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Monday, January 31, 2011

State Comptroller DiNapoli proposes legislation providing for the forfeiture of pension benefits of members guilty of “Abuse of Public Trust”

State Comptroller DiNapoli proposes legislation providing for the forfeiture of pension benefits of members guilty of “Abuse of Public Trust”
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli has proposed the introduction of legislation providing for the forfeiture of pension benefits* if certain members of the System are found guilty of committing a felony related to the performance of their official duties.

DiNapoli’s bill also imposes a penalty up to twice the amount a public official benefited from the commission of a crime committed in the course of his or her performace [or presumably, an ommission] of his or her public duty.

DiNapoli, noting State Constitution’s prohibitions against any diminishment of retirement benefits for current public officials and public servants, indicated that the pension forfeiture provisions in the proposed bill would apply only to indiviuals becoming members of the Retirement System after the measure's effective date.

The proposed bill is posted on the Internet at:
http://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/jan11/forfeiture.pdf.

As to the issue of a public officer or employee forfeiting retirement benefits under certain conditions, in Castro v Safir, 291 A.D.2d 212** the basic issue concerned the fallout of New York City police officer Antonio Castro's dismissal prior to the effective date of his retirement. If he was so lawfully dismissed, any pension benefits to which he would otherwise be entitled would be forfeited pursuant to Section 13-173.1 of the New York City Administrative Code.***

Section 13-173.1 requires an employee to "be in service" on the effective date of his or her retirement or vesting of retirement benefits. If the employee is not "in service" on that date, he or she forfeits his or her retirement benefits.

Castro was terminated from his position following a "second arrest." As a result he became ineligible for the ordinary disability retirement benefits for which he had applied. He sued, contending that the Department had terminated him in bad faith in order to frustrate his eligibility for pension benefits as the New York City Employees' Retirement System's Medical Board had previously found Castro eligible for ordinary disability retirement.

According to the decision, Castro was terminated after he had applied for ordinary disability retirement but before he was actually retired for disability.

The Appellate Division ruled that Castro had forfeited his pension benefits as he was discharged before he retired on ordinary disability, i.e., he was not in service on the effective date of his retirement.

This conclusion by the Appellate Division appears to parallel the Court of Appeals holding in its Waldeck and Barbaro rulings wherein the Court of Appeals said that Section 13-173.1 provides that an employee's disciplinary termination prior to effective date of his or her voluntary resignation results in a forfeiture of his or her eligibility for pension benefits. [Waldeck v NYC Employees' Retirement System, 81 N.Y.2d 804, decided with Barbaro v NYC Employees' Retirement System.]

Waldeck and Barbaro challenged the forfeiture of their respective retirement benefits on the ground that they had not been advised of the effective dates of their respective discharges from employment after being found guilty of disciplinary charges filed against them.

Both Waldeck and Barbaro had been terminated prior to their intended dates of voluntary resignation. Did this mean that they could not vest their retirement benefits and thus those benefits would, in effect, be forfeited? In a word -- yes!

The Court of Appeals said that Section 13-173.1 of the Administrative Code contains no requirement that employees receive notice of their discharge from employment, nor does any other statutory authority, and thus the fact that neither Waldeck nor Barbaro were aware that they had been terminated prior to the effective date of their respective resignations "has no relevance to the effective date of termination from employment under Section 13-173.1."

According to the decision, there is no legislative requirement for notice affecting the effective date of discharge for purposes of determining whether a pension has vested within the meaning of Section 13-173.1 of the Code.

* If enacted into law, this presumably could result in the forfeiture of the pension portion of the individual's retirement allowance but that portion of the individual's retirement allowance attributed to his or her "employee contributions" would be refunded.

** See, also, Cipolla v. Kelly 26 A.D.3d 171, wherein the court held that “The fact that [the individual] was about to retire, or that [the individual] ultimately settled the criminal charges by pleading to a violation, does not demonstrate [the individual’s] termination was in bad faith.”

*** As a police officer, Castro was a "public officer." He was also a public employee, as although not all public employees are public officers, all public officers are public employees.

Employee’s termination after hearing held in absentia annulled for failure to prove the employee was notified of the time and place of the hearing

Employee’s termination after hearing held in absentia annulled for failure to prove the employee was notified of the time and place of the hearing
Matter of Toolasprashad v Kelly, 2011 NY Slip Op 00419, Appellate Division, First Department

The Toolasprashad decision demonstrates that evidence that the accused individual was properly served with the notice a scheduled disciplinary hearing may become a critical element in the proceeding.

Rudranu Toolasprashad was terminated from his position following a disciplinary hearing that was held notwithstanding his failing to appear at the designated time and place.

Toolasprashad filed a petition seeking to annul his dismissal, which Supreme Court granted “to the extent of remanding the matter to respondents for a full hearing on proper notice to [Toolasprashad].” The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Appellate Division noted that the hearing officer found that Toolasprashad failed to appear for the hearing was without good cause, this finding was based on the Department representation that had made “diligent efforts to serve [Toolasprashad] with the charges against him and to notify him of the hearing and that [Toolasprashad] had not provided proper contact information in Peru, where he was on leave.”

While this may have otherwise been sufficient, the court said that the record indicated that “the sole evidence of [the Department’s] attempted service in Lima was counsel's hearsay representations.”

Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that the hearing officer’s determination that Toolasprashad’s failure to appear “was without good cause” lacked the requisite proof, citing People ex rel. Griffin v Walters, 83 AD2d 618.

Although the Department argued that “the technical rules of evidence need not be complied with in disciplinary proceedings before administrative bodies,” the court said that the deficiency in the proof of the Department’s efforts to effect service in Lima “goes beyond the lack of technical compliance.”

The court also called attention to the Rules of City of New York Police Department (38 RCNY) §15-03 which, in pertinent part, required that "[s]ervice of the Charges and Specifications shall be made in a manner reasonably calculated to achieve actual notice to the respondent" and that "[a]ppropriate proof of service shall be required."

Thus, concluded the Appellate Division, the Department failed to comply with its own stated obligation to provide Toolasprashad with the required notice of the time and place of the disciplinary hearing. Accordingly, said the court, the hearing officer’s decision to go forward with the disciplinary hearing in Toolasprashad's absence was arbitrary and capricious.

The Mari decision [Mari v Safir, 291 AD2d 298, motion for leave to appeal denied, 98 NY2d 613] sets out the general standards applied by the courts in resolving litigation resulting from conducting a disciplinary hearing in absentia.

The decision demonstrates that an individual against whom disciplinary charges have been filed cannot avoid the consequences of disciplinary action being taken against him or her by refusing to appear at the disciplinary hearing.

Conceding that Mari not present at the disciplinary hearing, the court said "a new hearing is not warranted." Unlike the issue in Toolasprashad, i.e., was the accused employee properly served, in Mari the Appellate Division pointed out that “[Mari] avoided service of the notice of the revised hearing date, and thereafter intentionally absented himself from the hearing."

The Toolasprashad decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00419.htm

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If you are interested in learning more about disciplinary procedures involving public officers and employees, please click here: http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/2009/03/discipline-book.html
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Constitutionally protected speech

Constitutionally protected speech
Bradley v. James USCA, 8th Circuit, 2007 U.S. App. Lexis 4781

In the course of an official investigation of an incident involving students in possession of firearms, Arch Bradley, a police captain, alleged that his chief of police chief, Larry James, was intoxicated while on duty at the time of the incident. As a result, Bradley was terminated from his position.*

Bradley sued, claiming that his speech was protected by the First Amendment and thus his termination was unconstitutional.

The Circuit Court disagreed; holding that Bradley’s statement concerning Chief James’ alleged intoxication was made in the context of his official duties – in the course of an official investigation of a law enforcement incident -- and therefore not constitutionally protected.

The legal issue, said the court, is essentially “did the employee speak as a citizen on a matter of public concern?” If the answer to the question is no, the employee does not have a First Amendment cause of action as a result of his or her employer’s taking adverse personnel action against the employee because of the speech.

Here, said the court, Bradley’s speech was made “pursuant to [his] official responsibilities.” As a police officer, Bradley had an official responsibility to cooperate with the investigation incident. His allegation that Chief James was intoxicated when the student incident occurred was made at no other time than during the subsequent investigation of that event. Thus, ruled the Circuit Court, Bradley’s speech was uttered in the course of his performing his official and professional duties. Accordingly, it was not constitutionally protected speech for the purposes of his First Amendment claim.

The Circuit Court affirmed the federal district court’s dismissal of Bradley’s complaint.

For the full text of the decision, go to:
http://nypublicpersonnellawarchives.blogspot.com/2007/03/protected-speech.html

* Bradley was sent a letter that included the following statements: “Your inaction on February 6th and your unsubstantiated comments about Chief James are both terminable offenses.” The letter offered Bradley the opportunity to retire or be terminated. Bradley did not respond. Bradley was then sent a letter dismissing him from his position for “deliberate or gross neglect of duty” during the incident. Bradley’s allegation that Chief James was intoxicated at the time of the incident was not mentioned in the letter.

