FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion

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)     Advisory Opinion   #7

 

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Mary Sondergeld, as President of the League of Women Voters of West Hartford, Applicant

)     December 19, 1975

 

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At its meeting of December 10, 1975, the Freedom of Information Commission granted the request for an advisory ruling by the president of the League of Women Voters of West Hartford concerning the application of Public Act 75‑342 to the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of West Hartford.

 

By the request for an advisory ruling under 4‑176 G.S., this applicant stated that at a meeting of November 19, 1975, that public agency "voted twice to go into executive session for all deliberations." This action was first taken at 7:15 p.m., and again at 9:30 p.m. The applicant then stated that two members of the League of Women Voters of West Hartford were present as observers at the meeting and the facts submitted in the application indicate that they were excluded from that portion of the meeting that was conducted during the executive session.

 

The request set forth the reason given by the public agency as the purpose for the convening in executive session under 1(e) of P.A. 75‑342 "that zoning boards are quasi‑:judicial and therefore exempt from the Executive Sessions section of the Freedom of Information Act." Then the request asked whether this public agency is exempt from the prohibition against executive sessions on the grounds that it is a quasi‑judicial agency. This inquiry is answered in the negative for the reasons that follow.

 

 

 

 

It is the opinion of the Freedom of Information Commission that the West Hartford Zoning Board of Appeals is an executive, administrative, or legislative office of a political subdivision of the State and, for that reason, is a public agency within the meaning of 1(a) of P.A. 75‑342. The provisions of 1(e), 2(b), 2(c), and 6 do not provide for any exception based on the quasi‑judicial nature of all or any portion of that public agency's functions.

 

It is an elementary concept in administrative law that all administrative agencies may at various times and from time to time undertake acts that are in whole or in part executive, legislative, or judicial or any combination of such characteristics. The sole limitation is the delegation of authority by the legislature.

 

Some examples that come to mind are the Public Utilities Control Authority, the Liquor Control Commission, and the Motor Vehicles Department. These State agencies are involved in just such a mixture of functions under the general statutes. An example that more nearly duplicates the function of the Zoning Board of Appeals, however, is the Freedom of Information Commission, itself.

 

In the instance of the Freedom of Information Commission, the General Assembly has expressly provided for appeals to be taken from denials by public agencies of access to public meetings and records under 14 of P.A. 75‑342. When this Commission conducts a hearing or other proceeding on a complaint as a contested case under the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act, it is clearly functioning in a Judicial form and is applying both procedural and substantive criteria that are more comparable in form and content to a judicial proceeding than are the hearings before the West Hartford Zoning Board of Appeals under 8‑6 through 8‑7d of Chapter 124 G.S.

 

The limits of 1(a) may be better understood with the following explanation. The General Assembly provided that the scope of the meaning of public agency "also includes any judicial office, official, or body of the court of common pleas, probate court, and juvenile court but only in respect to its or their administrative functions." It is well established that the legislature can make no rule that will control the functioning of any of the courts established under the Constitution (Adams v. Rubinow, 157 Conn. 150, 155‑167, 1968). It is obvious to the Commission that this is the reason the legislature did not even attempt to regulate the administrative functions of the Superior Court and the Supreme Court. Even as to the Court of Common Pleas, Probate Court, and Juvenile Court, which are courts established by the General Assembly and not by the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, it is noted that the General Assembly deliberately avoided extending P.A. 75‑342 to any aspect of any court beyond the administrative functions. The Commission regards this as a clear indication of the conscientious effort of the legislature to avoid any impingement upon the judicial branch, even where such intrusion might remotely be found to be constitutional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It must follow from all of the foregoing that the General Assembly clearly intended to encompass by the regulatory provisions of P.A. 75‑342 all of the functions of a public agency, including functions that are characterized as quasi‑judicial. It appears most strongly the General Assembly was aware of the distinction between the judiciary and quasi‑judicial functions. On this basis the legislature carefully exempted from the purview of the Act any judicial function of a judicial office of the State. The Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of West Hartford is not part of the judicial branch of the government of the State of Connecticut.

 

The Commission concludes that the fact that the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of West Hartford is a quasi‑judicial public agency is not one of the purposes for which the public may be excluded from a meeting under 1(e) of Public Act 75‑342.

 

 

                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ________________________
                                                                                            Herbert Brucker, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information
                                                                                            Commission

Date ___________________

 

Ordered_________________

Louis J. Tapogna, Clerk