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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The custodian of a public record must articulate particularized and specific justification for denying access to a record requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law



The custodian of a public record must articulate particularized and specific justification for denying access to a record requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law
Villalobos v New York City Fire Dept., 2015 NY Slip Op 06249, Appellate Division, Second Department

Amaury Villalobos filed a Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] request seeking certain documents in the custody of the New York City Fire Department. Among the material demanded by Villalobos were documents containing the residence address of certain individuals. After an in camera review of the documents demanded, Supreme Court directed the New York City Fire Department to provide Villalobos with “legible unredacted copies of all documents inspected by the court in camera” which would documents would then include the residence address of the individuals.

The Fire Department appealed the Supreme Court ruling and the Appellate Division deleted that portion of Supreme Court’s order that, in effect, directed the Department to provide the Villalobos with residence addresses contained in the documents inspected by the court in camera.

The Appellate Division explained that under FOIL, government records are "presumptively open" for public inspection and copying, unless they fall within an enumerated statutory exemption* set out in Public Officers Law §87(2). However, said the court, “exemptions are to be ‘narrowly construed’ so as to ensure maximum public access … and the burden rests on the agency to demonstrate that the requested material in fact qualifies for exemption.” To meet this burden, said the court, the agency must "articulate particularized and specific justification" for the nondisclosure at issue.”

In this instance the Appellate Division concluded that the Fire Department “failed to articulate a particularized and specific justification for any of the redacted information at issue, except for the residence addresses contained in the subject documents.” The court opined that the Department’s “conclusory assertions” that the redacted information, other than residence addresses, fell within a statutory exemption were insufficient to meet its burden of demonstrating that the requested information was exempt from disclosure.

As to the disclosure of the residence addresses contained in the documents, the court ruled that such disclosure “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy … since, under the circumstances of this case, the privacy interests at stake outweigh the public interest in disclosure of that information.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division modified the Supreme Court’s judgment so as to permit redaction of the residence addresses contained in the documents at issue.

* The release of some public records is limited by a statute such as Education Law, §1127 - Confidentiality of records or §33.13, Mental Hygiene Law - Clinical records; confidentiality. However, it should also be noted that there is no statutory bar to the custodian of the public record providing documents pursuant to a FOIL request, or otherwise, that falls within one or more of the exceptions that the custodian could rely upon in denying a FOIL request, in whole or in part.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Parties may negotiate pre-disciplinary suspension procedures in the course of collective bargaining


Parties may negotiate pre-disciplinary suspension procedures in the course of collective bargaining
Transport Workers Union of Greater N.Y. v Bianco, 2015 NY Slip Op 06041, Appellate Division, First Department

The Appellate Division said Supreme Court properly dismissed the Transport Workers Union's complaint alleging that the collective bargaining agreement provision setting forth procedures for pre-disciplinary suspensions was void under Civil Service Law §75.

The court said that "Rights under Civil Service Law §75 may be supplemented, modified or replaced by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement," which is the case here with respect to disciplinary grievance procedures set forth under the Civil Service Law, “including those concerning pre-disciplinary suspensions.”

§76.4 of the Civil Service Law, in pertinent part, provides that §§75 and 76 of the Civil Service Law relating to the removal or suspension of “officers or employees in the competitive class of the civil service of the state or any civil  division” may be supplemented,   modified or replaced by agreements negotiated between the state and an employee organization  pursuant  to  Article 15 of the Civil Service Law.

In Antinore v State, 40 NY2d 6, the Court said that a union could bargain away a collective bargaining unit member’s statutory disciplinary rights in favor of an alternative disciplinary procedure as long as the alternate procedure provided constitutional due process protections equivalent to those available under the statutory procedure that it replaced.

