ISABELLA D., A MINOR CHILD, et al. v. CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES et al., SC 19451

Judicial District of New Britain

 

     Juveniles; Child Abuse and Neglect; Whether Minor Child has Standing to Seek Reconsideration of DCF Decision Reversing Prior Finding of Abuse or Neglect.  The Department of Children and Families (DCF) conducted an investigation of alleged abuse of Isabella D., a minor, by her father.  DCF initially substantiated the allegation of sexual abuse and emotional neglect and placed the father’s name on the child abuse and neglect registry that DCF maintains pursuant to General Statutes § 17a-101k.  The father, pursuant to § 17a-101k (d), requested an administrative hearing to contest DCF’s findings.  Isabella was not given notice of or an opportunity to participate in that hearing.  Following the hearing, a DCF hearing officer found that the allegations of abuse were not supported by a fair preponderance of the evidence and accordingly reversed the substantiation of abuse determination and ordered the father’s name removed from the abuse and neglect registry.  Isabella, through her next friend, her mother, filed a petition for reconsideration of the hearing officer’s decision seeking a new hearing in which she would be allowed to participate and present evidence.  The hearing officer denied the petition, finding that Isabella did not have standing to challenge the decision.  Isabella then brought an administrative appeal to the Superior Court.  DCF, citing Doe ex rel. Doe v. Darien Bd. of Education, United States District Court, Docket No. 3:11-CV-01581 (JBA) (D. Conn. September 17, 2012), moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that Isabella lacked standing to seek reconsideration of the decision reversing the substantiation of abuse.  In Doe, a minor child brought an action against DCF after it reversed a substantiation of abuse determination.  The District Court dismissed the action for lack of standing, ruling that the minor child’s interest in DCF’s decision regarding whether to list the accused abuser’s name on the registry was not distinguishable from the general public’s interest in protecting children.  It explained that the review procedures set forth in § 17a-101k were established to safeguard the due process rights of those who have been accused of abuse and listed on the registry and that the accused, rather than the alleged victim, is the party in interest.  Here, the trial court adopted the reasoning of Doe and dismissed the appeal.  Isabella appeals, claiming that Doe is distinguishable because she is not challenging DCF’s decision to remove her father’s name from the registry but rather its failure to afford her an opportunity to participate in the administrative hearing.  Isabella contends that she has standing because she is classically aggrieved in that her specific, personal and legal interests, namely, her reputation and rights to privacy and familial integrity, were injuriously affected by her exclusion from participation in the hearing.