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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Breach of contract action claiming a violation of the terms of a stipulation dismissed for “failure to state a cause of action”

Breach of contract action claiming a violation of the terms of a stipulation dismissed for “failure to state a cause of action”
Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Inc., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v Town of Riverhead, 2010 NY Slip Op 30709(U), March 19, 2010, Supreme Court, Suffolk County, Docket Number: 44050/2008, Judge: Joseph Farneti, [Not selected for inclusion in the Official Reports]

CSEA, alleging that the Town* had violated the terms of a Stipulation by which the parties had resolved a prior contract grievance under a collective bargaining agreement by and between the “Town Of Riverhead” and “CSEA, Local 1000 AFSCME, AFL-CIO,” initiated legal action against the Town that Judge Joseph Farneti characterized as “an action sounding in breach of contract.”**

Judge Farneti said that the issue underlying dispute, as framed by CSEA, was "whether more senior Water Treatment Plant Operators" were denied the opportunity to express their preference not to work a weekend after two new employees were hired.

The court dismissed CSEA’s complaint after finding that CSEA had failed to state a cause of action for breach of contract against the Town.

Judge Farneti explained that the elements of a cause of action for breach of contract are:

(1) Formation of a contract between plaintiff and defendant;

(2) Performance by plaintiff;

(3) Defendant’s failure to perform; and

(4) Resulting damage.

In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, a complaint alleging breach of contract need only contain statements sufficiently particular to give the court and parties notice of the transactions, occurrences, or series of transactions or occurrences intended to be proved and the material elements of each cause of action; such complaint is not required to meet any heightened level of particularity in its allegations.

Viewing the facts alleged in CSEA‘s verified complaint favorably and affording CSEA “the benefit of every possible favorable inference,” the Court found that CSEA‘s complaint failed to state a breach of the Stipulation.

Granting the Town’s motion to dismissed CSEA’s complaint, the court said that CSEA's complaint paraphrased and misstated the language of the Stipulation by combining two subparagraphs (a) and (b) of the Stipulation. These subparagraphs, said the court, provided:

"Upon employment of any additional Water Treatment Plant I (or II) Operators, the most senior Water Treatment Plant Operator, who is regularly scheduled to work a Saturday or Sunday will have first preference to choose not to work a weekend day. Newly promoted Water Treatment Plant I (or II) Operators, following a six month training period, may have a weekend as a part of their regularly scheduled work week.”

CSEA, said the court, combined these two separate provisions of the Stipulation relating to Water Treatment Plant operators and Water Treatment Plant II Operators and failed to include the parenthetical appearing in both provisions concerning how seniority is to be determined.

The Court also noted that the collective bargaining agreement and the Stipulation were in conflict with respect to the definition of seniority. The CBA provided that “[s]eniority shall be computed from the date of employment” (CBA, Art. VI, [2]), while the Stipulation provided that seniority is “based upon length of service in that title” (Stipulation, 7 [I][a] and [b]).

In any event, said the court, the two separate paragraphs in the Stipulation insure that Plant I Operators have seniority rights over less senior Plant I Operators, and Plant II Operators have seniority rights over less senior Plant II Operators. Judge Farneti then noted that there was no indication anywhere in the record that new employee held the title of Water Treatment Plant II Operator during the applicable time period.

* Initially, the Court found that CSEA's claim against defendants Town of Riverhead Board of Trustees and Town of Riverhead Water District must fail based upon lack of privity of contract, as it is undisputed that these two defendants were not parties to the CBA or the Stipulation.

** The decision is silent as to why CSEA decided not file a grievance alleging a violation of the Stipulation pursuant to the CBA's grievance procedure and commence this lawsuit instead.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2010/2010_30709.pdf

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