AMELIA CALES et al. v. OFFICE OF VICTIM SERVICES, SC 19458

Judicial District of New Britain

 

      Whether Trial Court Lacked Jurisdiction Over Appeal from Decision of Office of Victim Services Because it was not Timely Filed Pursuant to General Statutes § 54-211a.  Kevin Cales was serving a sentence for manslaughter when he was attacked by another inmate.  Cales died as a result of his injuries, and members of his family (the plaintiffs) applied for reimbursement for his funeral expenses from the Office of Victim Services (OVS).  The application was denied, and the plaintiffs appealed to the Superior Court pursuant to General Statutes § 54-211a, which provides that "[a]ny applicant aggrieved by an order or decision of a victim compensation commissioner may appeal by way of a demand for a trial de novo to the superior court for the judicial district of Hartford.  The appeal shall be taken within thirty days after mailing of the order or decision. . . ."  The trial court dismissed the appeal, finding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because, while the plaintiffs served a writ of summons and a complaint seeking a trial de novo on OVS within thirty days of the mailing of the decision denying their claim, their appeal was not filed with the clerk of the Superior Court until forty-three days after notice of the decision was mailed.  The trial court relied on Speight v. Office of Victim Services, 61 Conn. App. 151 (2000), which held that the Superior Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a § 54-211a appeal that is not filed within that statute’s thirty day time period.  The plaintiffs appeal, arguing that the trial court had jurisdiction because they complied with the requirements of General Statutes § 4-183 (c), which governs appeals under the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act and requires that the agency be served with a copy of the appeal and that the appeal be filed with the clerk of the Superior Court within forty-five days after mailing of a final decision.  The plaintiffs also contend that they satisfied the plain language of § 54-211a because the writ of summons and complaint they served on OVS constituted a "demand for a trial de novo" that was made within the requisite thirty day period.  They argue that the statute does not require that the demand be made in the form of a filing with the clerk of the Superior Court.  They further contend that, even if the language of § 54-211a is ambiguous, their construction of the statute is supported by the statute's remedial purpose of improving services to victims.  Finally, the plaintiffs maintain that the time period in § 54-211a does not implicate subject matter jurisdiction under the test set forth in Williams v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 257 Conn. 258 (2001), which requires a "strong showing" of legislative intent to create a subject matter jurisdictional time limit.  They argue that the trial court incorrectly relied on Speight because Speight predated Williams and because Speight is distinguishable from this case on the facts and issues.