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Friday, September 30, 2011

Negotiating a disciplinary procedure not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining

Negotiating a disciplinary procedure not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining
City of Mount Vernon v. Cuevas, 289 A.D.2d 674 [Leave to appeal denied, 97 N.Y.2nd 613]

In considering the appeal of the City of Mt. Vernon, the Appellate Division ruled that under certain circumstances, negotiating a contract disciplinary procedure is not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining under the Taylor Law.

Mt. Vernon had appealed a PERB determination that held that its disciplinary procedures were a mandatory subject of collective bargaining in response to the City's claim that its police officers union had submitted a number of nonmandatory or prohibited subjects of collective bargaining for compulsory interest arbitration, one of which involved disciplinary procedures.

The City's argument: Its 1922 City Charter established disciplinary procedures for its police officers and the continuation of such procedures is protected by Civil Service Law Section 76(4). Accordingly, the City said could not be forced to negotiate its disciplinary procedure on the theory that it was a term or condition of employment.

Supreme Court agreed, determining that PERB's decision was "irrational, unreasonable and legally impermissible" and granted the City's motion.

PERB appealed contending that because Section 76(4) was passed years before the Taylor Law, it “could not reasonably be read to reflect ‘any intent on the part of the Legislature to exclude or preclude bargaining as to discipline’”.

Section 76(4), in pertinent part, provides:

Nothing contained in section seventy-five or seventy-six of this chapter shall be construed to repeal or modify any general, special or local law or charter provision relating to the removal or suspension of officers or employees in the competitive class of the civil service of the state or any civil division. Such sections may be supplemented, modified or replaced by agreements negotiated between the state and an employee organization pursuant to article fourteen of this chapter.

The Appellate Division said that although the Taylor Law requires good faith bargaining concerning all terms and conditions of employment which have been held to be a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, here the police officer discipline procedures contained in the City's Charter enacted in 1922 are specifically protected from repeal or modification by Section 76(4).

Affirming the lower court's ruling, the Appellate Division held that under these circumstances, the disciplinary procedures applicable to Mt. Vernon's police officers are not mandatory subjects of negotiation. 

Reclassification of positions

Reclassification of positions
Botti v Lippman, 290 A.D.2d 923

Nicole Botti and other "Court Attorneys" employed by County Judges handling matters in several different county-level courts (referred to as "multi-bench judges") asked to be reclassified to the higher-grade title "Law Clerk to Judge." When the Court's Chief Administrative Judge, Jonathan Lippman, rejected their application for reclassification, they sued. The Appellate Division sustained Judge Lippman's decision. It said that:

Given the broad classification and allocation authority of the Chief Administrator of the Courts, his determinations concerning the classification of positions "will not be disturbed in the absence of a showing that they are wholly arbitrary or without any rational basis."

The court said that Botti and his co-plaintiffs work "in Family ... County and Surrogate's Courts in counties with populations less than 400,000 -- exactly the standard for classifying the title Court Attorney.'"

Botti contended that the fact that they served "multi-bench judges who also handle matters in other county-level courts" justified their reclassification to Law Clerk to Judge. The Appellate Division rejected Botti's argument, finding that in rebuffing their reclassification applications Judge Lippman correctly interpreted the term "full-time" referred to in the “Law Clerk to Judge” job description to mean those judges whose work at the county-level is "exclusively" on matters within the jurisdiction of County Court. This, said the court excluded multibench judges, as they did not serve in such a capacity "full-time."

As there were differences in the nature of the work corresponding to these judicial duties in classifying legal assistants to multibench judges differently from those assisting judges in performing exclusively County Court work, the Appellate Division ruled that "it cannot be said that respondents acted arbitrarily or without any rational basis."

In addition, the court said that classifying Botti's position as Court Attorney "complies with the statutory mandate that nonjudicial employees be classified according to the duties required to be performed and, in addition, reflects the recognized distinctions between the duties of a judge who sits solely in County Court and those of a multi-bench judge."

