Doe v. State

In Doe v. State, 216 Conn. 85, 579 A.2d 37 (Conn. 1990), a class of indigent women and physicians prevailed in its challenge to the legality of regulations restricting the funding of abortions under the state's Medicaid program. The trial court found that the regulation exceeded the statutory authority of the commissioner of income maintenance and violated the plaintiffs' due process rights under CONN. CONST. art. I, 10. Determining that the cited constitutional provision authorized a fees award, the trial court awarded the class of indigent women attorneys' fees. This provision provides: "All courts shall be open, and every person, for an injury done to him in his person, property or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law, and right and justice administered without sale, denial or delay." The provision originated in the Magna Carta and has been adopted in substantially the same form in the constitutional provisions of most states. Doe, 579 A.2d at 43 . Petitioners assert that Indiana's open court's provision, IND. CONST. art. 1, 12, which is substantially similar to Connecticut's version, supports adoption of the private attorney general exception. The Court, however, does not believe this provision to be relevant in deciding whether to adopt the private attorney general exception. The Court concluded that the state constitution did not create a "right" to attorneys' fees. See Doe, 579 A.2d at 47. Therefore, the Court next considered whether an alternative basis, including the private attorney general exception, existed upon which to affirm the fees award. See id. The Court asserted that it is "well entrenched" that Connecticut adheres to the American rule. See id. It observed that the state legislature has not "chosen to repudiate the American rule, but rather has made specific provisions for attorneys' fees in selected statutes." Doe, 579 A.2d at 48. Thus, the Court concluded that it is "inappropriate for the judiciary to establish under the private attorney general doctrine a broad rule permitting such fees whenever a private litigant has at substantial cost to himself succeeded in enforcing a significant social policy that may benefit others." Id.