Stafford Higgins Industries, Inc. v. Norwalk
In Stafford Higgins Industries, Inc. v. Norwalk, 245 Conn. 551, 715 A.2d 46 (1998) the trial court in that case had declined to consider a plaintiff's challenges to certain municipal grand lists, as well as to certain public acts, because the plaintiff had failed to afford notice of those challenges to interested parties in accordance with Practice Book 390 (d), subsequently 17-55 (4) (notice requirements of subdivision (4) were repealed January 1, 2000).
The Court held that because the plaintiff had raised those declaratory claims in the context of its administrative, or nondeclaratory, claim for relief, it was improper for the trial court to decline to consider them. Stafford Higgins Industries, Inc. v. Norwalk, supra, at 576-79.
The court observed that the plaintiff's challenges to the grand lists and the public acts were raised properly in the context of its nondeclaratory action. Id. at 577-78.
The Court expressly rejected the trial court's rationale in denying the motion, i.e., that "it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the plaintiff's request for a declaratory judgment"; id. at 576; because the plaintiff had failed to provide notice to interested parties of certain of its declaratory claims in accordance with Practice Book (1998) 17- 55 (4).
The court held that a party, without bringing a declaratory judgment action, could pursue a substantive administrative appeal in which it could challenge the validity of legislation in which many persons may have an interest.
In so holding, the court, for several reasons, abandoned the rule it had set forth in Cioffoletti v. Planning & Zoning Commission, 209 Conn. 544, 563, 552 A.2d 796 (1989), which required that "certain general challenges to the legality of legislation in which many persons may have an interest may be brought only through a declaratory judgment action, in order to ensure that notice be provided to all interested parties." Stafford Higgins Industries, Inc. v. Norwalk, supra, 245 Conn. at 579.
In that case, a tax appeal raised under General Statutes 12-119, the Supreme Court overruled Cioffoletti v. Planning & Zoning Commission.
The court held that, in an administrative appeal from a contested administrative decision, the appellant could raise a facial constitutional challenge to the underlying statute. The court stated that the dispositive issue was whether third parties would be so affected by the tax assessment that they needed the kind of notice provided by a declaratory judgment action.
The court concluded that, in that case, they did not need such notice. Id., 576. The court expressly overturned "the Cioffoletti rule requiring that facial attacks on the validity of legislation be brought in the form of declaratory judgment actions instead of administrative appeals." Id., 582.
The court based its conclusion on three reasons. It first held that Florentine v. Darien and its progeny did not support the Cioffoletti rule because none of them had held that a declaratory judgment action was the exclusive procedural vehicle for a challenge to the constitutionality of a particular statute. Id., 579-80. Second, the court noted that it had previously permitted challenges to the constitutionality of a statute through actions other than declaratory judgment actions. Id., 580-81.
Finally, the court decided that the concern for third party interests did not outweigh the legislature's decision to authorize statutory appeals as an avenue for relief. Id., 581-82.