Friday, January 28, 2011

California’s Supreme Court confirms longstanding California rule concerning employee layoffs

California’s Supreme Court confirms longstanding California rule concerning employee layoffs
IAFF, Local 188 vs. Public Employment Relations Board [City of Richmond (Real Party in Interest),] California Supreme Court No. S172377

Source: Meyers Nave PLC. -- The Public Blog, posted at http://www.publiclawnews.com/public_law_news/2011/01/ -- Reproduced with permission. Copyright © 2011, Meyers Nave. All rights reserved

"On Monday, January 24, 2011, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding an employer's duty to bargain under the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act ("MMBA") in connection with layoffs. The opinion was authored by Acting Chief Justice Kennard, with a concurring and dissenting opinion filed by Justice Baxter.

"The Bottom Line: The Supreme Court simply affirmed a longstanding rule - that there is no duty to bargain over an employer's decision to layoff, but there is a duty to bargain over the implementation and effects of the decision. This has been the ongoing advice of labor attorneys for years. There is no new law in this decision that should cause public employers to change their practices.

"Discussion: Since approximately 1974, it has been the rule in California that public employers need not negotiate with labor unions about the decision to initiate layoffs. However, public employers must negotiate concerning the effects or impacts of the layoffs. The City of Richmond observed this advice in connection with firefighter layoffs, and the Fire Union claimed that the failure to negotiate constituted an unfair practice under the MMBA.

"This case affirms the rule. The Court expressly states: "We now reaffirm this rule. Under the MMBA, a local public entity that is faced with a decline in revenues or other financial adversity may unilaterally decide to lay off some of its employees to reduce its labor costs. In this situation, a public employer must, however, give its employees an opportunity to bargain over the implementation of the decision, including the number of employees to be laid off, and the timing of the layoffs, as well as the effects of the layoffs on the workload and safety of the remaining employees." (Op. at 19.)

"One additional aspect of the opinion is to define the criteria for permitting review of a decision by the [California] Public Employment Relations Board ("PERB"). The Court agreed with the court of appeal that when PERB refuses to issue a complaint under the MMBA, a superior court may review the decision by mandamus. The review is limited to determining "whether PERB's decision violates a constitutional right, exceeds a specific grant of authority, or is based on an erroneous statutory construction."

"Justice Baxter dissented from this portion of the opinion.

"For more information about this case or other labor and employment matters, contact Art Hartinger at 800.464.3559."

The Doctrine of Nullification claimed as authority to obviated recent federal health care legislation

The Doctrine of Nullification claimed as authority to obviated recent federal health care legislation

State lawmakers in Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming are considering adopting legislation to avoid the federal government’s efforts to “overhaul health care” pursuant to the so-called Doctrine of Nullification.

The Doctrine, attributed to President Thomas Jefferson among others, purports to give States the ultimate authority insofar as the implementation of acts of Congress is concerned and is typically linked to the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Tenth Amendment provides that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

A book printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office, The Constitution of the United States of America [Analysis and Interpretations, 1964], and prepared by the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress, states that “The Tenth Amendment was intended to confirm the understanding of the people at the time the Constitution was adopted” with respect to the division of power between the federal government and the States.

As to the Doctrine of Nullification,* the United States Supreme Court, in the context of a 14th Amendment school desegregation case,** rejected the concept, stating that "Although ‘the responsibility for public education is primarily the concern of the States ..., such responsibilities ... must be exercised consistently with federal constitutional requirements as they apply to state actions.’ Consequently, ‘a Governor who asserts a power to nullify a federal court order’ implementing that ruling is subject to judicial restraint, for otherwise ‘the fiat of a State Governor and not the Constitution ... would be the supreme law of the land..."

* See The Constitution of the United States of America, U.S.G.P.O., Page 1035, Footnote 2.

** Cooper v Aaron, 358 US 1, 18-19, [1958].

Illinois Supreme Court rules that Rahm Emanuel a "resident" for the purpose of running for mayor of Chicago

Illinois Supreme Court rules that Rahm Emanuel a "resident" for the purpose of running for mayor of Chicago
Walter P. Maksym Et Al. , Appellees, v The Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, Supreme Court of the State of Illinois, Docket No. 111773.

Reversing the Appellate Court, the Illinois Supreme Court essentially equated the term “residence” as used in §3.1-10-5(a) of the City’s Municipal Code to “domicile.”* The court, noting that “until just a few days ago, the governing law on this question had been settled in this State for going on 150 years,” citing Smith v. People ex rel.Frisbie , 44 Ill.16 (1867), sustained the decision of Chicago's Board of Elections that Rahm Emanuel was eligible to run for the office of Mayor of the City of Chicago.

The Supreme Court explained that “in assessing whether the candidate has established residency, the two required elements are: (1) physical presence, and (2) an intent to remain in that place as a permanent home. Once residency is established, the test is no longer physical presence but rather abandonment, the presumption is that residency continues, and the burden of proof is on the contesting party to show that residency has been abandoned. Both the establishment and abandonment of a residence is largely a question of intent, and while intent is shown primarily from a candidate’s acts, a candidate is absolutely competent to testify as to his intention, though such testimony is not necessarily conclusive.”

* NYPPL earlier suggested that “Essentially the [Illinois Supreme Court] will decide if the term “residence” as used in §3.1-10-5(a) of [Chicago's] Municipal Code means “domicile” or something other than "domicile” [see http://publicpersonnellaw.blogspot.com/2011/01/legal-distinction-between-domicile-and.html ]

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/47691816/Illinois-Supreme-Court-Decides-Rahm-Emanuel-Can-Run-in-Chicago-Mayoral-Election?DCMP=NWL-cons_breakingdocs

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Extending the probationary period

Extending the probationary period
Subway-Surface Supervisors Assn. v New York City Tr. Auth., 2010 NY Slip Op 52339(U), Supreme Court, New York County, Judge Saliann Scarpulla, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports.]

Subway-Surface Supervisors Association brought an action seeking to have the court void “stipulations of settlement” between the Association and the Authority.

The Association and the Authority had to increase the one-year probationary term for certain employees upon their promotion to a Supervisor position to a two-year probationary period. Shortly before the expiration of their two-year probationary periods, these Supervisors entered into a settlement agreement with the Transit Authority after the Authority had determined that had taken “excessive sick leave during their two-year probationary period.”

As probationary employees, the Supervisors were not entitled to a disciplinary hearing concerning the sick leave violations and each agreed to serve a two year disciplinary probation during which any violation of time and leave would result in dismissal.

The Association argued that the Supervisors already served the maximum amount of probation and further extension was not permitted under Title 55 of the Rules of the City of New York, Section 5.2.8.* In addition, the Association claimed that the Transit Authority failed to get “written authorization to extend the probationary period from the Commissioner of Citywide Administrative Services.” Finally, the Association contended that even if the extension was permitted, its length was “impermissible.”

The Authority, on the other hand, claimed that it had found that Supervisors had unsatisfactory attendance or excessive absenteeism and although these problems were. serious enough to justify their termination, it decided to give them a last chance to salvage their promotions. This, said the Authority, resulted the Supervisors agreeing to a last chance settlement that would allow them to keep their promotions by agreeing to a two-year disciplinary probation.

During that two-year disciplinary probation, any further time and leave violations would result in their dismissal should the arbitrator find that they had committed such further violations.

Supreme Court found that the Stipulations were not “an extension of any probationary period” but constituted a separate probation imposed for disciplinary purposes, freely entered into by the Supervisors.

* The general rule with respect to extensions of the probationary period for employees in the Classified Service is that in the event a probationary employee is absent during his or her probationary period, typically that employee’s probationary period is automatically extended for a period equal to the time the probationer was absent [see Matter of Mazur, 98 AD2d 974]. For example, 4 NYCRR 4.5(f), a Rule adopted by the State Civil Service Commission pursuant to the authority set out in Civil Service Law Section 63.2, provides that with respect to employees of the State as an employer, “the minimum and maximum periods of the probationary term of any employee shall be extended by the number of workdays of his [or her] absence which ... are not counted as time served in the probationary term.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_52339.htm

Negligent hiring and retention of an employee

Negligent hiring and retention of an employee
Anonymous v Dobbs Ferry UFSD, 290 AD2d 464

In the Dobbs Ferry case, New York State Supreme Court Justice Donovan considered a number of important issues, including allegations that the district, and its school superintendent and a middle school principal [“the district”], were guilty of negligent hiring and retention of Steven Nowicki as a teacher.

The decision, which considered various motions to dismiss the action and to amend the complaint preliminary to a trial on the merits, reports that the parents of one of Nowicki’s students invited Nowicki to a New Year’s Eve party. Nowicki, it was alleged, became intoxicated at the party and, at the suggestion of the parents, spent the night at their home rather than risk driving to his own home. The complaint charged that Nowicki later that night sexually assaulted his student, and the student’s younger brother, in their bedroom.

