CONNECTICUT INDEPENDENT UTILITY WORKERS, LOCAL 12924 et al. v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITY CONTROL, SC 19009
Judicial District of New Britain
Administrative Appeals; Whether Department of Public Utility Control was Required to Issue Regulations Regarding the Rights of Participants in Uncontested Matters; Whether Plaintiff Unions were Aggrieved by Department’s Conclusion that it was not Required to Issue such Regulations. In 2009, two Connecticut gas companies sought to lay off approximately thirty-five employees who were represented by the plaintiff unions. The department of public utility control (department) subsequently convened a hearing to investigate the impact that the proposed layoffs would have on the safety and reliability of the gas system. The plaintiffs requested that they be granted party status, but the department denied the plaintiffs’ request and instead designated them as “participants” without any description of their rights. The plaintiffs were ultimately allowed to appear before the department and present evidence, but they were prohibited from cross-examining witnesses. After the department concluded that the proposed layoffs would not affect the safety and reliability of the gas system, the plaintiffs filed a petition for declaratory relief, requesting that the department declare that the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA) required it to issue regulations regarding the rights of participants in uncontested matters. The department determined that it was not required to promulgate such regulations, finding that an entity’s participation rights in an uncontested proceeding are not determined as a result of its designation as a participant, but are instead determined at the sole discretion of the presiding hearing officer. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the participant designation has a substantial impact on the rights of the parties who appear before the department, and, therefore, the department was required to issue regulations regarding the rights of participants in uncontested matters. The department countered that the plaintiffs were not aggrieved by its decision. The trial court first rejected the department’s aggrievement claim, finding that the plaintiffs had a bona fide interest in their ability to advocate for the interests of their members through meaningful participation in the department’s proceedings. The court emphasized that the department’s denial of the plaintiffs’ right to cross-examine witnesses demonstrated that the plaintiffs’ interests had been adversely affected by the absence of any established rules concerning the use of the participant designation in uncontested hearings. With regard to the merits of the case, the court determined that General Statutes § 4-167 (a) of the UAPA plainly requires all state agencies to promulgate regulations setting forth the rules for administrative proceedings, whether the proceedings are formal or informal. The court concluded that the department has contravened § 4-167 (a) by giving hearing officers unbridled discretion to determine the rights of participants and by refusing to adopt regulations that set forth the specific procedures for informal proceedings. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the plaintiffs were aggrieved by the department’s decision regarding the petition for declaratory relief and, if so, whether the department’s decision was proper.