The Transport Workers Union v Bianco decision is posted on the Internet at:

The Antinore decision is posted on the Internet at:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Selected reports and information issued by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued during the week ending July 26, 2015


Selected reports and information issued by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli issued during the week ending July 26, 2015
[Click on text highlighted in color to access the full report]

Audits of the following jurisdictions completed:

City of Johnstown;

North Patchogue Fire District

Town of Rosendale

Town of West Seneca

Amani Public Charter School

Holland Central School District

Mount Pleasant Central School District

Onteora Central School District


Comptroller finds persistent problems at the Long Island Power Authority

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recommended improvement of oversight of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) after a report by his office found that previous reforms have not reduced costs for ratepayers and debt levels continue to rise. http://www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/july15/072415.htm?utm_source=weeklynews20150726&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=072415release


Comptroller DiNapoli expects the “Tax Cap” will drop below 1% in 2016

Property tax growth for local governments will be capped at less than one percent for the 2016 fiscal year, according to a report issued by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The report noted the allowable tax levy growth factor will be 0.73 percent for entities that operate on a calendar-based fiscal year – which includes all counties, towns, fire districts, 44 cities and 10 villages.


Former Fire District Treasurer sentenced after being found guilty of theft of district funds

Lisa Stone, the former treasurer of Pulteney Fire District No. 2 was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay full restitution for stealing more than $6,800 in fire district funds, after an audit and investigation by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli revealed that she paid herself an illegal second salary.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Employer must permit employee to attempt to cure any defects in his or her Family Medical Leave Act request before denying it


Employer must permit employee to attempt to cure any defects in his or her Family Medical Leave Act request before denying it
Hansler v Lehigh Valley Hospital Network, USCA, 3rd Circuit, Docket #14-1772

Deborah Hansler requested intermittent leave from her former employer, Lehigh Valley Health Network (“Lehigh Valley”), under the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.

Hansler submitted a medical certification requesting leave for two days a week for approximately one month. Her complaint alleged that the medical certification refers to the length of her requested leave but not the nature or duration of her condition.

A few weeks later, after she had be absent from work for several days, Lehigh Valley, citing “excessive absences,” told Hansler that her request for leave had been denied and terminated her employment. The Circuit Court of Appeals noted that in so doing, Lehigh Valley did not seek any clarification with respect to Hansler’s medical certification as required by law.

Hansler sued but the federal district court dismissed her complaint on the basis that the medical certification supporting Hansler’s request for leave was “invalid.” In contrast, the Circuit Court concluded that “in failing to afford Hansler a chance to cure any deficiencies in her medical certification, Lehigh Valley violated the Medical Leave Act.”

Reversing the district court, the Circuit Court remanded the matter to the district court “for further proceedings.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Failure to exhaust administrative remedies and other procedural error result in dismissal of the employee’s efforts to have courts adjudicate her claims


Failure to exhaust administrative remedies and other procedural error result in dismissal of the employee’s efforts to have courts adjudicate her claims
2015 NY Slip Op 05779, Appellate Division, First Department

The Appellate Division said that Supreme Court correctly dismissed the complaint filed by an employee [Grievant] against New York City Department of Education (DOE), because Grievant had failed to exhaust the administrative remedies set forth in the relevant collective bargaining agreement.

Grievant, said the court, was not excused from exhausting her administrative remedies by simply alleging that her collective bargaining representative [Union] had mishandled her grievance, because she could have instituted the grievance procedure herself but failed to so.. Further, explained the Appellate Division, “This is not a case where the Union had sole, exclusive authority over the grievance process.*

In addition, the court noted that the City of New York is not a proper party to this action, as it cannot be held liable for the Grievant’s employer, the New York City Department of Education.

As to Grievant’s claim against the Union  was not brought within the applicable four-month statute of limitations. as the statute of limitations was not tolled for the purposes of the CPLR because Grievant’s initial federal action, which was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, was, itself, untimely. In addition, the Appellate Division said that Grievant “was not entitled to the 30-day toll [of the statute of limitations] created by the application of Education Law §3813(1) and CPLR §204(a) because the union is not an entity covered by Education Law §3813(1).”

* Typically a union has “exclusive authority” with respect to demanding arbitration of an alleged violation of a term or condition of employment set out in a collective bargaining agreement.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Town’s misplaced trust in its Town Clerk enabled her to steal Town's funds, and again steal its monies following the initial discovery of her theft by the State Comptroller


Town’s misplaced trust in its Town Clerk enabled her to steal Town's funds, and again steal its monies following the initial discovery of her theft by the State Comptroller

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the guilty plea of former Town of Bennington Town Clerk Tina Metz in a string of thefts from the Town that intensified even after DiNapoli’s office uncovered her criminal behavior.