The district asked the court to dismiss the complaint, contending that they cannot be held liable for an incident that occurred outside the school’s premises at a private function for a number of reasons, including:

1. A school’s duty toward its pupils extends only as far as physical custody and control over the pupils and that duty ceases once the pupils have passed out of the school’s orbit of authority.

2. Because of a superseding factor -- the parents invited Nowicki into their home -- any negligent hiring would not be the proximate cause of the alleged injuries.

3. The criminal acts allegedly committed by Nowicki were outside the scope of his employment, and therefore cannot be attributed to the district or its superintendent or principal under the doctrine of respondeat superior.

In response to the district’s motion to dismiss the action on the theory that the school has no duty to supervise a student once he or she has left the custody and control of the school, the court ruled that the location of the incident was irrelevant and declined to grant the district’s motion.

The district appealed. The Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court improperly denied the district’s cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint with respect to it.

The Appellate Division said that the district had made a prima facie showing of its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law by establishing that any nexus between Nowicki's employment at the district and his alleged sexual molestation of the infant plaintiffs was severed by time, distance, and the intervening independent actions of their parents, citing Cardona v Cruz, 271 AD2d 221; K. I. v New York City Bd. of Educ., 256 AD2d 189; McDonald v Cook, 252 AD2d 302; and Lemp v Lewis, 226 AD2d 907, in support of its ruling.

Individuals performing services for a public employer may be designated "non-employees" by statute

Individuals performing services for a public employer may be designated "non-employees" by statute
Levitt v NYC Office of Collective Bargaining, 273 AD2d 104

For the purposes of collective bargaining Article 14 of the Civil Service Law -- the Taylor Law -- applies to all individuals in the services of a public employer except judges, individuals in the military service and public employees designated managerial or confidential.*

The point made clear by the Levitt decision -- individuals who might otherwise satisfy the criteria for public employment, and thus otherwise covered by the Taylor Law, may be denied such status by statute.

Kenneth Levitt challenged a ruling by New York City’s Office of Collective Bargaining [OCB] declaring that four hearing examiners employed by the city’s Parking Violations Bureau [PVB] were ineligible for inclusion in a collective bargaining unit representing city employees.

OCB’s rationale: Section 236(2)(d) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law provides that [s]uch hearing examiners shall not be considered employees of the city in which the administrative tribunal has been established.**

The Appellate Division, First Department, agreed, ruling that [g]iven this clear statutory language, the PVB hearing officers cannot be considered City employees entitled to collectively bargain pursuant to the Taylor Law even though, as OCB found following a hearing, in all other respects these hearing officers meet the criteria for public employment.

Does Levitt have any recourse? Perhaps. As the court pointed out, this was an issue for the Legislature, not the courts, to address.

* Certain individuals have been declared managerial or confidential within the meaning of the Taylor Law by statute.

** Civil Service Law Sections 210 - Prohibition against strikes - and Section 211 - Injunctive relief to prohibit a strike - specifically apply to judges, military personnel and managerial or confidential employees within the meaning of the Taylor Law. Presumably these provisions would not apply to Section 236(2)(d) hearing examiners as the incumbents of such positions are not employees of the jurisdiction in which they serve.

Ability to perform “light duty” defeats accidental disability retirement claim

Ability to perform “light duty” defeats accidental disability retirement claim
Matter of Roache v Hevesi, 38 AD3d 1036

Jerome J. Roache, a police officer, suffered a fracture of his left knee in an accident. He later returned to work in various restricted-duty positions, the most recent of which was as a property clerk.

Claiming that he could not fully perform the duties of a police officer, he filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits with the New York State Employees’ Retirement System.

Finding that Roache was not permanently incapacitated because he was able to perform “his restricted duty assignment” satisfactorily for more than three years prior to his applying for accidental disability retirement, the Retirement System rejected his application for benefits.

The Appellate Division sustained the System’s determination, holding that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the System’s finding that Roach could perform his restricted duty work satisfactorily and thus he was not permanently disabled.

The court dismissed Roache’s appeal, noting that the medical records that Roache had submitted in support of his application contained an opinion from an orthopedic surgeon that he was "able to do light duty."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The legal distinction between domicile and residence

The legal distinction between domicile and residence
Maksym v Board of Election Commissioners, appeal from 2010 COEL 020, #1-1-0033

Rahm Emanuel’s claim that he is eligible to run for the office of Mayor for the City of Chicago will be considered by the Illinois State Supreme Court shortly. Essentially the case will decide if the term “residence” as used in §3.1-10-5(a) of the City’s Municipal Code means “domicile” or something other than "domicile."

In the words of the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Division:

As noted, the operative language at issue requires that a potential candidate have "resided in" the municipality for one year next preceding the election. In its verb form, "reside" generally means, among other things, "to dwell permanently or continuously," or to "have a settled abode for a time." Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1931 (1993). The word is considered to be synonymous with "live, dwell, sojourn, lodge, stay, put (up), [and] stop," but it "may be the preferred term for expressing the idea that a person keeps or returns to a particular dwelling place as his fixed, settled, or legal abode." Webster’s Third New International Dictionary 1931 (1993).

This suggests that Webster's Third may have created some confusion insofar as the traditional legal distinctions between “domicile” and “residence” are concerned.

Perhaps the provisions set out in Illinois Title 86: Revenue, Chapter I: Department of Revenue, Part 100 Income Tax, Section 100.3020 Resident (IITA Section 301) may be illuminating in this regard.

Section 100.3020 Resident (IITA Section 301) states that the term "resident" means an individual who is in Illinois for other than a temporary or transitory purpose during the taxable year or who is domiciled in Illinois but is absent from Illinois for a temporary or transitory purpose during the taxable year. The Title also states that “If an individual is domiciled in Illinois, he remains a resident unless he is outside Illinois for other than temporary or transitory purposes.

The term “domicile,” states the statute, “has been defined as the place where an individual has his true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment, the place to which he intends to return whenever he is absent. It is the place in which an individual has voluntarily fixed the habitation of himself and family, not for a mere special or limited purpose, but with the present intention of making a permanent home, until some unexpected event shall occur to induce him to adopt some other permanent home.

Examples provided by the Illinois Department of Revenue distinguishing between residence and domicile include the following:

1. Another definition of "domicile" consistent with the above is the place where an individual has fixed his habitation and has a permanent residence without any present intention of permanently removing therefrom.

2. An individual can at any one time have but one domicile. If an individual has acquired a domicile at one place, he retains that domicile until he acquires another elsewhere.

3. Thus, if an individual, who has acquired a domicile in California, for example, comes to Illinois for a rest or vacation or on business or for some other purpose, but intends either to return to California or to go elsewhere as soon as his purpose in Illinois is achieved, he retains his domicile in California and does not acquire a domicile in Illinois. Likewise, an individual who is domiciled in Illinois and who leaves the state retains his Illinois domicile as long as he has the definite intention of returning to Illinois.

4. On the other hand, an individual, domiciled in California, who comes to Illinois with the intention of remaining indefinitely and with no fixed intention of returning to California loses his California domicile and acquires an Illinois domicile the moment he enters the state. Similarly, an individual domiciled in Illinois loses his Illinois domicile: 1) by locating elsewhere with the intention of establishing the new location as his domicile, and 2) by abandoning any intention of returning to Illinois.”

A similar issue was considered by New York State's Court of Appeals in Longwood Cent. School Dist. v Springs Union Free School District, 1 NY3d 385.*

In Longwood the court said that:

On this appeal, we decide which of two school districts must bear the educational costs for children who, immediately before their placement in foster care, lived in a homeless shelter with their mother. The question is governed by Education Law §3202 (4) (a), and the outcome turns on where the children "resided" within the meaning of the statute.

Because the term is undefined, we must determine whether it means mere physical location or also includes an element of permanency. We hold that, under the statute, physical presence alone does not qualify as "residence," and therefore conclude that the Springs Union Free School District—the children's last permanent residence—is responsible for their instructional costs. "

The court explained: "Within the general scheme of Education Law §3202, this Court and the Department of Education have consistently interpreted residence as akin to domicile. Domicile requires bodily presence in a place with an intent to make it a fixed and permanent home (see Matter of Newcomb, 192 NY 238, 250 [1908])."

An early decision by the Illinois State Supreme Court is expected.

The Maksym decision by the Illinois Appellate Court is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.state.il.us/court/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2011/1stDistrict/January/1110033.pdf

* The Longwood decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2004/2004_00962.htm

Civil Service Commission’s disqualification of candidate for failure to cooperate in a background investigation for appointment sustained

Civil Service Commission’s disqualification of candidate for failure to cooperate in a background investigation for appointment sustained
Matter of Rodriguez v County of Nassau, 2011 NY Slip Op 00384, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Nassau County Civil Service Commission wrote to Sebastian E. Rodriguez a candidate for appointment as a Nassau County Correction Officer, advising him that he had been "disqualified for . . . failure to cooperate with [his] background investigation." The Commission also told Rodriguez that he had the right to "make explanation and to submit facts in opposition to such disqualification."*

The Commission’s action followed Rodriguez’s failing to contact the Nassau County Police Department after he was told that the Department was investigating his character and background to determine his eligibility for the position of Correction Officer.

