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Monday, August 08, 2011

Disciplinary penalty vacated as too harsh


Disciplinary penalty vacated as too harsh
Lagala v NYC Police Dept., 286 AD2d 205; Leave to appeal denied, 97 NY2d 605

Courts have consistently ruled that an administrative disciplinary penalty imposed on an individual must be upheld “unless it shocks the judicial conscience and, therefore, constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.” A leading case setting out this principle: Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222. In Pell, the Court of Appeals said that a disciplinary penalty “shocks the judicial conscience when it is so graven in its impact that it is disproportionate to the offense.”

In the Lagala case the Appellate Division, First Department, applied the Pell standard and determined that the disciplinary penalty imposed on Lagala -- dismissal -- “shocks the judicial conscience.” The court directed that the matter be returned to the Commissioner for his reconsideration of the appropriate penalty to be imposed.

New York City police officer Anthony Lagala challenged his dismissal after he was found guilty of disciplinary charges alleging that he had (1) improperly issuing summonses for parking violations and (2) used a Department scooter without authorization.

The reasons given by the Appellate Division for vacating the disciplinary penalty imposed on Lagala and remanding the matter to the Commissioner of Police:

1. Lagala's sergeant testified that she never noticed deficiencies in the summonses he wrote, nor did she speak to him regarding the summonses he issued, although she spoke to 30 or 40 other officers about their deficiencies.

2. Lagala's performance evaluation for the period in question rated him between competent and highly competent.

3. The record showed that Lagala could not have taken the scooter without having obtained a supervisor's consent.

4. There is no evidence in the record that Lagala's misconduct involved dishonesty, venality or threat to public safety.

The court, referring to Pell, ruled that considering the relevant circumstances, the sanction of dismissal was so disproportionate to these “minor offenses” as to shock “one's sense of fairness.” 

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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