The named plaintiff, a minor, brought this five count action by his mother and next friend against the defendants (1) Rhoda J. Hopkins, (2) the Fairfield County Hounds, (3) the Southbury Training School, and (4) Gareth D. Thorne, commissioner of mental retardation, for personal injuries suffered while he was a ward of the commissioner of mental retardation and a resident at the Southbury Training School.
The amended complaint alleges in the first count that the minor plaintiff was mentally retarded and was committed on or about July 28, 1978, to the care of the superintendent of the Southbury Training School, a facility owned, operated and controlled by the state of Connecticut through its commissioner of mental retardation, the defendant Gareth D. Thorne, and that the school and its personnel were the agents, employees and/or servants of the commissioner and of the state of Connecticut. It is further alleged that on or about August 21, 1978, the minor received substantial permanent physical injuries when run over, while apparently asleep in overgrown grass, by a tractor pulling
The attorney general appeared for the state defendants (the Southbury Training School, Gareth D. Thorne, the commissioner of mental retardation, and the state of Connecticut) and filed an answer with special defenses in their behalf. The defendant Gareth D. Thorne alleged two special defenses. In his first defense, Thorne claimed that he was being sued in his official capacity as the commissioner of mental retardation, an agent of the state, and, therefore, that this was in effect a suit against the state which is immune from such liability. His second defense alleged that the court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter of this action. In its first defense to counts three, four and five, the state of Connecticut alleged immunity from the plaintiffs' suit, and in the second defense to these counts it alleged that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Southbury Training School alleged
The plaintiffs filed a motion to strike these special defenses, claiming that General Statutes (Rev. to 1981) § 19-5a, now § 19a-24, authorized suit against these defendants.
The defense of sovereign immunity may be raised in a motion to dismiss an action against the state. See American Laundry Machinery, Inc. v. State, 190 Conn. 212, 459 A.2d 1031 (1983). Since the motion to dismiss filed by the state defendants "does not seek to introduce facts outside of the record it is equivalent to our former motion to erase and admits all well pleaded facts, the complaint being construed most favorably to the plaintiff. Brewster v. Brewster, 152 Conn. 228, 233, 206 A.2d 106 (1964)." Id., 217. We review the trial court's decision to grant the state defendants' motion to dismiss, then, under the assumption that Duguay's injuries were due to the negligence and carelessness of the state defendants. It is well established law that the state is immune from suit unless it consents to be sued by appropriate legislation waiving sovereign immunity in certain prescribed cases.
This case is one of first impression. The dispositive issue before the court is whether the legislature intended
To determine the legislative intent expressed in a statute, we look to its wording and to its history and basic policy as disclosed by preexisting legislation and the circumstances which brought about its enactment. Connecticut Light & Power Co. v. Sullivan, 150 Conn. 578, 581, 192 A.2d 545 (1963). If the words of a statute are clear, the duty of a reviewing court is to apply the legislature's directive since where the wording is plain, courts will not speculate as to any supposed intention because the question before a court then is not what the legislature actually intended, but what intention it expressed by the words that it used. P.X. Restaurant, Inc. v. Windsor, 189 Conn. 153, 159, 454 A.2d 1258 (1983); Verrastro v. Sivertsen, 188 Conn. 213, 220, 448 A.2d 1344 (1982); Robinson v. Unemployment Security Board of Review, 181 Conn. 1, 6, 434 A.2d 293 (1980). The statute must be applied as its words direct. International Business Machines Corporation v. Brown, 167 Conn. 123, 134, 355 A.2d 236 (1974).
Section 19a-24 (a) provides that "[a]ny civil action for damages on account of any official act or omission
This construction of § 19a-24 is consistent with the legislative intent expressed in chapter 53 of the General Statutes, entitled "CLAIMS AGAINST THE STATE." Section 4-142 thereof establishes the office of a "claims commissioner who shall hear and determine all claims against the state except ... (2) claims upon which suit otherwise is authorized by law...."Suits under § 19a-24 are such suits "otherwise authorized by law."