Rodriguez was told to call the Department to receive further information and schedule an appointment. The letter also stated “If you fail to contact [the Correction Department’s official] by May 5, 2008, your application may be discontinued." In addition, a Department official left four voice messages on Rodriguez’s cell telephone’s voicemail in an attempt to contact him.

Rodriguez responded to the Commission’s letter claiming that [1] he never received the Department’s letter and [2] that because he did not regularly use his cellular telephone, he was unaware of the voice messages until the week of June 2, 2008. The Commission, after reviewing the matter, advised Rodriguez that it had decided to uphold the original disqualification notification.

Rodriguez filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 78 arguing that the Commission’s decision to disqualify him as a candidate for appointment as a correction officer was "arbitrary and capricious and without just cause or good sound reason."

The Supreme Court granted Rodriguez’s petition, explaining that there was no "rational reason" why the Nassau County Police Department did not attempt to contact Rodriguez either through his previously provided home or work telephone numbers, and that the County officials had failed to explain how the his delay "adversely affected the application process."

The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s decision, explaining that "[I]n a proceeding seeking judicial review of administrative action, the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency responsible for making the determination, but must ascertain only whether there is a rational basis for the decision or whether it is arbitrary and capricious.”

Further, said the Appellate Division, “the Commission's determination to disqualify [Rodriguez] based upon [his] failure to timely schedule the background interview was neither irrational nor arbitrary.”

* §50.4 of the Civil Service Law sets out the reasons for which the state civil service department or a municipal commission may refuse to examine an applicant, or after examination to certify an eligible for appointment to the position being sought, and the due process procedures available to the disappointed applicant wishing to object to the department's or a municipal commission's determination.


The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00384.htm

Employee’s being on medical leave and continuing to receive employee benefits defeats the employee’s claim of constructive termination

Employee’s being on medical leave and continuing to receive employee benefits defeats the employee’s claim of constructive termination
Keehle v Diocese of Syracuse, 2011 NY Slip Op 00145, Appellate Division, Third Department

Minnie Keehle was employed by the Diocese of Syracuse and assigned to teach at a school in St. Joseph's Parish in the Village of Endicott, Broome County.

Claiming that the school principal made her working conditions so intolerable that she could no longer teach and was forced to give up her position, Keehle sued the Diocese for “breach of contract," contending that the school principal made it impossible for her to "continue her employment,” and she had been "effectively terminated."

The Diocese, in rebuttal, argued that Keehle was still its employee and that she had neither resigned nor been terminated.

Supreme Court granted the Diocese’s motion dismissing Keehle’s petition and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision.

The Appellate Division said that accepting all of Keehle’s allegations as true and gibing her the benefit of “every possible favorable inference” Keehle failed to demonstrate that she was constructively discharged from her position because of the conditions that existed in the work place.

The court said that the evidence introduced by the Diocese demonstrated that Keehle had not resigned from her position and it had not terminated her. Rather, said the Appellate Division, Keehle continued to receive employee benefits, including disability and sick pay, as well as health insurance and the record “conclusively established” that she was still in the employ of the Diocese of Syracuse. “albeit on medical leave.”

Accordingly, the Appellate Division said that Keehle’s complaint was properly dismissed by Supreme Court.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00145.htm

Routinely assigning employees to perform out-of-title work in non-emergency situations violates Civil Service Law Section 61.2

Routinely assigning employees to perform out-of-title work in non-emergency situations violates Civil Service Law Section 61.2
MacRae v Dolce, 273 AD2d 389; motion for leave to appeal denied: 95 NY2d 765

Duncan MacRae, in his capacity as president of the City of White Plains firefighters union, challenged the Fire Department’s policy of routinely ... assigning ... fire fighters to perform the duties of an ‘Officer/Designated Fire Fighter’ as described in the [Fire Department’s] Manpower Accountability Standard Operating Procedure [MASOP] as constituting out-of-title work.

Essentially, MacRae complained that the City of White Plains was assigning its firefighters to perform the duties of a Fire Lieutenant in non-emergency situations.

A State Supreme Court justice dismissed complaint, ruling that the department’s policy was proper and does not violate Article V, Section of the New York Constitution or Section 61.2 of the Civil Service Law. The ruling did not pass muster when the Appellate Division considered MacRae’s appeal.*

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling and barred White Plains from routinely assigning its firefighters to perform the duties of fire lieutenant on a non-emergency basis.... The Appellate Division, agreeing with MacRae, held that the City’s policy of routinely assigning firefighters to perform the duties of fire lieutenant on a non-emergency basis violates Civil Service Law Section 61.2.

The court said that the policy provided for the routine, non-emergency imposition upon firefighters of supervisory duties not in their job description and required firefighters to routinely perform supervisory functions clearly within the ambit of the job description applicable to fire lieutenants.**

The court rejected the department’s argument that the MASOP merely codified a long-standing practice of requiring motor and pump operators to perform certain of the duties of fire lieutenants, commenting that the routine temporary assignments improperly harden to a pattern for permanently filling the positions of fire lieutenant.

* Section 61.2 provides as follows: Prohibition against out-of-title work. No person shall be appointed, promoted or employed under any title not appropriate to the duties to be performed and, except upon assignment by proper authority during the continuance of a temporary emergency situation, no person shall be assigned to perform the duties of any position unless he has been duly appointed, promoted, transferred or reinstated to such position in accordance with the provisions of this chapter and the rules prescribed thereunder. No credit shall be granted in a promotion examination for out-of-title work.

** In contrast, the designation of an individual to serve as the “temporary supervisor” when the supervisor is temporarily absent when on vacation or ill is not considered “out-of-title” work within the meaning of Section 61.2.

Petitioner has the burden of proving that his or her probationary termination was made in bad faith

Petitioner has the burden of proving that his or her probationary termination was made in bad faith
Negron v Jackson, 273 AD2d 241

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles terminated Pedro Negron during his probationary period. Negro objected but his appeal was rejected by the Appellate Division, Second Department.

The court pointed out that A probationary employee may be terminated without a hearing and without a statement of reasons in the absence of a showing that the termination was for a constitutionally impermissible purpose, made in bad faith, or in violation of statutory or decisional law, citing Iannuzzi v Town of Brookhaven, 258 AD2d 651.

Further, the discharged employee has the burden of demonstrating bad faith by competent evidence, not speculation. This, apparently, was the defect in Negron’s appeal. The court said that his petition failed to allege facts that supported his conclusory claim of discrimination or to otherwise demonstrate bad faith. Ruling that this constituted a fatal defect, the court said that his petition was properly dismissed by the lower court.

Ability to perform “light duty” defeats accidental disability retirement claim

Ability to perform “light duty” defeats accidental disability retirement claim
Matter of Roache v Hevesi, 38 AD3d 1036

Jerome J. Roache, a police officer, suffered a fracture of his left knee in an accident. He later returned to work in various restricted-duty positions, the most recent of which was as a property clerk.

Claiming that he could not fully perform the duties of a police officer, he filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits with the New York State Employees’ Retirement System.

Finding that Roache was not permanently incapacitated because he was able to perform “his restricted duty assignment” satisfactorily for more than three years prior to his applying for accidental disability retirement, the Retirement System rejected his application for benefits.

The Appellate Division sustained the System’s determination, holding that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the System’s finding that Roach could perform his restricted duty work satisfactorily and thus he was not permanently disabled.

The court dismissed Roache’s appeal, noting that the medical records that Roache had submitted in support of his application contained an opinion from an orthopedic surgeon that he was "able to do light duty."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Members of the NYSERS experiencing "discontinued service” [layoff] may be eligible for certain retirement benefits

Members of the NYSERS experiencing "discontinued service” [layoff] may be eligible for certain retirement benefits
Retirement and Social Security Law §73.b

Considering the various statements suggesting a potential for a significant number of State an municipal employees being laid off appearing in the press, it may be timely to consider the benefits available to members of the New York State Employees' Retirement System pursuant to §73.b of the Retirement and Social Security Law.

This section, captioned “Discontinued Service,” authorizes certain retirement benefits for individuals who became members of the New York State Employees’ Retirement System on or after April 8, 1943* who are laid off if they have 20 or more years of service.

