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October 19, 2010

Effective date of appointment

Effective date of appointment
Challandes v Shew, Supreme Ct., Westchester Co., [not officially reported]

Which one of the following best describes when the appointment of an individual in the classified service is binding on the appointing authority?

a. The date on which the appointing authority decides to appoint the individual.

b. The date on which the individual accepts the appointment.

c. The date on which the individual is scheduled to report for duty.

d. None of the above.

According to the Challandes decision, the best answer is “none of the above.” State Supreme Court Judge Peter M. Leavitt ruled that an appointment takes effect upon the execution [signing] of the letter of appointment by the appointing authority. Further, the individual’s “acceptance of the appointment” is not a necessary element, Judge Leavitt ruled.

Judge Leavitt’s decision, in part, parallels the law concerning resignation from the public service. The state Civil Service Commission’s Rules for state workers in the classified service mandate that an individual’s resignation from his or her position be in writing [4 NYCRR 5.3].

Case law holds that such a resignation becomes operative upon its delivery to the appointing authority -- “acceptance” of the resignation is not required. At most, all that the appointing authority may wish to do is to “acknowledge” its receipt of the resignation. Further, the effective date of the resignation is the date specified but if no date is specified, it is effective upon delivery. Many jurisdictions have adopted rules and procedures that track the State Commission’s rule concerning resignation. “Delivery” is frequently critical in determining an individual’s “employment status” since the general rule is that once delivered, the individual may not withdraw his or her resignation without the approval of the appointing authority.

The case involved Joyce Challandes, a provisional Data Entry Operator with the Village of Ossining. She took and passed the examination for permanent appointment to the position. The village manager signed a letter offering her “a permanent appointment” to the position “effective January 1, 1999.” On December 30, 1998, the executed letter was faxed to Challandes’ union representative but it was never sent to Challandes.

The next day the village manager handed Challandes a different letter -- a letter informing her that she would not be appointed to the position. Challandes sued, contending that she had been lawfully permanently appointed to the position. Judge Leavitt agreed, ruling that Challandes had been unlawfully terminated from her permanent appointment. He directed that she be reinstated as a probationary employee with back salary. Judge Leavitt held that “the execution of the letter [i.e., the village manager’s signing the letter] constituted a clear, unequivocal and voluntary act by the village manager which became effective immediately upon such execution."

Judge Leavitt declared that although the faxing of the letter to the union on December 30 was evidence of its execution, “no delivery - to [Challandes] or anyone else - was required to effectuate the appointment memorialized therein.” The judge also ruled that reporting the appointment to “proper personnel and payroll officers” was not necessary to effect the appointment. Concluding that Challandes “was duly and lawfully permanently appointed” to the position, Judge Leavitt said that “she could not be removed therefrom without cause during [her] minimum probationary period.”

Case law indicates that an individual permanently appointed to a position in the competitive class is protected by the due process provisions of Civil Service Law Section 75 during his or her minimum probationary period and must be given “notice and hearing” if he or she is to be terminated before completing his or her minimum period of probation. A probationer, however, may be terminated without notice and hearing after completing his or her minimum period of probation and before the end of his or her maximum period of probation.

Notwithstanding this, it would seem that delivery, in contrast to mere execution, of a letter of appointment is as critical a step in the appointment process as is delivery of a resignation in the separation process. It could argued that the faxing of the appointment letter to the union in the course of negotiations “concerning the pay grade within which [Challandes] would be compensated” satisfied the “delivery” requirement.

Is the delivery of the letter of appointment one of the key elements in the appointment process? Case law supports this concept. For example, the refusal to “deliver” an executed commission [letter of appointment] which was essential to effecting the appointment of the individual was the genesis of one of the most famous cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Marbury v Madison, 1 Cranch 137, [1803].

Marbury was one of the so-called “midnight judges,” individuals selected for these appointments during the final hours of the outgoing presidential administration but whose commissions were never sent to them.

The new administration’s Secretary of State, James Madison, had found the commissions among the former Secretary of State’s papers, but had refused to deliver them to the appointees thereby frustrating their ability to take office. Ultimately U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall held that Congress did not have the authority to adopt legislation compelling the delivery of the commissions, thereby establishing the precedent for the Supreme Court’s review of the constitutionality of an act of Congress.

It may be of interest to note that Marshall was the incumbent Secretary of State who had neglected to provide for the timely delivery of the commissions to Marbury and his co-appointees.

As to the question of the withdrawal of an appointment, courts have held that a written resignation may be withdrawn or canceled by the individual without the approval of the appointing authority if the notice rescinding the resignation is received by the appointing authority before delivery of the resignation. [see Wright v Town Board, 160 AD2D 1156; Informal Opinions of the Attorney General, August 23, 1974].

By analogy, it would appear that an appointment may be rescinded by an appointing authority if the appointee receives notice of the cancellation of his or her appointment prior to the “delivery of the letter of appointment”.
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