December 29, 2010

New York City Civil Service Commission’s ruling applicant qualified controls

New York City Civil Service Commission’s ruling applicant qualified controls
City of New York v Civil Service Commission, Supreme Court, New York County, Docket Number: 0401706 [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

The New York Policy Department (NYPD) challenged a determination by the New York City Civil Service Commission holding that Hope Mahoney was qualified for appointment to the position of police officer with the Department.

Having passed the written test, Mahoney was also required to submit to a psychological examination to determine her fitness for duty as a police officer. After conducting an evaluation, the Police Department’s psychologist concluded that Mahoney was “psychologically unsuited for police work.”

Mahoney then saw her own her medical expert, Dr. Richard E. Ovens. Ovens conducted his own psychological evaluation of Mahoney. Dr. Ovens’ evaluation described Mahoney as “possess[ing] the requisite intellectual abilities, emotional resources and coping skills to meet the demands and stresses associated with the unique duties of a . . . police officer.”

In response to this, the Police Department’s expert, Dr. Arko, reviewed Dr. Ovens’ evaluation. Dr. Arko’s conclusion: Mahoney should be rejected for appointment to the position of police officer based on “poor judgment and impulse control” as evidenced by her two job terminations, and her driving record. NYPD forwarded Dr. Arko’s report to the New York City Civil Service Commission (CSC).

After reviewing all the records submitted to it, the CSC decided that a hearing was appropriate in order to resolve the factual issues related to Mahoney’s disqualification. Ultimately the CSC issued a decision reversing the NYPD’s disqualification of Mahoney, and advised NYPD that
“having reviewed the entire record and considering the arguments and testimony presented at the hearing, we conclude as follows. . . Having heard from both experts, we find that Dr. Ovens [sic] evaluation and assessment of the appellant was accurate and therefore more credible.”

NYPD filed an Article 78 petition challenged the decision of the CSC, contending that CSC’s determination was irrational in crediting the testimony of Dr. Oven’s over the testimony of Dr. Chiu-Palmer, and the other medical experts employed by NYPD.

According to the decision, “Dr. Ovens conducted a more comprehensive evaluation of Mahoney than Chiu-Palmer,” and that CSC rationally credited Dr. Ovens’ testimony over that of Chiu Palmer’s “based on his stronger educational background in psychology and his thirty years experience as a police officer.”

The court pointed out that the CSC is empowered by Section 813(d)* of the New York City Charter “to hear and decide appeals of petitioners’ determinations as to employment eligibility.” However, said the court, although CSC’s determinations of such appeals are subject to judicial review under Article 78, in such instances review by the court “is limited to the question of whether the decision of the administrative agency was arbitrary or capricious or irrational.”

In addition, citing Smith v. City of New York, 228 AD2d 381, leave to appeal denied, 89 NY2d 806, the court commented that “it has been held that “wide discretion is afforded to civil service commissions in determining fitness of candidates. The exercise of that discretion is to be sustained unless it has been clearly abused.”

Accordingly, said the court, “Under this standard, there is no basis for overturning the CSC determination that Mahoney is qualified to be a police officer. Specifically, it cannot be said that the CSC’s decision to credit the opinion of Dr. Ovens over that of Chiu-Palmer was irrational in light of Ovens’ substantial qualifications, including his doctorate in clinical psychology, his thirty years of experience as a police officer, and his practice which involves the treatment of traumatized police officers.”

NYPD’s appeal was dismissed and the Civil Service Commission’s determination upheld.

* The NY City Charter provides that: the civil service commission shall have the power to hear and determine appeals by any person aggrieved by any action or determination of the commissioner. . . and may affirm, modify or reverse such action or determination when there exists a rational basis in the record to support the decision.

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