§73.b, in pertinent part, provides that:

“1. A person who last became a member on or after April eighth, nineteen hundred forty-three, and who is discontinued from service while a member, through no fault or delinquency on his [or her] part, may elect to receive his [or her] accumulated contributions or a retirement allowance pursuant to the provisions of paragraph two of this subdivision b if:

“(a) He [or she] shall have completed twenty years of total service, and

“(b) During the six months immediately preceding such discontinuance, he [or she] shall have been in paid service continuously, regularly and without interruption.”**

The benefits payable to those eligible and electing to retire upon being laid off are set out in the statute as follows:

2. A retirement allowance granted pursuant to the provisions of this subdivision b shall consist of:

(a) An annuity of equivalent actuarial value to the member's accumulated contributions, and

(b) A pension which is the actuarial equivalent of the reserve-for-increased-take-home-pay to which he may be entitled, if any, and

(c) A pension, to begin immediately, which shall be composed of one or more of the following parts:

(1) One which is the actuarial equivalent, at his age at the time of such discontinuance, of a pension, beginning at age sixty, of one-seventieth of his final average salary multiplied by the number of years for which he has prior service credit and credit for service in war after world war I, if any, plus

(2) One which is the actuarial equivalent, at his age at the time of such discontinuance, of one-one hundred fortieth of his final average salary multiplied by the number of years for which he has member service credit, plus

(3) If the member shall have attained age fifty, one which equals fifty per centum of the difference between the pension payable to him pursuant to items one and two of this subparagraph (c) and the pension that would be allowable to him were he age sixty.

3. Application shall be made for a discontinued service retirement allowance pursuant to this subdivision b in the same manner and subject to the same conditions, which govern applications and elections for superannuation retirement allowances.

* Section 73.1.a. applies to individuals who last became members of the Retirement System before April 8, 1943.

** N.B. §73.b provides that “The provisions of subparagraph (b) of this paragraph one shall not apply to legislative employees or laborers who have served as such for at least parts of each of the two years immediately preceding such discontinuance.”

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For additional information concerning Layoff, Preferred Lists and Reinstatement, click on http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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Continuing wrong theory to excuse an untimely appeal to the Commissioner of Education rejected

Continuing wrong theory to excuse an untimely appeal to the Commissioner of Education rejected
Michael P. Thomas and the New York City Department of Education, Decision No. 16,193

Michael P. Thomas, a tenured teacher employed by the New York City Department of Education, objected to the placement of certain documents in his personnel file.

Noting that an appeal to the Commissioner of Education must be commenced within 30 days from the making of the decision or the performance of the act complained of, unless any delay is excused by the Commissioner for good cause shown, the Commissioner noted that Cardozo had commenced his appeal more than six months after the date of the most recent document he objected to having been placed in his personnel file.

Conceding that his appeal was not filed in a timely manner, Thomas argued that the placement of these letters and documents in his personnel file constitutes a continuing wrong.

The Commissioner rejected Thomas’ theory, noting that the continuing wrong doctrine applies when the ongoing action is itself an unlawful action, such as the unlawful employment of an unqualified individual, unlawful appointments to a district’s shared decision-making team, an improperly constituted professional development team, certain expenditures under an austerity budget that did not comply with the law.

In contrast, the Commissioner said that the doctrine did apply where the specific action being challenged is a single action, inaction or decision and the resulting effects are not intrinsically unlawful.

Although the parties disagreed as to the nature of each letter and document, the Commissioner ruled that placement of letters and grievance documents in a personnel file is not an inherently unlawful action, ruling that the continuing wrong doctrine does not apply and dismissed Thomas’ appeal as untimely.

The Commissioner’s decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisions/volume50/d16193.htm

Providing legal representation to public officers and employees being sued

Providing legal representation to public officers and employees being sued
Vitucci v City of New York, 272 AD2d 620

A New York City employee, Jacqueline Vitucci, was named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit. He asked Corporation Counsel to defend him in accordance with Section 50-k of the General Municipal Law.

Like similar representation provisions, Section 50-k(2) requires the Corporation Counsel to defend municipal employees in civil actions which the corporation counsel finds occurred while the employee was acting within the scope of his [or her] public employment and in the discharge of his duties and was not in violation of any rule or regulation of his [or her] agency at the time the alleged act or omission occurred.

When Vitucci’s request was denied, he filed a petition seeking a court order requiring the Corporation Counsel to defend him. The Appellate Division sustained a lower court ruling dismissing his petition.

The court’s rationale: Whether an employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment and is entitled to legal representation must be determined in the first instance by the Corporation Counsel, whose determination may be set aside only if it lacks a factual basis, and in that sense, is arbitrary and capricious.

The court said that the report prepared by the Special Commissioner for Investigation for the New York City School District provided the Corporation Counsel with a sufficient factual basis to determine that the acts allegedly committed by Vitucci were not within the scope of his employment.

Retirees claim they were mislead by union concerning accepting a retirement incentive

Retirees claim they were mislead by union concerning accepting a retirement incentive
Dolce v Bayport-Blue Point UFSD, 286 AD2d 316

A number of school districts have negotiated retirement incentive provisions in the course of collective bargaining. Sometimes hindsight causes an individual to regret his or her decision to accept or reject the opportunity. The Dolce case concerns a number of teachers who had accepted a retirement incentive only to later regret their decision.

Essentially the retired teachers complained they were misled by their union when they decided to accept the incentive and retire.

According to the decision, Bayport-Blue Point Union Free School District and the teachers’ union negotiated a retirement incentive providing for a one-time payment of $34,000 to eligible teachers who retired by a specified date. Teachers electing the incentive were required to submit irrevocable resignations on or before April 28, 1997.

Dolce alleged that a number of teachers decided to take advantage of the incentive and retire because the Union’s chief negotiator advised them that this was the best offer they would get and that it would never be offered again.

As things turned out, the chief negotiator may have been somewhat pessimistic. In December 1998, the district and the union negotiated a second retirement incentive that provided for the same one-time payment to teachers who elected to retire by June 30, 1999. The second agreement specifically provided that it would not apply to teachers who had previously submitted their resignations.

Dolce and the other teachers sued, complaining that they lost substantial salary and pension benefits in reliance upon the Union’s representation that the 1997 one-time retirement incentive would not be offered again. They also objected to the district’s refusal to allow them to rescind or recant their resignations in order to take advantage of the second retirement incentive. Justice Emerson dismissed the petition, holding that it was untimely.

State Supreme Court Justice Emerson said that while Dolce’s petition concerning the union is based on allegations of breach of contract and fraud, Dolce’s remedy against the Union is an action for breach of the duty of fair representation.

The Appellate Division agreed, holding that:

Supreme Court correctly determined that the plaintiffs' claims against the Teachers' Association were time-barred, citing Bitterman v Herricks Teachers' Association, 220 AD2d 473. Further, as the claims against the superintendent of schools and other school officials, such claims are “inextricably intertwined with the claims against the Teachers' Association for breach of duty of fair representation.” Accordingly, said the court, they are governed by the four-month Statute of Limitations in CPLR 217 (2) (b), and thus, they are also time-barred [with respect to suing the district officials].

Another critical element in pursuing this lawsuit: Dolce had neglected to file a timely notice of claim as mandated by Section 3813(l) of the Education Law, a condition precedent to suing a school district concerning a “personal matter.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

Designation of a representative in writing found critical to making a lawful determination

Designation of a representative in writing found critical to making a lawful determination
Matter of Richards v City of Binghamton, 2011 NY Slip Op 00306, Appellate Division, Third Department

James Richards, a City of Binghamton firefighter, was receiving benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a as a result of his suffering a job-related disability.

Binghamton’s independent medical examiner subsequently determined that Richards was capable of returning to modified duty with specific restrictions and Fire Chief Daniel Thomas sent Richards a letter directing him to complete certain medical procedures and tests “within 30 days and report to work for light duty on a date six days from the date of the letter.” Richards was also advised that he had 10 days to appeal the determination by submitting a written request for appeal, accompanied by medical documentation that he was unable to perform light duty tasks.

Richards “was away on vacation” when Chief Thomas sent him the letter. The letter, however, was not received until after the deadlines for Richards to report to work or appeal had passed. Ultimately the city terminated Richards’ §207-a benefits following a number of communications and Richards sued, complaining that Binghamton failed to “comply with proper procedures.” Supreme Court agreed and directed the city to “continue paying benefits,” ruling that Richards was entitled to a hearing.

The Appellate Division agreed, holding that “Because [Binghamton] did not comply with its own procedures prior to terminating [Richards’] benefits, Supreme Court properly annulled the determination.”

The court noted that “A municipality is entitled to order medical examinations of a firefighter who is receiving benefits and direct the employee to return to light duty work if medically able (see General Municipal Law § 207-a [1], [3]).” Further, said the court, a municipality may terminate benefits if a firefighter refuses to report for such work, citing General Municipal Law §207-a[3].

Although §207-a does set out a procedural framework that must be followed for such determinations, it does permit "each municipality to formulate its own procedure consistent with the demands of due process” and such procedures may be established through collective bargaining.