On July 22, 2015 Metz pleaded guilty in Wyoming County Court to charges grand larceny in the third degree, a class D felony; offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree; and official misconduct. She was ordered to pay restitution of $33,189 for the money she stole from  fees and tax payments paid to the Town. If Metz fails to make restitution, she faces a prison sentence of 3 2/3 to 11 years.
 
Department of Audit and Control auditors and investigators initially, discovered a $14,000 shortage for 2013 and notified the Town, while continuing to work with the Wyoming County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Department. Metz repaid the town $12,000 in cash, claiming she found it at her home and in a filing cabinet at work. Subsequent investigation revealed that Metz continued to steal even after the Comptroller alerted the Town.

“The town’s misplaced trust in this clerk enabled her to steal and steal again,” DiNapoli said.  “Blind trust in a colleague doesn’t pass for proper oversight in public finance. The Comptroller thanked Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen and the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Department for partnering with the Department of Audit and Control to hold Ms. Metz accountable for her crimes.”

Town officials agreed to DiNapoli’s audit recommendations, including the timely deposit of all fees collected and monthly bank reconciliations.

Allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money may be reported by calling the Comptroller's toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at investigations@osc.state.ny.us, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

Read the Town of Bennington [NY] audit report here:

The employee must be a member of the collective bargaining unit represented by the union in order for the union to file a contract grievance on his or her behalf


The employee must be a member of the collective bargaining unit represented by the union in order for the union to file a contract grievance on his or her behalf
New York City Transit Auth. v Transport Workers Union of Greater N.Y. Local 100, 2015 NY Slip Op 06042, Appellate Division, First Department

The Transport Workers Union of Greater New York Local 100 [TWU] filed a contract interpretation grievance against the New York City Transit Authority [TA]. TWU contended that under the terms of an article, Article §5.2(j), set out in the relevant  collective bargaining agreement [CBA], certain bus maintenance employees who had trained in TWU’s Divisional area in Brooklyn and who were, following training, initially assigned to Staten Island despite their preference for an initial assignment location in Brooklyn because no other positions were available in Brooklyn at that time, were entitled to "transfer" back to Brooklyn when a new class of such employees graduated from training.

When TA denied the grievance, TWU scheduled arbitration. TA brought an Article 75 proceeding seeking a permanent stay of the arbitration. Supreme Court granted TA’s motion to permanently stay arbitration. TWU appealed but the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division explained that TWU lacked standing to bring the grievance as it did not represent bus maintenance employees working in Staten Island. Rather, said the court, Staten Island employees were represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726 [ATU]. Accordingly, the employees on whose behalf TWU had filed the grievance were not represented by TWU and TWU could not bring "contract interpretation grievance" involving §5.2(j)  of the CBA on their behalf.

Further, said the Appellate Division, the provision in the CBA relied on by TWU, §5.2(j),  applies to employees who were transferred out of its Division due to a lack of work in their title in the Brooklyn Division. Here, however, the individuals on whose behalf TWU had grieved “were not transferred out” of Brooklyn due to a lack of work. Rather these individuals were initially assigned to Staten Island upon completion of their training, which training had been given Brooklyn.

The court said that the fact that these trainees had a exercised a Brooklyn "school pick" for such training did not trigger the provisions of Article §5.2(j), as those individuals were not “employed in their title in Brooklyn.” In the words of the Appellate Division there was “no reasonable relation between the subject matter of the dispute and §5.2(j).

Finally, the Appellate Division commented that TWU's grievance appears to be, in fact, an attempt to enforce a provision of the ATU CBA, on behalf of ATU members, which violates public policy, explaining that so doing risks generating an inconsistent result with a settlement of a similar contract interpretation grievance brought by ATU, on behalf of the ATU members and under the ATU CBA.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Showing that an Article 78 proceeding was initiated after the statute of limitations had expired is the burden of the party making the claim of untimeliness



Showing that an Article 78 proceeding was initiated after the statute of limitations had expired is the burden of the party making the claim of untimeliness
2015 NY Slip Op 05998, Appellate Division, Third Department

The petitioner in this Article 78 proceeding [Spouse] was married to the retiree [Decedent] at the time of his death on January 11, 2011. In March 2011 the NYS Employees’ Retirement System [System] paid Decedent's ordinary death benefits to his son and his former spouse in accordance with the beneficiary designations reportedly filed by decedent.

