January 4, 2011

Judicial review of a disciplinary action

Judicial review of a disciplinary action
Horgan v Safir, 273 AD2d 135; Motion for leave to appeal denied, 95 NY2d 765

A court’s review of an administrative decision following a hearing is significantly more limited than would be the case when a higher court considers an appeal from a trial court’s ruling. This limitation proved critical in the Appellate Division, First Department’s consideration of the Horgan case.

New York City police officer John Horgan was found guilty of using discourteous and disrespectful remarks concerning race following an administrative disciplinary hearing. The penalty imposed: forfeiture of 20 days of vacation. Horgan appealed the Police Commissioner’s determination.

The Appellate Division dismissed Horgan’s appeal. The court, however, specifically commented that it had to dismiss the appeal despite the fact that if the Commissioner’s determination was reviewed under the standards applicable to a trial court decision, it would have been disposed to annul it as against the weight of the credible evidence.

The Appellate Division said that courts have very limited review powers over administrative agency determinations. Accordingly, it said that it was constrained to confirm [the Commissioner’s] findings in the disciplinary hearing, citing Berenhaus v Ward, 70 NY2d 436.

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