In this instance, said the Appellate Division, the collective bargaining agreement [CBA] between Richards’ union and Binghamton provides that disagreements concerning determinations, other than initial determinations, — including whether a firefighter is able to perform light duty work — "will be resolved in accordance with the current City procedure using an impartial hearing officer."

The CBA, however, did not define what constituted the "current City procedure" and the parties did not agree on the meaning of that term. This did not create any insurmountable obstacle for the court, however, as the Appellate Division held that “Even if we accept [the city’s] contention that the CBA incorporates an undated document entitled Firefighter's and Police Officer's Disability Procedure (FPODP) as the current procedure, [the city] cannot prevail because it failed to comply with the FPODP.

The FPODP provided, in pertinent part, that "the Commissioner shall order the individual to report for such available modified duty.” Further, the parties agreed that Binghamton’s mayor is the "Commissioner," although that term is defined to also include "an agent appointed by" the Commissioner and so designated in writing by the Mayor.*

The Appellate Division found that because the record did not contain any written designation by the mayor granting “an agent” authority to perform the functions of the Commissioner, Chief Thomas did not qualify as the Commissioner's agent.

Accordingly, said the court, Thomas's letter does not constitute an order by the Commissioner, so Richards’ “noncompliance with that letter” cannot serve as a proper basis for discontinuing benefits.

Further, assuming that Chief Thomas’ letter was proper, the FPODP merely requires an individual who disagrees with the Commissioner's determination regarding a modified duty assignment to serve the Commissioner with "a demand for a hearing," It does not mention any supporting medical documentation is required to perfect such a demand.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division rejected the city’s argument that “pursuant to case law, [Richards] was not entitled to a hearing because he did not provide medical proof that he is unable to perform modified duties.

The court ruled that the case law cited by Binghamton, which included Matter of Uniform Firefighters of Cohoes, Local 2562, IAFF, AFL-CIO v City of Cohoes, 94 NY2d 686, was inapplicable as the city had chosen “a procedural framework that does not require that medical proof be submitted along with the hearing request.”

* The designation of an “agent” in writing may critical in other situations as well. For example, Section 75.2 of the Civil Service Law permits an appointing authority to designate “a deputy or other person ... in writing” to conduct a disciplinary hearing for the purpose of making findings of fact and recommendations concerning the disposition of the charges filed against the employee and the penalty, if any, to be imposed. The importance of naming a hearing officer in writing is demonstrated by Perez v NYS Dept. of Labor, 665 NYS2d 714. Citing the Court of Appeals ruling in Wiggins v Board of Education, 60 NY2d 385, the Appellate Division said that because there was no written designation appointing the hearing officer, the appointing authority “lacked jurisdiction” to maintain the initial disciplinary proceeding” against Perez.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00306.htm

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For additional information about concerning administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder go to: http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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Right to counsel in a disciplinary action

Right to counsel in a disciplinary action
Elmore v Plainview-Old Bethpage CSD, 273 AD2d 307

The Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District filed disciplinary charges against one of its teachers, Edwin Elmore, alleging that Elmore had engaged in inappropriate conduct toward a student. Found guilty following a disciplinary hearing held pursuant to Section 3020-a of the Education Law, the district terminated Elmore.

Elmore appealed, contending that he had been unfairly denied his right to counsel when the Hearing Officer ruled that he could not discuss his testimony with his attorney during any adjournments in his cross-examination by the school district’s attorney. According to the decision, the five days of Elmore’s cross-examination extended over a period of 10 weeks. In other words, the hearing officer barred Elmore from discussing his testimony with his attorney for a ten-week period.

A State Supreme Court judge vacated the determination and the penalty imposed. The Appellate Division sustained the lower court’s decision. The Appellate Division pointed out that Section 3020-a(3)(c)(i) provides that a teacher facing disciplinary charges shall have the right to be represented by counsel at any hearing held on those charges.

However, because there were no cases discussing the precise issue herein, namely, to what extent a Hearing Officer may circumscribe a teacher’s contact with his attorney between adjourned dates of hearings, cited in the briefs submitted by the parties, the Appellate Division applied the rationale followed in criminal prosecutions involving similar situations -- barring the client from conferring with his or her attorney.

Commenting that teacher disciplinary proceedings are not criminal actions, the court said it was mindful that “a tenured teacher has a protected property interest in his [or her] position which raises due process considerations when a teacher is faced with termination of his employment, presumably deeming the loss of employment the economic equivalent of incarceration.”

As New York courts have disapproved forbidding a defendant from discussing his trial testimony with his attorney for all but brief periods of time, the Appellate Division, citing Goldfinger v Lisker, 68 NY2d 225, decided that such a restriction in an administrative disciplinary proceeding was inappropriate in view of the due process considerations involved when a tenured employee is threatened with termination of his or her employment -- particularly in Elmore-type situation, where the time period involved was 10 weeks. The Appellate Division directed the district to hold a new hearing.

The court’s rationale would probably be applied in disciplinary actions taken against an individual pursuant to Section 75 of the Civil Service Law.

Appointment and removal of Special Police Officers

Appointment and removal of Special Police Officers
O'Donnell v. Ferguson, App. Div., Fourth Dept., 273 AD2d 905; Motion for leave to appeal denied, 96 NY2d 701*

The O’Donnell case sets out some of the relevant law concerning the appointment and removal of special police officers by a town.

Since 1990, the Town of Evans had annually appointed John O’Donnell as a part-time police officer. When on duty for the Town, O’Donnell had the same powers and responsibilities as the full-time members of the Town’s Police Department. He also carried the same firearm, wore the same uniform as the full-time officers and was required to complete the same specialized training as the full -time officers.

Evans Chief of Police Robert R. Catalino posted a note on a bulletin board stating that effective November 17, 1998, O’Donnell would no longer work for the Town.** O’Donnell had no prior notice of this, nor was he informed of the reason why he would no longer work for the Town.

O’Donnell sued. A State Supreme Court issued an order directing the Town to reinstate O’Donnell as a part-time police officer and directed that he remain in that position unless suspended or dismissed pursuant to Section 155 of the Town Law.**** The court also ordered a hearing on damages.

The Town appealed, contending that because O’Donnell was a special police officer appointed pursuant to Section 158.1 of the Town Law, he served at the pleasure of the Town Board and therefore was not entitled to the protections of Section 155. The Appellate Division agreed and vacated the lower court’s order.

The Appellate Division said the Supreme Court erred in determining that the Town Board lacked authority to dismiss [O’Donnell] without first complying with Town Law Section 155. The court pointed out that contrary to O’Donnell’s claim that he was employed on a regular basis as a part-time police officer rather than as a special police officer, O’Donnell was not scheduled to work on a regular part-time basis but was called only from time to time to work on a temporary basis.

This decision suggests that the critical element in determining if an individual is a part-time police officer or a special police officer is whether or not the individual has a regular work schedule.

* In O'Donnell v. Ferguson, 23 A.D.3d 1005, a later decision involving the same parties but a different issue, the Appellate Division, 4th Department, commented that the “Defendants are incorrect to the extent that they contend that, as an "at-will" employee, plaintiff could be terminated for a constitutionally impermissible or statutorily proscribed purpose.”

** O’Donnell was a full-time employee of the New York State Department of Corrections and had worked a total of 27.5 days for the Town from January 1998 through October 1998.

*** Section 155 provides that a town police officer is entitled to a disciplinary hearing and if found guilty of charges of neglect or dereliction in the performance of official duty, or of violation of rules or regulations or disobedience, or of incompetency to perform official duty, or of an act of delinquency seriously affecting his general character or fitness for office, he or she may be punished by reprimand, loss of pay for up to 20 days, extra tours of duty not to exceed 20 days, suspension without pay for up to 20 days or dismissal.

**** Section 155 provides that a town board may employ temporary police officers from time to time ... and such officers shall serve at the pleasure of the Town Board. Such personnel are shall be known as `special policemen’ and shall have all the power and authority conferred upon constables by the general laws of the state....'

Applying for reinstatement following a §73 termination from a §72 disability leave

Applying for reinstatement following a §73 termination from a §72 disability leave
Matter of Coleman v State of New York, Appellate Division, Third Department, 38 AD3d 1044

Coleman was involved in an off-duty automobile accident and was placed on disability leave pursuant to §72 of the Civil Service Law. After she had been continuously absent for more than one year, the Department terminated her in accordance with the provisions of §73 of the Civil Service Law.*

§73 provides that an individual terminated after being absent on leave pursuant to §72 may apply for reinstatement to his or her former position within one year after the termination the disability underlying being placed on §72 leave by applying to the civil service department or municipal commission having jurisdiction over the position “for a medical examination to be conducted by a medical officer selected for that purpose by such department or commission.”

When Coleman initially applied for reinstatement she was evaluated to determine is she was fit to perform the essential duties of a correction officer.

Ultimately, the New York State Department of Correctional Services disqualified Delores Coleman for employment as a correction officer based on the Department’s medical expert opinion that Coleman was not psychologically qualified for the position. Coleman appealed.

