Federal Court sustains employer application for employee’s involuntary retirement for disability
Campbell v City of New York, USDC, SDNY
Jonathan Campbell, claiming that the City of New York deprived him of liberty and property without due process of law in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights and his civil rights under 42 USC 1983 when it found him mentally incapacitated and involuntarily retiring him from his position as a New York City Transit Authority [NYCTA] police officer, sued the City and the New York City Employees’ Retirement System.
Campbell’s personnel file revealed that during his employment, disciplinary charges were filed against him about a dozen times alleging misconduct such as insubordination, taking unauthorized leave, reporting late for duty, using ethnic slurs, and failing to appear for hearings.
Claiming he was suffering from stress and emotional problems, Campbell requested and was granted multiple medical leaves. He was admitted to the Hillside Hospital’s psychiatric division and his private psychotherapist diagnosed him as having an Impulsive Behavior Personality Disorder.
Ultimately NYCTA filed an application on behalf of Campbell seeking his involuntary retirement due to mental incapacity. NYCTA cited Campbell’s psychotherapist’s diagnosis of Impulsive Behavior Personality Disorder and an NYCTA doctor’s evaluation that such disorder required a permanent restricted work assignment.
The decision sets out the due process procedures to be followed once an employer files an application for involuntary retirement on behalf of an employee as follows:
1. The employee is entitled to all departmental files that will be considered by the Medical Board in reviewing his case.
2. The employee may supplement these records with written argument or additional medical or other evidence if he or she so desires.
3. The employee is to be interviewed by the Medical Board privately and the Board may refer the individual to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other medical specialists for evaluation.
4. The Medical Board is to prepare a written report that explains findings and the reasons supporting such findings. If the Board finds the employee to be mentally incapacitated for the performance of duty and ought to be retired, the Board will recommend his or her involuntary retirement.
5. If the Medical Board recommends approval of the retirement application by the head of the agency, the member, his counsel or his union representative may appear before the Retirement System’s Board of Trustees and present arguments on the propriety of the Medical Board’s recommendation.
6. The Board of Trustees is to independently consider the Medical Board’s recommendation and uphold this recommendation if it concurs with the Medical Board’s findings or it may remand the case to the Medical Board if it finds procedural irregularities, if new evidence supports reconsideration, or if the recommendation is not supported by competent evidence.
7. If the Board of Trustees votes for involuntary retirement, the member may seek review in an Article 78 proceeding pursuant to New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules.
8. If the individual is involuntarily retired, he or she may seek reinstatement one year following his retirement through procedures similar to those described in Steps 1-7 above.
In Campbell’s case, the Medical Board considered NYCTA’s involuntary retirement application, and the evidence he submitted his efforts to resist this action a number of times, as did the Board of Trustees, including his request that he be given more time on restricted duty prior to being involuntarily retired.
Following these reviews Campbell was involuntarily retired. He was advised that he could apply for reinstatement each year after his retirement to demonstrate that he was now capable of full duty. Campbell attempted to be reinstated but was unable to persuade the Board that he was qualified to be returned to duty.
Claiming that he had not been afforded due process of law in both the proceedings relating to his involuntary retirement and his subsequent request for reinstatement, Campbell sued.
The district court began its review by noting that:
1. To demonstrate a violation of Section 1983, a plaintiff must show that a person or entity, acting under color of state law, deprived him of the rights, privileges, or immunities guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States;
2. The Fourteenth Amendment means that a local or state government employer may not involuntarily retire a public employee from his or her work without due process of law, citing Board of Regents v Roth, 408 U.S. 564 and Cleveland Board of Education v Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532; and
3. Due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard, citing Matthews v Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319.
The elements that must be weighed determining if the individual was provided due process are:
(1) the importance of the individual’s interest affected by the official action;
(2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation of this interest through the procedures used and the probable value of additional or alternative procedural safeguards; and
(3) the government’s interest in fiscal and administrative efficiency, and the burden additional or alternative procedures would entail.
Dismissing Campbell petition, the court said that “[g]iven the extensive nature of [the System’s] proceedings Campbell was not deprived of an adequate opportunity to be heard prior to his retirement.”
Another issue: was Campbell entitled to an adversarial hearing and the assistance of counsel during all Medical Board proceedings. No, said the court, noting that the Supreme Court has specifically rejected requiring an adversarial hearing with representation by counsel when making psychiatric medical determinations, even if they ultimately result in involuntary commitment , citing Washington v Harper, 494 US 210.
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