July 27, 2006
LAWSUITS AGAINST A STATE AGENCY
By: Christopher Reinhart, Senior Attorney
You asked how someone could bring a lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families.
The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to issue legal opinions and this report should not be considered one.
Generally, the law requires those who wish to sue the state to file a claim with the claims commissioner unless their case falls within an exception established by law. They must file their claim with the commissioner within one year after it accrues. A claim accrues on the date the damage or injury is sustained or discovered or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have been discovered. But, no claim may be presented more than three years after the date of the act or event complained of (CGS § 4-148).
Certain types of claims are excepted from the claims commissioner process: (1) claims based on a violation of federal law; (2) claims for the periodic payment of disability, pensions, retirement, or other employment benefits; (3) claims for tax refunds; (4) claims for which an administrative hearing procedure is established by law; (5) requests by political subdivisions for the payments of grants in lieu of taxes; and (6) claims based on state law that the law allows to go directly to court (CGS § 4-142). We found six statutes that allow classes of people to sue the state directly instead of going to the claims commissioner. These statutes are:
1. CGS § 4-61, which authorizes those who have entered into a highway or public works contract with the state to bring disputed claims directly to court;
2. CGS § 4-197, which authorizes those who are aggrieved by a violation of the law protecting the privacy of personal data about state employees to sue for damages;
3. CGS § 13a-144, which authorizes those injured by a defective road or bridge to sue the transportation commissioner for damages (the defect must be the sole proximate cause);
4. CGS § 17a-550, which allows a person injured by a violation of the patient's bill of rights for mentally ill people to sue the state or its commissioners for damages (Mahoney v. Lesnick, 213 Conn. 548 (1990));
5. CGS § 19a-24, which allows people to sue the commissioners of Public Health and Mental Retardation, their staffs, and certain other, related entities for official acts or omissions if the damage claims exceed $7,500; and
6. CGS § 52-556, which allows anyone injured because of the negligence of any state official or employee when operating state owned and insured motor vehicles to sue the state for damages.
FILING WITH THE CLAIMS COMMISSIONER
Authority of Claims Commissioner (CGS §§ 4-141, -142, -148)
A claims commissioner, appointed by the governor with the advice
and consent of the General Assembly, hears and determines claims
against the state. The law defines a claim as a petition for the
payment or refund of money by the state or for permission to sue
the state. It explicitly excludes claims for employment benefits,
including disability, pension, and retirement benefits; claims that
under law can be brought through a lawsuit or administrative
hearing; requests by political subdivisions for payment in lieu of
taxes; and claims for tax refunds. Any claim that can be presented
to the claims commissioner cannot be presented against the state in
any other way.
Notice of Claim (CGS § 4-147)
Anyone who wants to present a claim against the state must file
a notice with the clerk of the Office of the Claims Commissioner. This notice must contain:
1. the name and address of the claimant and his attorney if he
2. a concise statement of the basis of the claim, including the date, time, place, and circumstances of the act or event complained of;
3. the amount requested; and
4. a request for permission to sue the state, if such permission
If sent by mail, the notice is deemed to have been filed on the
date it is postmarked. A $50 filing fee is required for claims over
$5,000, and a $25 fee is needed for lesser claims. The commissioner
can waive the fees for good cause.
Notice of Injury (CGS § 4-146)
Anyone who suffers damage or injury because of the defective
condition of a building, park, or ground owned or leased by the
state must, within a reasonable time after the damage or injury,
notify the official in charge of the date, time, place, and
circumstances of the damage or injury. But no claim can be defeated
for violating this requirement unless the state shows that it was
substantially prejudiced by the lack of notice.
Statute of Limitations (CGS § 4-148)
A claim must be presented within one year after it accrues. By
law, a claim accrues on the date the damage or injury is sustained
or discovered or in the exercise of reasonable care should have
been discovered. But no claim can be presented more than three
years from the date of the act or event complained of.
The General Assembly may, through special act, authorize a person to present a claim after the time passes if it (1) deems the authorization to be just and equitable and (2) makes an express finding that the authorization is supported by compelling equitable circumstances that would serve a public purpose.
FILING A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE STATE
If the law allows a lawsuit against the state instead of using the claims commissioner process, the person bringing the suit must have a state marshal, constable, or other statutorily authorized officer serve process by (1) leaving a true and attested copy of the process, including the declaration or complaint, at the attorney general's office or (2) sending a true and attested copy of the process, including the summons and complaint, to the attorney general's office by certified mail, return receipt requested (CGS § 52-64, as amended by PA 05-105).