Although Coleman was initially approved for reinstatement, information subsequently provided by the Department resulted in a second evaluation that concluded that she was "poorly suited" for the position. According to the decision, Coleman’s responses to specific questions during a subsequent psychological interview raised significant concerns about her judgment and integrity and as a result, she was denied reinstatement to her former position of correction officer..

Coleman contended that: Corrections incorrectly utilized the standards required of a new correction officer outlined in Correction Law §8 in rejecting her request to be reinstated to her former position with the Department.

The Appellate Division rejected Coleman’s argument, noting that although prior to 2004, a correction officer seeking reinstatement was examined solely to determine whether the disability still existed, by January 2004, [the Department] changed the medical evaluation processing of correction officer reinstatements to mirror the processing of correction officer trainee candidates.**

Accordingly, said the court, Corrections had the statutory authority under Civil Service Law §73 to determine if Coleman was mentally fit to return to her position as a correction officer and its use of the psychological standards detailed in Correction Law §8 for that purpose was entirely proper, It then dismissed her appeal.

* Section 73 of the Civil Service Law provides for the removal of a tenured employee in the classified service if he or she has been continuously absent from work for one year or more because of a non-work related injury or illness. Termination pursuant to Section 73 is at the discretion of the appointing authority. [Termination following a cumulative period absence of one year or more due to a work-connected injury or illness is controlled by §71 of the Civil Service Law. Again, termination of an individual placed on a §71 leave of absence is at the discretion of the appointing authority.]

** Correction Law Section 8 (2) provides that all applicants for the position of correction officer must undergo a psychological evaluation to determine if they are "suffering from psychotic disorders, serious character disorders, or other disorders which could hinder performance on the job [and] may be deemed ineligible for appointment."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board determines if there is disqualifying misconduct for the purposes of receiving unemployment insurance benefits

Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board determines if there is disqualifying misconduct for the purposes of receiving unemployment insurance benefits
Matter of Green v Village of Hempstead, 2011 NY Slip Op 00137, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Village of Hempstead dismissed Deputy Village Attorney Donna M. Green from her position for alleged misconduct. When the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board approved unemployment insurance benefits for Green, the Village appealed.

Hempstead argued that that the credible evidence established that Green was discharged for conducting her private legal practice on “Village time,” and that her discharge was not, as she claimed, merely politically motivated.

The Appellate Division said that whether an employee was terminated for misconduct is a factual question for the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board to resolve. Thus, said the court, “its resolution of this issue will not be disturbed if supported by substantial evidence, citing Matter of Ponce, 75 AD3d 1041.

According to the decision, Hempstead said that it had given three memoranda to Green concerning her performance of her duties but Green had testified that she had received only one of these three documents prior to her termination -- and she refuted the claims stated within the documents.

Further, the court said that two witnesses supporting Green’s allegation that she and other members of the Village’s legal staff were discharged for political reasons following the election of a new mayor, and the employer did not offer evidence refuting this testimony.

As to the merits of Hempstead’s opposition to the Board’s determination, the Appellate Division, after reviewing the conflicting evidence, noted that Green's occasional receipt of private legal mail at her Village office, “standing alone, did not conclusively establish that she conducted her private practice on the employer's time.”

The Appellate Division found that “there was no other evidence of wrongdoing [on the part of Green]” and her tardiness on one occasion “does not necessarily constitute disqualifying misconduct … even if [Green’s] explanation was inaccurate. ” citing Matter of Massucci, 8 AD3d 737.

Thus, concluded the court, substantial evidence supports the Board's conclusion that [1] Green had not engaged in disqualifying misconduct and [2] she was entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_00137.htm

Failure to meet contract deadlines does not void disciplinary action

Failure to meet contract deadlines does not void disciplinary action
Covino v Kane, 273 AD2d 380, Motion for leave to appeal denied, 96 NY2d 701

The significant issue raised in the Covino case concerns the impact of the employer’s failing to meet a contract-specified deadline in issuing a disciplinary determination.

A member of the Nassau County Police Department, Craig S. Covino, was found guilty of violating seven departmental rules and regulations and a disciplinary penalty was imposed.

Covino objected, complaining that the Police Commissioner, issued his decision late in violation of Section 6.3-1 of the collective bargaining agreement between the Police Department and the Covino’s union. This failure to make a timely determination as to Covino’s guilt and the penalty to be imposed as punishment, Covino argued, required that the disciplinary action be rescinded. Section 6.3-1 of the collective bargaining agreement provided that:

A determination as to guilt or innocence and punishment, if any, shall be made within sixty (60) days after the hearing is concluded unless an employee or the [Superior Officers Association] consents to a longer period.

According to the decision, Covino was served with charges and specifications and his disciplinary hearing was concluded in September 1998.

The hearing officer’s report, dated November 20, 1998, recommended that Covino be found guilty of all of the charges preferred against him. On January 4, 1999 the Commissioner concurred with the findings of the hearing officer as to Covino’s being guilty of the charges filed against him and imposed penalties based upon those findings and recommendations.

Should the Commissioner’s determination be overturned because he failed to meet the 60-day deadline for issuing a decision as required by the agreement?

No! said the Supreme Court, Nassau County, the Commissioner’s decision should not be vacated or rescinded and dismissed Covino’s petition. The court ruled that in the absence of specific language barring further action, an employer’s failure to act within the time frame contemplated in a collective bargaining agreement does not preclude further action by the employer.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, agreed.

In affirming the lower court’s ruling, the Appellate Division pointed out that in interpreting similar contractual provisions, the Second Department has repeatedly held that, in the absence of prejudice, the failure to timely render a determination pursuant to the terms of the parties’ contract does not warrant vacatur of the determination, citing Correctional Unit Employees v State of New York Department of Correctional Services, 236 AD2d 546.

The decision by the Appellate Division suggests that the Supreme Court decided, or assumed, that the 60-day period for the Commissioner to issue a timely decision in accordance with relevant contract provision started when the hearing was concluded in September 1999. If, on the other hand, the disciplinary hearing is not deemed concluded until the hearing officer issued his or her determination and recommendations, this 60-day period would begin to run not before the date the hearing officer issued his or her report -- November 20, 1998.

Another case contract time limits: City of Newburgh v DeGidio, 273 A.D.2d 468. In this Article 75 action to stay arbitration, the Appellate Division to the parties to proceed to arbitration to resolve the issue. Reversing the Supreme Court’s ruling to the contrary, the Appellate Division, citing County of Rockland v Primiano Construction Co., 51 NY2d 1, held:

Where the collective bargaining agreement does not contain an express provision making compliance with the time limitations set forth in the grievance procedure a condition precedent to binding arbitration, the issues related to compliance with the time limitations set forth in the grievance procedure are matters of procedural arbitrability for the arbitrator to decide.

In other words, the arbitrator is to decide whether if the demand for arbitration was valid under the terms of the agreement.
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The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. a 1020 page e-book is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/ for additional information concerning this electronic handbook.

Transfer to a different retirement plan

Transfer to a different retirement plan
Overton v Southampton, 273 AD2d 242; Motion for leave to appeal denied, 95 NY2d 764

In the Overton case, the Appellate Division, Second Department, ruled that if a member of the State Employees’ Retirement System transfers from one plan to a different plan, he or she is subject to the relevant provisions of law concerning the plan into which he or she has transferred.

The Town of Southampton adopted a resolution on November 23, 1999. This resolution terminated the employment of its Chief of Police, James P. Overton, effective January 7, 1999, Overton’s 55th birthday. The Town’s action was based on the retirement plan to which Overton had previously transferred -- the Section 384-d plan.

According to the decision, although Overton was initially enrolled in a 25-year retirement plan with a mandatory retirement age of 70, he later elected to transfer into an optional 20-year retirement plan when the optional plan became available to the Town’s police officers pursuant to Section 384-d of the Retirement and Social Security Law.

Although Section 384-d requires members to retire no later than age 62, in 1971 a new subdivision, subdivision (m), was added to Section 384-d. Subdivision m applied only to Southampton law enforcement personnel and required police officers in the Section 384-d plan to retire at age 55.

Subdivision (m) provides that [n]otwithstanding any inconsistent provision of law, if the town board of the town of Southampton elects to make the benefits of this section available to the members of its police department, each member of such department shall be separated from service upon completion of twenty years of service, provided, however, that the town board may permit a member to continue in service on an annual basis after the completion of twenty years of service, but in no event shall such annual service be continued after a member has attained age fifty-five.

Approaching age 55, Overton decided he wanted to withdraw from the Section 384-d 20-year plan and transfer back into the 25-year plan so that he could continue his employment with the Town after reaching age 55. The Town, however, adopted a resolution separating him from service effective January 7, 2000, his 55th birthday.

