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June 4, 2010
The anatomy of a disputed claim for GML §207-c benefits
Parker v Village of Johnson City, 2010 NY Slip Op 50957(U), Decided on May 26, 2010, Supreme Court, Broome County, Ferris D. Lebous [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]
The general guideline followed by court is considering an appeal from an administrative decision is that the court must confirm an administrative decision if there exists a rational basis for the determination, applying the standard set by the Court of Appeals in Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222. As the Court of Appeals explained in Pell, “Arbitrary action is without sound basis in reason and is generally taken without regard to the facts."
Rudy Parker, a Village of Johnson City police officer, appealed the Village’s rejection of his claim for General Municipal Law §207-c benefits notwithstanding the hearing officer’s recommendation to the contrary.
Parker appealed, asking the court to annul the Village’s denial of his General Municipal Law §207-c benefits on the grounds that such denial was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and affected by error of law and fact.
In addition, Parker demanded payment of his salary with longevity that he is entitled to for absences commencing January 25, 2009 without charging his accrued leave time; reinstatement of all paid leave time charged for since absences since January 25, 2009; a written statement of taxable income for 2009, excluding from his taxable income salary paid to him during all absences on leave pursuant to GML § 207-c;* and reimbursing the Medicare and social security contributions withheld from salary paid to him during his absences on GML §207-c leave in 2009.
According to Judge Lebous’ findings, Parker had take a supervisor vehicle parked in the Department’s “east parking lot” to “pick up his lunch at a nearby store.”** He returned and ultimately parked the vehicle in Department’s the rear west parking lot where was later to be washed. After parking the vehicle, Parker exited the vehicle and walked around the front end when he slipped and fell on ice. Parker finished his shift on the date of the accident, but thereafter was out of work until he returned to light duty on September 1, 2009.
The then Mayor, Harry Lewis, issued an initial letter determination denying Parker's application for GML §207-c benefits stating, in pertinent part, that "[t]he claimed injury and/or disability did not occur as the result of the performance of your duties." Objecting to the Mayor’s decision, Parker requested a hearing regarding the Village's Initial Determination denying his GML §207-c application.
Hearing Officer Dennis J. Campagna subsequently issued a written "Report and Recommendation" finding the Initial Determination to have been issued in error and recommending the Mayor reverse the Initial Determination and pay Parker retroactive to the date of injury.
Mayor Lewis issued a Final Determination in which he rejected the Hearing Officer's Report and Recommendation, finding Parker ineligible for GML §207-c benefits “for the reasons set forth in the Initial Determination.” Parker filed a timely CPLR Article 78 petition seeking a court order vacating the Mayor’s decision and awarding him appropriate §207-c benefits.
Judge Lebous said that GML §207-c (1) provides that any member of a police force "[w]ho is injured in the performance of his duties...so as to necessitate medical or other lawful remedial treatment shall be paid by the municipality...the full amount of his regular salary or wages from such employer until his disability arising therefrom has ceased...."
Consistent with the Village's "Police Officer Municipal Disability Benefit Procedure", the burden of proof with respect to initial entitlement to GML §207-c benefits was on Parker to show a direct causal relationship between the job duties and the claimed injuries.
Although the City’s Initial Determination found Parker had failed to meet his burden of proof, the Hearing Officer disagreed and found that Parker had, indeed, his burden of proof.
Although there were a number of elements recited in the Village's Final Determination, its primary focus was an analysis and interpretation of case law involving GML §207-c benefits as applied to the facts of this case, as well as a credibility assessment of witnesses** and review of factual evidence in the record.
According to the decision, key to the Village's Final Determination denying the GML §207-c benefits sought by Parker was “his choice of parking lots, … and the fact that petitioner was returning from a paid meal break.”
Judge Lebous ruled that the Village's Final Determination contained error of law and fact. Significantly the court said that GML §207-c is a remedial statute enacted for the benefit of law enforcement personnel injury in the performance of duty and, as such, should be liberally construed. In addition, citing Matter of Theroux v Reilly, 1 NY3d 232, Judge Lebous commented that the that Court of Appeals has stated that injury for the purposes §207-c of does not have to be sustained performing any heightened risk duties.
As to the City’s reliance on Parker’s “choice of parking lots,” which essentially rationalize the ruling on the theory that Parker “should not have parked the supervisor's police vehicle in the rear west parking lot where he ultimately slipped and fell.”
Judge Lebous decided that Village's Parker benefits because of his choice of parking lots was arbitrary and capricious. The court concluded that “Where [Parker] parked the car is of no moment as he was acting within the scope of his duties at the time and had every right, indeed obligation, to be using the supervisor's vehicle at that time as demonstrated by the record.
Concluding that Parker had established a direct causal relationship between his job duties and the resulting injury, Judge Lebous granted his petition in its entirety.
* In Revenue Ruling 72-45, the Internal Revenue Service [IRS] concluded that service connected disability retirement benefits paid to New York City police officers and firefighters were excludable from gross income under the Internal Revenue Code because they were disability payments in lieu of workers' compensation.
** As to “meal break,” it was undisputed that police officers are required to work straight 8 hour shifts during which time they are to remain in service at all times and use police vehicles during breaks.
*** Addressing the issue of the Mayor’s “finding that the hearing testimony of Chief Potts was credible,” in support of his determination, the court said that it found that the Village's Final Determination improperly reached a credibility determination which is within the purview of the hearing officer. A Hearing Officer's factual findings including issues of credibility are entitled to great weight.”
The decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_50957.htm
For information about PELP's e-book Disability Retirement and General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/c go to: http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html
The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public officers and employees in
A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - Determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/7401.html
Disability Benefits for fire, police and other public sector personnel - Addresses retirement for disability under the NYS Employees' Retirement System, the NYS Teachers' Retirement System, General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and similar statutes providing benefits to employees injured both "on-the-job" and "off-the-job." For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html
The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual -Focusing on relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html
SELECTED REFERENCES and BLOGS
- A Handbook addressing disciplining public employees
- A Handbook focusing on imposing reasonable disciplinary penalties
- A Handbook focusing on layoff and reinstatement
- A Handbook on Disability Benefits for public employees
- A sample personnel handbook
- Blogging Administrative Law
- Blogging Civil Rights Law
- Blogging Constitutional Law
- Blogging Disability Law
- Blogging Education Law
- Blogging Employment Law
- Blogging Government Law
- Blogging Human Rights Law
- Blogging Legal Information
- Blogging Military Law
- Blogging public libraries
- Catalog of Law Blogs
- Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions
- Delaware Employment Law Blog
- Gotham schools newsroom - A NYC school news blog
- New York City ERS blog - by John Murphy
- NY Municipalities - NYMUNIBLOG
- ReformNY - by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice
- St. Lawrence County Civil Service Web Site
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Text prepared by Harvey Randall except as otherwise noted. Randall, former Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service, also served as Director of Personnel for the State University System; as Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and as Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. He has an MPA from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University and a J.D. from Albany Law School.