Section 19a-24 had its origin in Public Acts 1955, No. 212, effective October 1, 1955. Chapter 53 was first enacted with the establishment of the prior claims commission in Public Acts 1959, No. 685, effective July 1, 1959. In 1975, with the establishment of the department of mental retardation, § 19a-24 was extended to protect the commissioner of mental retardation from damages and legal expense resulting from any civil action on account of any official act or omission by him or his staff. Public Acts 1975, No. 75-638, §§ 2,11. No reference was made in this legislation to chapter 53 and its provisions for prior authorization by the claims commissioner for suits against the state. "It is a basic rule of statutory construction that a statute is to be construed as a whole; United Aircraft Corporation v. Fusari, 163 Conn. 401, 411, 311 A.2d 65 ; and that it is presumed that the legislature acted in view of existing relevant statutes. Taminski v. Administrator, 168 Conn. 324, 328, 362 A.2d 868 ." Rustici v. Stonington, 174 Conn. 10, 13, 381 A.2d 532 (1977).
The state defendants maintain that the legislative history of § 19a-24 clearly provides by the language of
The state defendants are wrong in their conclusion that § 19a-24 is procedural in nature. The legislative history of Public Acts 1955, No. 212, § 5, which they failed to review discloses that the legislature reversed its position in this regard, thus confirming our view that § 19a-24 is now substantive in nature allowing direct actions against the parties covered without prior authorization from the claims commissioner. Public Acts 1955, No. 212, was codified in the 1955 Cumulative Supplement to the General Statutes (Rev. of 1949) §§ 1536d through 1539d. Section 5 became § 1539d. Public Acts 1957, No. 652, § 10, amended the effective date of § 1539d. Section 1539d, as amended in 1957, was codified in the General Statutes (Rev. of 1958) § 17-218. Finally, Public Acts 1961, No. 517, entitled,
"AN ACT MAKING CERTAIN CORRECTIONS IN THE GENERAL STATUTES," § 121, repealed § 17-218 outright, thereby removing the former provision of the law relied upon by these defendants. A clearer expression of intent by the legislature that § 19a-24 be
We conclude, therefore, that § 19a-24 was intended by the legislature to apply to all civil actions against the commissioner of health and the commissioner of mental retardation or any member of their staffs. By its enactment the legislature has waived the sovereign immunity of the state in those cases to which the statute applies.
When the state waives sovereign immunity by statute, however, a party who wishes to sue under the legislative waiver must come clearly within its provisions because "[s]tatutes in derogation of sovereignty should be strictly construed in favor of the state, so that its sovereignty may be upheld and not narrowed or destroyed." Berger, Lehman Associates, Inc. v. State, 178 Conn. 352, 356, 422 A.2d 268 (1979), quoting Spring v. Constantino, 168 Conn. 563, 570, 362 A.2d 871 (1975). The commissioner of mental retardation is the only state defendant named in § 19a-24 against whom suit could be brought in his official capacity for actions performed within the purview of this case. The court's decision to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint was, therefore, error only as to the defendant commissioner of mental retardation, but not as to the defendants the state of Connecticut and the Southbury Training School.
Counsel for the plaintiffs conceded in his brief and at oral argument that the trial court's decision to dismiss the action against the state of Connecticut as an individual defendant was correct in view of the express designation of state officers liable under the provisions of § 19a-24. He did not, however, extend this concession to the defendant the Southbury Training
In view of this decision, the plaintiffs' alternative argument that § 19a-24 establishes that the defendant the state of Connecticut will assume liability for the defendants the Southbury Training School and the commissioner of mental retardation is without merit.
There is error in part, the judgment is set aside as to the defendant Gareth D. Thorne, the commissioner of mental retardation, and the case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.
In this opinion the other judges concurred.
A claim against the state of Connecticut on behalf of the minor plaintiff was filed by his counsel with the commissioner of claims, but not acted upon in view of the advice of the attorney general's office that "[p]ursuant to § 4-142 (2) Conn. Gen. Stat., the Claims Commissioner does not have authority to hear and determine this claim as it is a claim `upon which suit otherwise is authorized by law.'" The state defendants admit in footnote 4 of their brief that this claim was not dismissed by the claims commissioner and is still pending before him.