IN RE MATTHEW F., SC 18583

Juvenile Matters at New Britain

 

Juveniles; Sovereign Immunity; Whether Juvenile Court Properly Retained Jurisdiction on Child's Attaining Age of Eighteen; Whether Juvenile Court Properly Ordered DCF to pay for Post-Majority Services. As a teenager, Matthew F. developed significant mental health issues and committed crimes, including twice setting fire to his family's home. In February, 2008, when Matthew was seventeen and had recently pleaded guilty to arson, his attorney filed a petition in Juvenile Court alleging that Matthew was "uncared for" in that he had specialized needs that could not be met at home and asking that he be committed to the department of children and families (DCF). Matthew's parents admitted to the allegations in the petition. At a hearing held three days before Matthew's eighteenth birthday, DCF took the position that it was not in Matthew's best interest that he be committed and that, as Matthew would soon be turning eighteen, the department of mental health and addiction services (DMHAS) was the appropriate agency to address his mental health needs. The Juvenile Court nonetheless adjudicated Matthew uncared for and committed him to DCF "until further order of the court." In May, 2008, after Matthew had turned eighteen, Matthew filed motions asking that the Juvenile Court retain jurisdiction over him and that DCF be ordered to provide him services, including "clinically appropriate therapeutic 24 hour supported placement." DCF opposed the motions, arguing that the Juvenile Court lost jurisdiction over Matthew - and that Matthew's commitment to DCF automatically expired - when Matthew turned eighteen. The court rejected DCF's claim that it had lost jurisdiction over Matthew and ordered DCF to facilitate Matthew's transfer to DMHAS. The court presiding over Matthew's criminal charges subsequently ordered that, in lieu of incarceration, Matthew be placed in a secure Pennsylvania residential treatment facility specializing in the treatment of fire-starting behaviors. Matthew then moved that the Juvenile Court order DCF to provide him support services and discontinue its efforts to transfer him to DMHAS. On May 21, 2009, the Juvenile Court ruled that DCF continued to be responsible for Matthew's care and support and ordered the agency to pay the expenses incurred in his treatment at the Pennsylvania facility until his commitment terminates. The court found that General Statutes 17a-11 (g) obligated DCF to pay for Matthew's services until (1) he voluntarily withdraws from DCF's care, (2) DCF determines, pursuant to 17a-11 (g), that he would no longer benefit from its services, or (3) he turns twenty-one. DCF appeals, claiming the court lost jurisdiction over Matthew's case when he reached the age of eighteen because the jurisdiction of the Superior Court for Juvenile Matters is limited to adjudicating cases involving a "child" or "youth." DCF also contends that the order that it pay Matthew's treatment expenses amounted to an award of money damages rendered against the state in violation of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which provides that the state cannot be sued without its consent. Finally, DCF argues that its rights were violated in that the Juvenile Court's order effectively obligates it to fund a plea bargain reached in a criminal proceeding to which DCF was not a party. Matthew and his father argue that DCF waived its appellate claims be failing to timely appeal the order of commitment that entered prior to Matthew's eighteenth birthday.