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June 21, 2010

Review of an administrative determination by courts is limited in scope

Review of an administrative determination by courts is limited in scope
Matter of Reza v NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, 2007 NY Slip Op 30246(U), Supreme Court, New York County, Judge Charles J. Tejada [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Mohammad Reza sued his employer, the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation [DPR], seeking reinstatement to his position, restoration of certain annual leave credits and other relief, including appointment to a higher-grade position.

Supreme Court Justice Tejada said the scope of a court’s review of a Department’s administrative determination is limited. In reviewing an agency’s decision, the only issue to be resolved by a court is “whether a determination was made in violation of lawful procedures, was affected by an error of law, or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.”

In a memorandum dated November 28, 2005, Reza’s superiors directed him to refrain from performing duties outside the scope of his job description. This memorandum, said the court, was in the nature of “a clarification of his position within DPR and, as such, subject to only limited judicial review, and will not be disturbed in the absence of a showing that [it is] wholly arbitrary or without any rational basis”.

Reza, said the court, had to demonstrate that the determination is either arbitrary, capricious or afflicted with an error of law sufficient to overcome the great deference courts will typically give to an administrative agency’s decision in order to prevail. Judge Tejada decided that he failed to meet this test.

Further, as a provisional employee of the DPR, Reza did not have any entitlement to the higher-level position of Associate Project Manager, Level III, and rather then being “fired,” was ordered to perform only the duties required of him by his job description as an Associate Engineering Technician, Level II. This was well within the Department’s authority to command said the court.

Reza also claimed “retaliation” as a result of his having written to the Commissioner complaining about his superior’s “actions against him” in violation of his First Amendment Rights.
Judge Tejada said that a public employee who seeks to prevail in his or her First Amendment claim of employment retaliation must show that: (1) his speech addressed a matter of public concern, (2) he suffered an adverse employment decision, and (3) a causal connection exists between his speech and that adverse employment decision, so that it can be said that the plaintiffs speech was a motivating factor in the adverse employment action.

In the opinion of the court, Reza failed to meet this burden as well and denied his petition.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/pdfs/2007/2007_30246.pdf

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