Another factor in the litigation: The State Comptroller had issued an opinion indicating that Section 384-d(m) requires any Town police officer who ever enrolled in the 20-year plan to separate from service at age 55, regardless of whether the officer has subsequently withdrawn from the plan.*

Overton sued the Town and the Comptroller in an effort to annul the Town’s action and be approved for transfer into another plan. Unsuccessful in Supreme Court, he appealed. The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling, holding that the resolution in question adopted by the Town of Southampton on November 23, 1999, is annulled.

The rationale for the court’s annulling the Town’s resolution:

Section 384-d(b) of the Retirement and Social Security Law allows a member who elects to participate in a 20-year plan to withdraw from the plan and enroll in another retirement plan. According to the decision, the plain meaning of the statute, read as a whole, is that a Town police officer may withdraw from the 20-year plan and enroll in another available retirement plan.

The court rejected the Town’s arguments in support of its action, commenting that subdivision (m) does not require a member who changes plans to nevertheless retire at age 55.

The court said that nothing in the Retirement and Social Security Law suggests that Overton was required to retire at age 55 upon his transfer to another plan with a higher mandatory retirement age.

The bottom line: the court decided that Overton has the right to withdraw from the 20-year retirement plan and transfer to the 25-year retirement plan available to Town police officers with a mandatory retirement age of 70.

* The Comptroller was severed from the lawsuit, having earlier agreed that if the Town’s resolution is annulled, the Retirement System would not prevent Overton from continuing in service and obtaining credit for such service for “retirement allowance” purposes.

Challenging administrative rulings

Challenging administrative rulings
Malitz v NYC Transit Authority, NYS Supreme Court, Justice Stallman [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

The Malitz case points out the differences in the standards that are used by the courts when reviewing different types of agency or administrative determinations.

In cases involving challenges to an agency’s administrative determination made without having held an administrative hearing, the test applied is whether or not the agency’s determination can be supported on any reasonable basis. Stated another way: was the administrative determination arbitrary or capricious?*

In contrast, Justice Michael D. Stallman pointed out that when a court considers a challenge to an administrative determination resulting from a quasi-judicial proceeding, i.e., an administrative hearing, it applies the substantial evidence test. The substantial evidence standard arises only when there has been a quasi-judicial hearing, and evidence taken pursuant to law, said Justice Stallman, citing Colton v Berman, 21 NY2d 322.

The issue before the court in the Malitz case: which was the appropriate test to be applied in addressing Malitz’s Article 78 petition?

The case arose as a result of the New York City Transit Authority [NYCTA] filing disciplinary charges against one of its railroad clerks, Bryan Malitz. NYCTA alleged that Malitz failed to properly relieve another railroad clerk, Holmes.

According to the decision, on August 1, 1997 Holmes had incorrectly tallied fare cards resulting in a $2,100 shortage. Malitz did not detect this error and carried over the same incorrect information during his shift. Malitz’s relief, Bayo, repeated Holmes’ and Malitz’s error. Holmes then relieved Bayo without detecting the error. Finally the $2,100 error was discovered by Malitz when he relieved Holmes for a second time.

The Authority terminated Malitz. The grievance arbitration panel upheld the termination, ruling that Malitz did not make a ‘proper relief’ [and] this failure did warrant dismissal since the per se procedural violation went to the heart of a railroad clerk’s responsibilities and was a serious failure of duty. Neither Holmes nor Bayo were terminated as a result of the error that Holmes made on August 1.

Malitz then filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights [NYSDHR] contending that he had been unlawfully terminated from his position due to his sleep apnea disability in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law [Section 296, Executive Law]. He also asserted that the charges leading to his dismissal were false. NYSDHR dismissed his discrimination complaint, finding that there was a lack of probable cause.

NYSDHR decided that Malitz had been terminated because of performance infractions unrelated to his sleep apnea. In reviewing Malitz’s complaint, the Division took into consideration various performance infractions set out in Malitz’s personnel record. These other infractions included episodes involving insubordination, arguing with customers, closing his window, refusing to sell tokens, exposing himself while on duty and sleeping on duty.

NYSDHR decided that NYCTA’s decision to penalize but not terminate Holmes or Boyd did not support a claim that NYCTA’s termination of Malitz constituted unlawful discrimination. NYSDHR noted that Holmes’ and Boyd’s employment dossiers, unlike Malitz’s, did not contain any reports of procedural violations prior to the August 1, 1997 incident.

Malitz appealed NYSDHR’s determination. His Article 78 petition alleged that NYSDHR’s dismissal of his complaint was not supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected this theory, indicating that Malitz’s reliance on the substantial evidence test in his case was misplaced.

The decision states that NYSDHR has the discretion to (1) determine how an investigation will be conducted and (2) to dismiss a complaint for lack of probable cause without a hearing where appropriate. As there was no hearing held concerning Malitz’s complaint, the appropriate test to be applied was whether the Division’s determination was rational, not whether it was supported by substantial evidence.

Justice Stallman ruled that the division’s action satisfied the rational test. He said that NYSDHR dismissed petitioner’s discrimination claim for lack of probable cause after a thorough investigation and review of all factors, including his sleep apnea diagnosis. Under the circumstances this, the court concluded, was reasonable.

Clearly, since Malitz’s complaint was dismissed for lack of probable cause and a quasi-judicial hearing was not held by the NYSDHR, the substantial evidence test was not applicable. As to his challenge to the administrative dismissal of his complaint, the court said that because he did not present any evidence that NYSDHR’s dismissal of his complaint was arbitrary or capricious, his petition had to be dismissed.

* The arbitrary and capricious standard involves a review of whether a particular administrative action is justified. In effect, the rationality of the decision is reviewed under this standard.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

State Comptroller finds that some school districts paid for health benefits for deceased or ineligible retirees and dependents

State Comptroller finds that some school districts paid for health benefits for deceased or ineligible retirees and dependents
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli reports that his auditors found that ten school districts in New York State paid nearly $239,000 for health insurance benefits for deceased or ineligible retirees. DiNapoli also said $117,556 had been recovered.

The audit, which covered July 1, 2008 to May 31, 2010, examined school districts with a high percentage of retirees who do not contribute toward the cost of their health insurance.

The auditors found that only two districts of those audited – Somers Central School District and Yonkers City School District – had written guidelines to ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of health insurance payments.

DiNapoli’s audit recommended that school district officials:

1. Develop written policies and procedures to periodically monitor the status of all retirees, their spouses and dependents receiving health insurance coverage; and

2. Consider establishing systems to maintain adequate information on retirees and their dependents, including social security numbers and emergency contact information, which can be used to ensure eligibility for health insurance coverage.

The Comptroller’s report is posted on the Internet at: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/retireehealth/global.pdf

Use of leave credits and the FMLA

Use of leave credits and the FMLA
Repa v. Roadway Express, Inc. USCA, 7th Circuit, 477 F.3d 938

Alice M. Repa complained that her employer, Roadway Express, Inc., required her to use her sick and vacation leave accruals while she was on FMLA leave although she was simultaneously receiving short-term disability benefit – i.e., paid leave - under Roadway’s disability plan.

The Circuit Court sustained a federal district court’s ruling that Roadway had violated the FMLA by requiring Repa to charge her FMLA-absence to her leave accruals. The lower court held that absence from work under a temporary disability benefit plan is not subject to a provision in the FMLA that allows employers to require employees to substitute paid leave for unpaid FMLA leave.

The decision states that “the purpose of the FMLA is, in part, “to entitle employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons . . . in a manner that accommodates the legitimate interests of employers.” Although the employer is not required to pay an employee while the employee is on FMLA leave, [see 29 U.S.C. §2612(c)], the “employee may elect, or an employer may require the employee, to substitute any of the accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, or family leave of the employee for [FMLA] leave provided” [see 29 U.S.C. § 2612(d)(2)].*

In this instance, said the court, short-term disability leave pursuant to Roadways’ temporary disability benefit plan was not unpaid leave. Accordingly, the FMLA provision allowing the employer to require the employee to substitute paid leave for unpaid FMLA absences was inapplicable.

In addition, the decision noted that the employer may designate the short-term disability leave as FMLA leave and count the disability leave as running concurrently for purposes of both the benefit plan and the employee’s FMLA leave entitlement. Further, said the court, “If the requirements to qualify for payments pursuant to the employer’s temporary disability plan are more stringent than those of FMLA, the employee must meet the more stringent requirements of the plan, or may choose not to meet the requirements of the plan and instead receive no payments.”

For the full text of the decision, go to:
http://nypublicpersonnellawarchives.blogspot.com/2007/03/short-term-disability-program-use-of.html

* The Circuit Court noted that Department of Labor regulations [29 C.F.R. §825.207(d)(1)] places certain limitations with respect to the application of this provision and indicated that disability leave for the birth of a child would be considered “FMLA leave for a serious health condition” and counted in the 12 weeks of leave permitted under FMLA.
Electronic books [e-books] 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 1900+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book 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://nypplarchives.blogspot.com/

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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