N.B. Daily posting of summaries of, and comments on, court and administrative decisions on this LawBlog was discontinued on January 1, 2017. However, selected new decisions will be summarized and posted periodically. In addition, the more than 4,500 case summaries and commentaries earlier posted are still available for research purposes. Type in a key word or two concerning the subject or issue in which you are interested in the box at the upper left and tap enter to access any relevant material posted.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Court of Appeals' decision addresses the serving of a late notice of claim on a public entity

Court of Appeals' decision addresses the serving of a late notice of claim on a public entity
Newcomb v Middle Country CSD, 2016 NY Slip Op 08581, Court of Appeals, December 22, 2016

The issue in this appeal is whether the Supreme Court and, on appeal, the Appellate Division, abused their discretion in denying the petitioner's motion for leave to serve a late notice of claim on the Middle Country Central School District. The Court of Appeals concluded that “it is an abuse of discretion as a matter of law when, as here, a court determines, in the absence of any record evidence to support such determination, that a respondent will be substantially prejudiced in its defense by a late notice of claim. Here, the lower courts also improperly placed the burden of proving substantial prejudice solely on petitioner.” 

Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the lower courts’ rulings.

The court explained that “Pursuant to General Municipal Law §50-e(1)(a), a party seeking to sue a public corporation, which includes a school district, must serve a notice of claim on the prospective defendant "within ninety days after the claim arises." General Municipal Law §50-e(5) permits a court, in its discretion, to extend the time for a petitioner to serve a notice of claim. The statute requires the court to consider whether the public corporation "acquired actual knowledge of the essential facts constituting the claim within [90 days after the accrual of the claim] or within a reasonable time thereafter" (General Municipal Law §50-e[5]). Additionally, the statute requires the court to consider "all other relevant facts and circumstances" and provides a "nonexhaustive list of factors that the court should weigh" (Williams v Nassau County Med. Ctr., 6 NY3d 531, 539 [2006]). One factor the court must consider is "whether the delay in serving the notice of claim substantially prejudiced the public corporation in maintaining its defense on the merits" (General Municipal Law §50-e[5]).

However, the Court of Appeals observed that ”... a finding that a public corporation is substantially prejudiced by a late notice of claim cannot be based solely on speculation and inference; rather, a determination of substantial prejudice must be based on evidence in the record.”

Decision highlights some essentials of the Freedom of Information Law

Decision highlights some essentials of the Freedom of Information Law
PBA of the New York State, Inc., v State of New York, 2016 NY Slip Op 08918, December 29, 2016

In this decision the Appellate Division addressed elements of the State’s Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] and explained:

"Under FOIL, agency records are presumptively available for public inspection, without regard to the need or purpose of the applicant, unless the requested documents fall within one of the exemptions set forth in Public Officers Law §87(2)" (Matter of Aurigemma v New York State Dept. of Taxation & Fin., 128 AD3d 1235, 1236-1237 [2015] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see Matter of Fappiano v New York City Police Dept., 95 NY2d 738, 746 [2001]; Matter of Johnson v Annucci, 138 AD3d 1361, 1362 [2016], lv denied 27 NY3d 911 [2016]). "Exemptions are to be narrowly construed to provide maximum access, and the agency seeking to prevent disclosure carries the burden of demonstrating that the requested material falls squarely within a FOIL exemption" (Matter of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d 562, 566 [1986] [citations omitted]; see Matter of Town of Waterford v New York State Dept. of Envtl. Conservation, 18 NY3d 652, 657 [2012]; Matter of MacKenzie v Seiden, 106 AD3d 1140, 1141 [2013]). Notably, "blanket exemptions for particular types of documents are inimical to FOIL's policy of open government" (Matter of Gould v New York City Police Dept., 89 NY2d 267, 275 [1996]; accord Matter of Thomas v New York City Dept. of Educ., 103 AD3d 495, 498 [2013]; Matter of New York State Defenders Assn. v New York State Police, 87 AD3d 193, 196 [2011]), and the agency must "articulat[e] a particularized and specific justification for denying access" to the requested documents (Matter of Capital Newspapers Div. of Hearst Corp. v Burns, 67 NY2d at 566; accord Matter of West Harlem Bus. Group v Empire State Dev. Corp., 13 NY3d 882, 885 [2009]; Matter of Moody's Corp. & Subsidiaries v New York State Dept. of Taxation and Fin., 141 AD3d 997, 999 [2016]).

“Public Officers Law §87(2)(b) permits an agency to deny access to records, or portions thereof, if disclosure ‘would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’ The statute does not, however, categorically exempt such documents from disclosure. To the contrary, Public Officers Law §89 expressly permits an agency to delete ‘identifying details’ from records that it makes available to the public (Public Officers Law §89[2][a]), and provides that ‘disclosure shall not be construed to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy . . . when [such] identifying details are deleted’ (Public Officers Law § 89 [2] [c] [i]; see Matter of Scott, Sardano & Pomeranz v Records Access Officer of City of Syracuse, 65 NY2d 294, 298 [1985]; Matter of New York Times Co. v New York State Dept. of Health, 243 AD2d 157, 159 [1998]).”

