HIGH WATCH RECOVERY CENTER, INC. v. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH et al., SC 20666

Judicial District of New Britain

 

     Administrative Appeal; Whether Appellate Court Properly Concluded That a Certificate of Need Hearing Was Not a "Contested Case" Under the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act; Whether Appellate Court Correctly Concluded That Plaintiff's Letter Requesting Intervenor Status Was Not a Legally Sufficient Request for a Public Hearing.  The defendant, Birch Hill Recovery Center, LLC (Birch Hill), submitted an application for a certificate of need to the Office of Health Care Access (OHCA) to establish a substance abuse treatment facility.  The OHCA issued a notice stating that it would hold a hearing and that the notice was issued pursuant to General Statutes (Rev. to 2017) § 19a-639a (f) (2), which provides that the OHCA "may" hold a public hearing with respect to any certificate of need application.  The plaintiff submitted a letter to the OHCA requesting that it be granted intervenor status in the proceeding.  The OHCA granted the plaintiff's request and held a hearing on the application.  Birch Hill and the defendant Department of Public Health then entered into an agreement in which Birch Hill's application was approved.  The plaintiff appealed to the trial court pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183 (a) of the UAPA, which provides that "[a] person" may appeal from an agency's "final decision."  General Statutes § 4-166 (5) defines a "final decision" as an "agency determination in a contested case," and § 4-166 (4) in turn defines a "contested case" as "a proceeding . . . in which the legal rights . . . of a party are required by state statute or regulation to be determined by an agency after an opportunity for hearing or in which a hearing is in fact held."  The trial court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss the appeal on the ground that there was no "final decision" in a "contested case."  The plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate Court (207 Conn. App. 397) affirmed the judgment.  The court determined that the legislature intended for the word "may" in § 19a-639a (f) (2) to confer discretion, and, thus, a hearing was not statutorily required on Birch Hill's application.  It then ruled that the mere opportunity for a hearing coupled with the holding of a hearing in the absence of a specific statute or regulation under which the hearing was required to be held was insufficient to constitute a contested case, citing Middlebury v. Dept. of Environmental Protection, 283 Conn. 156 (2007), and Summit Hydropower Partnership v. Commissioner of Environmental Protection, 226 Conn. 792 (1993).  In addition, the court rejected the plaintiff's claim that its letter requesting intervenor status constituted a request for a public hearing pursuant to § 19a-639a (e), concluding that the letter failed to satisfy § 19a-639a (e) because (1) it did not contain a request that a public hearing be held on the application and (2) there was nothing in the letter from which it could be inferred that the numerical requirements of § 19a-639a (e) were met.  The plaintiff was granted certification to appeal, and the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly followed Middlebury and Summit in concluding that a certificate of need hearing conducted pursuant to § 19a-639a (f) (2) was not a "contested case," as defined by § 4-166 (4).  If the answer to the first question is "yes," the court will then decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded that the plaintiff's letter requesting intervenor status in a certificate of need hearing that had been scheduled and noticed pursuant to § 19a-639a (f) was not a legally sufficient request for a public hearing pursuant to subsection (e) of that statute.