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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Interpreting any statute, first and foremost, requires paying heed to the intent of the Legislature as reflected in the plain language of the statute


Interpreting any statute, first and foremost, requires paying heed to the intent of the Legislature as reflected in the plain language of the statute
Samuelsen, as president of Local 100, Transport Workers Union of Greater New York v New York City Tr. Auth. et al, 2012 NY Slip Op 08780, Appellate Division, First Department

Local 100, Transport Workers Union of Greater New York [Union] is the exclusive collective bargaining representative of approximately 32,000 workers employed by various subordinate bodies and affiliates of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority. One of its component units is the New York City Transit Authority (TA).

The Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Authority (MaBSTOA) was created by the Legislature in 1962 after the City of New York seized several privately owned and operated bus lines through its eminent domain power.*  

Public Authorities Law §1203-a, in pertinent part, provides: "[MaBSTOA] officers and employees shall not become, for any purpose, employees of the city or of the [TA] and shall not acquire civil service status or become members of the New York City Employees' Retirement System" (NYCERS). Although this arrangement was originally intended to operate "for a temporary period" (Public Authorities Law 1203-a[2]), it has continued until the present. Although the two authorities have remained separate legal entities, they  nevertheless developed, as a practical matter, functional overlap such as sharing common office facilities and a personnel department.

Certain differences, however, were maintained with respect to personnel matters. For example, the terms of employment for both TA and MaBSTOA employees were governed by a collective bargaining agreement [CBA], with certain exceptions such as the CBA providing that any layoffs of MaBSTOA employees would occur in reverse order of seniority, based upon date of hire. However there was no similar provision in that agreement concerning TA workers as the layoff of TA workers was controlled by the §§80 and 81 of the Civil Service Law. Another difference: set out in the CBA addressed “job selection.” MaBSTOA employees could pick only jobs associated with the bus lines operated by MaBSTOA while TA employees could pick only jobs associated with bus lines and subways operated by TA.

In December 2002, the TA and MaBSTOA executed a "Memorandum of Understanding" with the Union (MOU) that modified the CBA to provide for the consolidation of MaBSTOA and TA surface transit operations whereby "The Authority and the Union agree to the elimination of the artificial distinction between MaBSTOA and the Transit Authority….” To effectuate the MOU, the parties established a joint job pick procedure that allowed MaBSTOA and TA employees, subject to certain limitations, to "pick into" TA jobs and TA employees to "pick into" MaBSTOA jobs in accordance with a single, integrated seniority list, known as the "Consolidated Seniority List."

Asserting that this directly violates the prohibition in Public Authorities Law §1203-a(3)(b) against MaBSTOA employees becoming, "for any purpose, employees of the city or of the [TA],  the Union alleged that "as a result of" the MOU and the consolidation agreement, "employees of MaBSTOA are, for almost all purposes, employees of [the TA]. The Union further alleged that “MaBSTOA employees regularly work in [TA] facilities” and other than not having civil service status or participating in a different pension system, “MaBSTOA employees working for [TA] are for all purposes indistinguishable from [TA] employees."

The Union sought a judgment declaring that:

1. “No MaBSTOA employee may be treated as an employee of the TA for any purpose, and that the MOU and consolidation agreement are void and unenforceable to the extent that they have effectively made employees of MaBSTOA into employees of the TA.” and

2. Prohibiting the MaBSTOA from taking any action in accordance with the 2002 MOU and 2003 consolidation agreement that is prohibited under the Public Authorities Law, or that adversely affects the employment of any employee of MaBSTOA.

Supreme Court dismissed the Union’s complaint “for failure to state a cause of action.” The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s ruling “on the law.”

As to Supreme Court’s finding that the Union’s compliant “failed to state a cause of action because nothing in the MOU or consolidation agreement indicated that MaBSTOA employees would gain civil service status or become members of NYCERS,” the Appellate Division explained that “[i]n interpreting any statute, we are required, first and foremost, to pay heed to the intent of the Legislature, as reflected by the plain language of the text,” citing Majewski v Broadalbin-Perth Cent. School Dist., 91 NY2d 577.

In addition, said the court, "[i]n construing statutes, it is a well-established rule that resort must be had to the natural signification of the words employed, and if they have a definite meaning, which involves no absurdity or contradiction, there is no room for construction and courts have no right to add to or take away from that meaning."

Noting that a plaintiff’s pleading is to be afforded a liberal construction, the Appellate Division held that “the facts alleged in the complaint are to be accepted as true, and plaintiff is to be accorded the benefit of every possible favorable inference,” citing Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83.

In the words of the court “… the language we are required to interpret is as follows: ‘[MaBSTOA] officers and employees shall not become, for any purpose, employees of the city or of the [TA] and shall not acquire civil service status or become members of [NYCERS]’ (Public Authorities Law 1203-a[3][b]). In our view, this plainly means that three separate prohibitions apply to MaBSTOA employees: (1) that they ‘shall not become, for any purpose,’ employees of the TA; and (2) that they shall not acquire civil service status; and (3) that they shall not become members of the NYCERS. Accordingly, we agree with the Union that, to the extent that the MOU and consolidation agreement, by merging many of the policies of the two authorities, such as probationary employment rules, disciplinary rules, and sick-leave rules, transform MaBSTOA employees into employees of the TA, the agreements violate the first prohibition.”

The Appellate Division rejected the City Transit Authority’s argument that "[t]he plain and obvious meaning of the 'for any purpose' language is to ensure that a MaBSTOA employee cannot, simply by virtue of employment by MaBSTOA, even in a contractually agreed upon commingled work force, acquire civil service status or membership in NYCERS."

The most glaring problem with this interpretation, said the court, is that “it is decidedly not what the statute says.” Rather, said the Appellate Division, “[t]he way the provision is written, the ‘and’ creates a separation between the ‘for any purpose’ clause and the rest of the sentence. It does not signal a modification to the ‘for any purpose’ clause or in any way refer back to it. Furthermore, defendants' interpretation renders the first prohibition superfluous, a result which ‘is to be avoided,’ [citing] Matter of Branford House v Michetti, 81 NY2d 681.”

In other words, said the court, “defendants argue that if a MaBSTOA employee cannot, under any circumstances, be subject to the Civil Service Law or participate in NYCERS, they simply cannot be considered TA ‘employees,’ rendering the first clause meaningless if not considered in the manner they urge. This approach is too narrow, for it pays no heed to the notion that different people working under the same employer can be classified differently.”

"In other words, not every employee in an organization is similarly situated. Here, the statute recognizes that MaBSTOA workers could become so integrated into the TA organization that they could be seen as TA employees, albeit without the protections of the Civil Service Law and the benefit of NYCERS participation. We simply discern nothing in the statutory language which confirms, as the dissent insists, that Civil Service Law protection is the distinguishing' or hallmark' quality of TA employment."

The majority, in response to a comment in the dissent, also observed that its approach was not in conflict with other provisions in the Public Authorities Law that might be interpreted as encouraging some standardization of the two agencies' operations.

Agreeing with the Union’s interpretation of Public Authorities Law §1203-a(3)(b), the Appellate Division held that complaint sufficiently alleged facts establishing that the MOU and consolidation agreement had the effect of conferring on MaBSTOA workers qualities of "employment" by the TA, it ruled that Supreme Court “erred in dismissing the complaint as not having stated a cause of action.”

* MaBSTOA became a subsidiary corporation of the TA.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. A 1900+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

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

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

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

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