N.B. The release of some public records is limited by statute [see, for example, Education Law, §1127 - Confidentiality of records; §33.13, Mental Hygiene Law - Clinical records; confidentiality]. Otherwise, an individual is not required to submit a FOIL request as a condition precedent to obtaining public records where access is not barred by statute. A FOIL request is required only in the event the custodian of the public record[s] sought declines to “voluntarily” provide the information or record requested. In such cases the individual or organization is required to file a FOIL request to obtain the information. It should also be noted that there is no bar to providing information pursuant to a FOIL request, or otherwise, that falls within one or more of the exceptions that the custodian could rely upon in denying a FOIL request, in whole or in part, for the information or records demanded.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Commissioner of Education will dismiss an application or appeal involving an officer and, or, a member of the staff of a school district for improper service of the complaint and, or, lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The Commissioner of Education will dismiss an application or appeal involving an officer and, or, a member of the staff of a school district for improper service of the complaint and, or, lack of subject matter jurisdiction 
Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #17,002

Addressing the issue of "improper service" of the complaint, the Commissioner explained that the application must be dismissed because there was no personal service of the application on officers and employee as necessary parties where the rights of such an officer or staff member would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a applicant.

With respect to issues in the application or appeal involving subject matter jurisdiction of the Commissioner:

1. To the extent that an application alleges discrimination on constitutional grounds, an appeal to the Commissioner is not the proper forum to adjudicate issues of constitutional law or to challenge the constitutionality of a statute or regulation and the complaint must be presented to a court of competent jurisdiction if otherwise timely.

2. To the extent that an application raises claims that do not arise under Education Law, such as defamation, the Commissioner of Education lacks jurisdiction over such claims, which may be raised in a court of competent jurisdiction if otherwise timely.

3. To the extent that an appeal to the Commissioners pursuant to Education Law §310 alleges claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Americans with Disabilities Act, an appeal to the Commissioner is not the appropriate forum to adjudicate such claims.

4. To the extent that the application asks the Commissioner to provide for an investigation concerning the issues giving rise to the application, a petition submitted to the Commissioner for adjudication is appellate in nature and does not provide for investigations.

5. To the extent that applicant seeks an award of monetary damages, the Commissioner has no authority to award monetary damages, costs or reimbursements in an appeal filed pursuant to Education Law §310.

6. To the extent that the applicant seeks an apology from an officer of staff member, the Commissioner lacks the authority to order a member of a board of education or a school district employee to issue an apology.

Finally, as relevant in this appeal, the decision notes that in the interest of judicial economy, the Commissioner of Education will not entertain an appeal while there is an action pending in another forum involving the same issues and seeking similar relief.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Fifth Amendment's bar against “self-incrimination” does not protect an individual who lies in the course of an official inquiry

The Fifth Amendment's bar against “self-incrimination” does not protect an individual who lies in the course of an official inquiry 
2016 NY Slip Op 08368, Appellate Division, Second Department

In this proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 to review the appointing authority’s adopting a Civil Service Law §75 hearing officer's findings and recommendation as to the discipline to be imposed, the Appellate Division sustained the appointing authority’s finding the employee [Petitioner] guilty of certain charges of misconduct and incompetence filed against him and imposing the penalty of dismissal of the Petitioner from his employment.

Among the charges filed against Petitioner was that, in response to a request for an account concerning an incident, Petitioner conceded made a false statement to his superior.

In sustaining the appointing authority’s action, the Appellate Division noted that the privilege against self-incrimination set out in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was not a bar to the disciplinary charge alleging that Petitioner had made the false statement because he was not required to waive his immunity with respect to the use of the statements in a criminal proceeding.

The court, citing Brogan v United States, 522 US 398, explained that "neither the text nor the spirit of the Fifth Amendment confers the privilege to lie." Similarly, in In Matter of Mathis (Commissioner of Labor), 110 AD3d 1412, the Appellate Division held that an employee’s constitutional right against self-incrimination does not give the individual the right to answer questions untruthfully. 

As to the penalty imposed on Petitioner, termination from his position, the Appellate Division said that a court "may set aside an administrative penalty only if it is so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law." In this instance, said the court, the penalty of dismissal is not so disproportionate to the offenses as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness.”

Further, there may be unintended consequences if an employee is not truthful in responding to job related inquiries in an effort to avoid disciplinary action. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a federal government agency could impose a harsher discipline on an employee who lied while being investigated for job-related conduct than might otherwise have been imposed. Although only federal employees were involved, the ruling may influence cases involving state and local employees.

The Discipline Book - A 458 page guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/


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