Attorney General: John C. Ford, Administrator, Commission on Victim Services, 1990-024 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

June 28, 1990

Mr. John C. Ford
Administrator
Commission on Victim Services
1155 Silas Deane Highway
Wethersfield, CT 06109

Dear Mr. Ford:

You have asked for our opinion whether the provisions of 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, Sec. 10.(c), now Conn. Gen. Stat. e 54-211(c), should be applied retroactively to a claim which arose prior to the effective date of the act.

A review of the Commission file in the matter of Irma Cruz, claim no. 877-87D, reveals the following pertinent information. On December 9, 1987, Ms. Cruz, mother of the decedent Jose A. Rolon, Jr., filed an application for compensation with the Commission pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. e 54-204. The decedent had died of multiple gunshot wounds on or about January 7, 1987. The date of the decedent's death is the point in time in which the decedent became a "victim" as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. e 54-201(1) and became eligible for compensation.

At the time of the decedent's death, Conn. Gen. Stat. e 54-211(c) provided that "[n]o compensation shall be awarded for the first hundred dollars of injury sustained and no such compensation shall be in an amount in excess of ten thousand dollars...." However, the Legislature, through the enactment of 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, Sec. 10.(c), made numerous changes to the aforementioned statutory provision. These amendments became effective on October 1, 1987. The changes included increasing the maximum amount of an award in non-homicide crimes from ten thousand to fifteen thousand dollars. In addition, in the case of awards to dependents of homicide victims, benefits were increased to a maximum of twenty-five thousand dollars. The statutory revision also provided that "[t]he claims of the dependents of a deceased victim, ... shall be considered derivative of the claim of such victim and the total for all claims arising from the death of such victim shall not exceed a maximum of twenty-five thousand dollars."

It is the position of the applicant that 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, e 10(c) should be applied to the claim, thereby making available a maximum award of twenty-five thousand dollars rather than ten thousand dollars. We believe this position would require a retroactive application of the Public Act. In our judgment, because 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, e 10(c) effects a substantive change in the law, it must be applied prospectively.

In American Mason's Supply Co. v. F.W. Brown Co., 174 Conn. 219, 222-23, 384 A.2d 378 (1978) the Court stated:

This court has consistently expressed its reluctance to construe statutes as having retroactive application. [citations omitted]. A statute "affecting substantial changes in the law" is not to be given a retrospective effect unless it clearly and unequivocally appears that such was the legislative intent. [citations omitted]. The test of whether a statute is to be applied retroactively, absent an express legislative intent, "is not a purely mechanical one" and even if it is a procedural statute, which ordinarily will be applied retroactively without a legislative imperative to the contrary, "it will not be applied retroactively if considerations of good sense and justice dictate that it not be so applied. [citations omitted]." These aids to legislative interpretation apply with equal force to amendatory acts which effectuate changes in existing statutes. [citations omitted]. The rule that statutes which are general in their terms and affect matters of procedure can be applied retroactively, however, does not include a statute which, though in form providing but a change in remedy, actually brings about changes in substantive rights. [citations omitted].

See also Sherry H. v. Probate Court, 177 Conn. 93, 100-01, 411 A.2d 931 (1979).

The Court in Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Lighty, 3 Conn.App. 697, 491 A.2d 1118 (1985) applied this rule of statutory construction to legislation which created new obligations and imposed new liability. The Court stated:

"A statute will not be given a retroactive construction by which it will impose liabilities not existing prior to its passage. 'Laws which create new obligations ... because of past transactions, have been universally reprobated by civil and common law writers, and it is to be presumed that no statute is intended to have such effect unless the contrary clearly appears.'" [citations omitted].

Id., at 703.

In Neiditz v. Morton S. Fine & Assoc., Inc., 199 Conn. 683, 508 A.2d 438 (1986), the Court refused to give retroactive application to a legislative increase of prejudgment interest awarded pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. e 37-3a. This case is analogous to the present matter. The Court stated:

The amendment to e 37-3a, raising the statutory interest rate to 8 percent, clearly effectuates a substantial change in the law because debtors then became exposed to greater financial consequences for the "detention of money after it becomes payable." General Statutes e 37-3a. We find nothing in the amendment or its legislative history indicating an intent to authorize the increased interest rate for a period prior to its enactment.

Id., at 691.

In the present matter, we are of the opinion that 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, e 10(c) effects a substantive change in the law and therefore should not be applied retroactively. The amendment increases the maximum limit on awards both for homicide victims and non-homicide victims of crime. In addition it establishes a rule which provides that, in the case of a homicide, the claims of dependants are derivative of the claim of the victim.

This legislation creates additional obligations and liabilities upon the Commission. The 1987 amendments to Conn. Gen. Stat. e 54-204 did not merely effectuate a change in remedy, but brought about a change in substantive rights. American Mason's Supply Co. v. F.W. Brown Co., 174 Conn. 219, 223, 384 A.2d 378 (1978) In addition, a review of the legislative debates fails to disclose a clear and unequivocal expression of legislative intent that the amendment be given retroactive effect. Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208, 232-233, 477 A.2d 988 (1984).

Accordingly, it is our opinion that 1987 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 87-554, e 10(c) should not be applied to any personal injury or death occurring prior to October 1, 1987.

Very truly yours,

CLARINE NARDI RIDDLE
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Peter E. Wiese
Assistant Attorney General

CNR/PW/br


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