In response to Spouse’s inquiry, the System advised her by letter dated June 12, 2013 that Decedent's death benefits had been paid out to the named beneficiaries. Spouse then commenced an action for declaratory against the System contending that she was entitled to "a portion" of Decedent's death benefits. Ultimately Supreme Court concluded that Spouse's challenge to the payment of death benefits should have been brought in a CPLR Article 78 proceeding and, after converting the action to a proceeding, dismissed the petition as untimely. Spouse appealed.

The Appellate Division, pointing out that the System "has the exclusive authority to determine the validity of beneficiary designations," said "A determination generally becomes binding when the aggrieved party is “notified” and the burden is on the party asserting the statute of limitations defense to establish that the petitioner "was provided notice of the determination more than four months before the proceeding was commenced."

In this action Spouse alleged that she was not notified when the death benefits were paid out to the beneficiaries and, in their motion to dismiss, the System failed to submit any proof that Spouse was notified or otherwise aware of the disbursement of such funds prior to June 2013.

In response to the Systems request that the Appellate Division take judicial notice of the materials appended to its brief, the court said that:

1. Most of these documents in the record on appeal were available to the System but were not submitted to Supreme Court with its motion to dismiss, and

2. These documents do not conclusively establish that [Spouse] received notice.

The Appellate Division found that “on the present record” the System failed to establish that Spouse’s action was untimely.

Considering another aspect of this litigation, the Appellate Division said that as Spouse was seeking a portion of Decedent's death benefits that were paid to the beneficiaries, those beneficiaries are necessary parties to this proceeding as their interests may be inequitably or adversely affected should Spouse prevail.

While not raised by the parties in this action, the Appellate Division commented that “the absence of a necessary party may be raised at any stage of the proceedings, by any party or by the court on its own motion."

Accordingly, the court said that the matter must be remitted to Supreme Court to order the beneficiaries to be joined if they are subject to the jurisdiction of the court or, if not, to permit their joinder by motion, stipulation or otherwise. If such joinder cannot be effectuated, “Supreme Court must then determine whether this proceeding should be permitted to go forward in the absence of these necessary parties.”

The Appellate Division reversed Supreme Court’s decision, on the law, and “remitted [the matter] to the Supreme Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pennsylvania police department is first in the state authorized to use unmanned aerial vehicles


Pennsylvania police department is first in the state authorized to use unmanned aerial vehicles
Source: AOPA’s Aviation e-Briefs

The Mount Carmel Township Police Department is the first in the state authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to use unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] to help during emergencies and investigations. Three officers have been trained to fly or observe the UAV, which will be used in search and rescue operations as well as general patrols.



Terminated probationer failed to establish any basis to go forward with her judicial challenged to her dismissal


Terminated probationer failed to establish any basis to go forward with her judicial challenged to her dismissal
128 AD3d 617

The Appellate Division sustained Supreme Court’s dismissal of a probationary teacher’s [Probationer] challenge to her termination from her position.

The court said that Supreme Court had “providently exercised its discretion” under the “interests of justice standard” in denying Probationer’s request for an extension of time to serve the petition and amended petition personally upon the employers because:

1. Probationer did not seek an extension of time until after the expiration of the four-month statute of limitations;

2. Probationer failed to provide an excuse for the delay or for failing to timely serve the employer;

3. Probationer’s pro se* status is not a reasonable excuse for such failure; and

4. Probationer’s failed to show that the termination of her probationary employment was made in bad faith or in violation of the law.

The Appellate Division said evidence in the record showed that Probationer received two unsatisfactory ratings following classroom observations despite mentoring and coaching throughout the school year and despite a post-observation conference advising her of her teaching deficiencies.

* In the event an individual represents himself or herself in a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding, he or she is said to be serving “pro se.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Handbooks focusing on New York State and Municipal Public Personnel Law:

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. A 448+ page e-book Now available as in print and as a searchable e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 435 page handbook reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 600+ page guide to penalties imposed on public employees in New York State found guilty of selected acts of misconduct. For more information, click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html

General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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