Office of the Claims Commissioner
At a Glance
JAMES R. SMITH, Commissioner
Established – 1959
Statutory authority – CGS Sec. 4-141
Central office - 18-20 Trinity Street,
Hartford, CT 06106
For instances in which there is no statute specifically granting permission to sue, the legislature has adopted a statutory scheme which allows persons to petition the Claims Commissioner for permission to sue the state.
The State, unlike most of its citizens, is immune from liability and from suit. Without the consent of the General Assembly, the State cannot be held liable in a legal action for any damage or injury it may cause or for the cost of any good, service or benefit it may have received.
Article Eleventh, Sec. 4 of the Connecticut Constitution provides that: "Claims against the state shall be resolved in such manner as may be provided by law." For certain actions, the Connecticut General Assembly has waived the sovereign immunity of the state by statute. Connecticut General Statute § 13a-144 permits persons alleging injuries or losses caused by a defective highway or bridge to file suit against the Commissioner of Transportation in Superior Court. CGS § 52-556 grants permission to sue when an alleged injury results from a motor vehicle accident involving an insured state vehicle operated by a state officer or employee.
CGS § 4-61 authorizes those who have entered into a highway or public works contract with the state to bring disputed claims directly to court. CGS § 4-197 authorizes those aggrieved by a violation of the law protecting the privacy of personal data about state employees to sue for damages. CGS § 17a-550 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. CGS § 19a-24, 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.
In most other cases where there is no legal or administrative remedy available. A person claiming to be injured or damaged as a result of state action must pursue a claim through the Office of the Claims Commissioner. The legislation implementing this process is set forth in Chapter 53 of the General Statutes. Those provisions define the duties and jurisdiction of the Claims Commissioner, who is appointed by the Governor with approval of the General Assembly, and has the duty to decide when it is "just and equitable" to waive the sovereign immunity of the state.
The Claims Commissioner hears and considers claims made against the State and decides whether a claim is a "just claim". Connecticut General Statute § 4-141 defines a "just claim" as a claim which in equity and justice the state should pay, provided the state has caused damage or injury or has received a benefit.
Certain claims are "excepted" from the jurisdiction of the Claims Commissioner, including (1) Claims for the periodic payment of disability, pension, retirement or other employment benefits; (2) claims upon which suit otherwise is authorized by law including suits to recover similar relief arising from the same set of facts; (3) claims for which an administrative hearing procedure otherwise is established by law; (4) requests by political subdivisions of the state for the payment of grants in lieu of taxes, and (5) claims for the refund of taxes. CGS § 4-142. If a claim filed is "excepted" by statute the Commissioner lacks jurisdiction and the claim must be dismissed.
For claims under $5,000 the Commissioner may waive a hearing and proceed upon affidavits filed by the claimant and the state agency concerned. CGS § 4-151a. For claims in excess of $5,000 the Claims Commissioner conducts a formal hearing pursuant to CGS § 4-151.
After a hearing, if the Claims Commissioner decides that a claim is a "just claim" because the alleged damage or injury was caused by the state, or because the state received a benefit, the Commissioner may either award payment in an amount up to $7,500 (CGS § 4-158) or recommend payment in excess of $7,500 to the General Assembly (CGS § 4-159).
If requested by the claimant the Commissioner may grant authorization to sue the state in Superior Court if in the Commissioner's opinion, the claim is just and equitable and presents an issue of law or fact under which the state, were it a private person, could be liable, CGS § 4-160. Those claims are then tried to a court (not a jury). Appeals from decisions of the Commissioner are made to the General Assembly, CGS § 4-154.
The commissioner exercises jurisdiction only under the precise circumstances and in the manner particularly prescribed in the General Statutes. The parties cannot confer jurisdiction upon the commissioner by agreement, waiver or conduct. Although the State is represented, in most cases, by the Attorney General's Office, the Claims Commissioner has an independent duty to insure that only "just claims" are granted.
Prior to 1959 claims against the State were brought to the General Assembly by submission of individual bills. Because of the substantial burden imposed by an increasing number of such bills, the General Assembly enacted House Bill No. 4003 establishing a three person Claims Commission to hear and decide claims against the state. In 1977 a single Claims Commissioner replaced the Claims Commission.
The Claims Commissioner's staff currently consists of three full-time employees; the Clerk of the Office of the Claims Commissioner, an administrative aid and a paralegal. A part-time (per diem) hearing officer is employed, as budgetary considerations will allow.
During fiscal year 2005 / 2006, the Commissioner received 336 new claims. A total of 524 claims were adjudicated or disposed of.
Of the 336 claims filed this year, 87 were filed by inmates. Of the 524 claims adjudicated during this year, 221 were claims which arose while the claimant was an inmate and in the custody of the Department of Correction, and 118 of those inmate claims sought damages for the loss of personal property. The remainder alleged injury or other losses which occurred during incarceration.
Of the 524 claims adjudicated, 158 were either abandoned or withdrawn. Of the remaining 366, the Commissioner found that 97 were "just claims". The Commissioner entered awards totaling $73,647.35 for 91 claims where the award did not exceed $7,500. Six (6) claims were referred to the General Assembly for proposed awards in excess of $7,500. Twenty-three (23) additional claimants were granted permission to sue the state.
The Office of the Claims Commissioner has a website and is currently providing "online" information and assistance to the public.
Public Act No. 01-167, which was passed during the 2001 session of the General Assembly, essentially requires that claims against the state be adjudicated within two (2) years of the date of filing, unless those time limits are waived by the claimant. The Office of the Claims Commissioner has been able to reduce the backlog to a level that insures compliance with that statute. Compliance has been accomplished with minimal additional resources and expense.