right to a hearing. The latter statute applies to any discrimination complaint and, as we just have noted, is subject to the relaxed standard of § 46a-82e (a); thus that time period is nonjurisdictional. A construction of § 46a-64c that, because of a failure to investigate timely, would bar an administrative hearing over a claim of housing discrimination while allowing a potentially indefinite period for a determination of reasonable cause, creates an internal inconsistency that suggests an unintended result in view of the remedial purpose of our laws prohibiting discrimination.
Our construction of § 46a-64c (f) is consistent with the federal courts' interpretation of the analogous provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. The genesis of and purpose behind Connecticut's current fair housing statute are reflected in the title of the enacting legislation, "An Act Adopting the Comprehensive Connecticut Fair Housing Statute Conforming to the Federal Fair Housing Act"; 1990 Public Acts, No. 90-246 (P.A. 90-246); which was codified as § 46a-64c.
In construing a Connecticut statute that is similar to federal law, we often turn to decisions construing the federal law for guidance. Nussbaum v. Kimberly Timbers, Ltd., 271 Conn. 65 n. 6, 856 A.2d 364 (2004) ("[i]n construing a Connecticut statute that is similar to federal law, we are guided by federal case law"). We previously have applied this principle in the context of discrimination claims. See, e.g., Levy v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 236 Conn. 96, 103, 671 A.2d 349 (1996) ("we review federal precedent concerning employment discrimination for guidance in enforcing our own antidiscrimination statutes"). Indeed, when the overlap between state and federal law is deliberate, as in this case, federal decisions are particularly persuasive. Bridgeport Hospital v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 232 Conn. 91, 108, 653 A.2d 782 (1995).
A review of federal case law on the question of the jurisdictional nature of 42 U.S.C. § 3610(a)(1)(B)(iv) and (C) and (g)(1) overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the 100 day time limit is not
Several other federal courts similarly have determined that the time frames contained in 42 U.S.C. § 3610 do not serve as a jurisdictional bar. See United States v. Sea Winds of Marco, Inc., 893 F.Supp. 1051, 1055 (M.D.Fla.1995) (procedural violations under 42 U.S.C. § 3610 do not raise jurisdictional issues); United States v. Nally, 867 F.Supp. 1446, 1451-52 (N.D.Cal.1994) (concluding that impracticability exception contained in 42 U.S.C. § 3610 evidences Congress' anticipation that there would be times where 100 day deadline could not be met and thus deadline is not mandatory); United States v. Gorman Towers Apartments, 857 F.Supp. 1335, 1340 (W.D.Ark.1994) (holding that 100 day time limit does not operate as jurisdictional bar); United States v. Beethoven Associates Ltd. Partnership, 843 F.Supp. 1257, 1264 (N.D.Ill.1994) (100 day period is neither jurisdictional bar nor statute of limitations); United States v. Curlee, 792 F.Supp. 699, 700 (C.D.Cal.1992) (100 day period not mandatory and does not raise jurisdictional issue). Most telling is the District Court's observation in United States v. Beethoven Associates Ltd. Partnership, supra, at 1262, that "[i]f the 100-day limit is construed as a jurisdictional provision, the effect of that construction will be to bar those with potentially valid claims from recovery because of [the department's] delays. Such a result is patently inconsistent with the intent of the Fair Housing Act."
Therefore, the federal courts have concluded that the 100 day period cannot be jurisdictional because 42 U.S.C. § 3610(g) "contains the `impracticability' qualification and fails to specify the consequences of
Although we are not bound to follow the federal courts' construction of the federal counterpart to our statute, we find the courts' reasoning persuasive. Indeed, if we were to adopt the defendants' view, meritorious discrimination claims could be barred even when circumstances beyond the control of the commission or the complainant preclude adherence to the statutory deadlines. In our view, there is no evidence that the legislature intended for the time limitation to serve as a jurisdictional bar. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court improperly granted the defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
As an alternate ground for affirmance, the defendants claim that the commission, by notifying the defendants 568 days after the complaint had been filed of its inability to complete its investigation, violated their rights to due process.
In the present case, the delay apparently stemmed, in whole or in part, from a dispute as to whether the defendants were required to produce, in the absence of a subpoena, certain documents the commission requested pursuant to its investigation of Wright-Khan's complaint. The commission never indicated to the defendants that their failure to produce the document would delay its investigation. Indeed, the defendants contend that the commission indicated that it would decide the case on the evidence before it if the documents were not produced.
Other than the passage of time itself, however, the defendants failed to present to the trial court any factual basis to support its position that they in fact had been prejudiced by the delay. On the contrary, the defendants asserted in their memorandum of law in support of the motions to dismiss that no evidence was necessary, and they made no further attempt to show any prejudice to them as a result of the time delay.
We note, however, that our decision should not be construed by the commission to countenance such an extensive delay beyond the statutorily prescribed deadlines absent extraordinary circumstances, which clearly did not arise in the present case. Indeed, even if we were to assume that the defendants' failure to produce the documents delayed the investigation, we can glean no explanation in the record for the commission's failure to provide timely notice to both parties that this failure could result in such a delay nor for the commission's delay in proceeding once it should have become clear that the defendants did not intend to produce the documents in the absence of a subpoena. Delays of this magnitude are contrary to the interests of both complainants and respondents and contravenes the commission's mandate to ensure prompt resolution of
The judgment is reversed and the case is remanded with direction to deny the defendants' motions to dismiss and for further proceedings according to law.
In this opinion the other justices concurred.
Subsection (d) was amended in 2003, but the legislature made no substantive changes relevant to the issue on appeal. See Public Acts, Spec. Sess., June, 2003, No. 03-06, § 193. For purposes of convenience, references herein to § 46a-83 (d) are to the current revision.