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Monday, December 17, 2012

Failing to file a timely Article 78 petition bars consideration of the merits of the complaint


Failing to file a timely Article 78 petition bars consideration of the merits of the complaint
Gress v Brown, 2012 NY Slip Op 08564, Court of Appeals

In 2003, the Legislature enacted the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority Act (the Act) in consideration of the fact "that the city of Buffalo is facing a severe fiscal crisis, and that the crisis cannot be resolved absent assistance from the state."*

On April 21, 2004, the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (BFSA) adopted its Resolution No. 04-35, which directed that "effective immediately, there shall be a freeze with respect to all wages, wage rates, and salary amounts for all employees of the City and all Non-exempt Covered Organizations, to the full extent authorized by the Act." 

This wage freeze, said the Court of Appeals, was intended "to prevent and prohibit any increase in wage rates, wages or salaries for any employee of the City or a Non-exempt Covered Organization," [emphasis supplied by the Court].

The Gress plaintiffs [Gress] were at-will, seasonal employees and commenced this class action alleging that the City violated the City of Buffalo's Living Wage Ordinance when it implemented BFSA’s Resolution 04-35. The Appellate Division agreed, holding that that the BFSA did not have the authority to freeze the wages of the Gress plaintiffs [see 82 AD3d 1654].

Significantly, Gress did not quarrel with the wage freeze generally but contested only its application to them through the BFSA's administrative action. Such a challenges, said the Court of Appeals, should have been raised by commencing a timely CPLR Article 78 proceeding naming BFSA as a respondent. Gress failed to file such a timely petition pursuant to Article 78 and was thus, said the court, barred from challenging the BFSA’s action or its authority to so act.

Rejecting the dissent’s argument that the BFSA, in fact, "had no authority to freeze the wages due the Gress plaintiffs pursuant to the Living Wage Ordinance," the majority ruled that “whether or not authorized to do so, the BFSA froze plaintiffs' wages and once this happened, the City and Mayor were bound by its action,” not having filed a timely challenge to such action.

* Public Authorities Law §3850-a

The decision is posted on the Internet at
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_08564.htm

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