The Appellate Division also rejected Botti's claim that the Court Attorneys were entitled to additional per diem income whenever they perform work on Supreme Court matters since the Court Attorney job description “expressly contemplates the employees' performance of duties for judges who are designated as "Acting Justices of the Supreme Court for one full term or less." In other words, the court did not consider Court Attorneys performing "Supreme Court" duties to constitute out-of-title work where such work was intermittent and was performed for a term or less.

Reconsideration for promotion does not result in eligibility for retroactive pay

Reconsideration for promotion and then being promoted does not result in eligibility for retroactive pay
Szipcek v Safir, 291 A.D.2d 269

New York City police officer Mitchell Szipcek protested his being "passed over" for promotion to sergeant. He was successful in having his advancement reconsidered and was subsequently promoted to sergeant.

Szipcek then sued, claiming that since he was actually promoted after being reconsidered, he was entitled to” make-whole relief" in the form of back pay and retroactive seniority.

The Appellate Division, First Department disagreed. It ruled that in the event of a defect in the Civil Service appointment or promotion process, the remedy is not retroactive appointment or promotion with an award of back pay but merely reconsideration for appointment or promotion after the defect in the process has been corrected. The court cited Andriola v Ortiz, 82 NY2d 320, in support of its ruling. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Layoff, Taylor Law agreements and the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences

Layoff, Taylor Law agreements and the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences
A NYPPL review

The Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] has summarized the new “no layoff” Article set out in the several collective bargaining agreements between it and the State of New York for the period 2011-2016 as follows*:

No Layoff –

1. For the Fiscal Years 2011-12 and 2012-13, employees represented by CSEA shall be protected from layoffs resulting from the facts and circumstances that gave rise to the present need for $450 million in workforce savings.

2. For the term of the agreement, only material or unanticipated changes in the State’s fiscal circumstances, financial plan, or revenue will result in potential layoffs.

3. Workforce reductions due to the closure or restructuring of facilities, as authorized by legislation, and SAGE determinations are excluded from these limitations.

This “no layoff provision,” however, may fall victim to the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences as the result of the failure of the Public Employees Federation [PEF] to ratify the proposed collective bargaining agreement between it and the State.

In a press release dated September 27, 2011, Governor Cuomo stated that "The members of the Public Employee Federation (PEF) have made their decision on a contract that would have protected them against the state needing to lay off their workers in order to achieve the required workforce savings passed as part of this year's budget.”

However, certain employees in the negotiating unit represented by PEF may be insulated from layoff in the event the court’s decision in City of Plattsburgh v Local 788, 108 AD2d 1045, is held controlling. 

In Plattsburgh the Appellate Division ruled that seniority for the purposes of layoff can neither be diminished nor impaired by the terms of collective bargaining agreements.

The collective bargaining agreement between Plattsburgh and the Union provided if there were to be demotions in connection with a layoff, the "date of hire" was to be used to determine an employee's seniority. However, the "date of hire" might not necessarily be the same date used to determine an individual's service for seniority purposes for layoff under State law, i.e., the individual's date of initial permanent appointment in public service. For example, assume Employee A was provisionally appointed on January 1, and Employee B was appointed February 1, of the same year. Employee B, however, was permanently appointed on March 1 of the same year, while Employee A was permanently appointed a month later, on April 1.

Under the terms of the Local 788 collective bargaining agreement A would have greater seniority for layoff purposes than B. But §§80 and 80-a of the Civil Service Law provides that the date of an individual's most recent, uninterrupted "permanent appointment" determines his or her seniority for the purposes of layoff and so, under the law, B would have greater seniority than A. This was the problem in the Plattsburgh case. The City laid off A rather than another worker, B. While A had been employed by the City for a longer period than B, B had received his permanent appointment before A was permanently appointed.

The Union grieved, contending that under the seniority provision in the collective bargaining agreement, B should have been laid off. The City, on the other hand, argued that Civil Service Law §80 controlled and thus A, rather than B, had to be laid off first. Plattsburgh won an order prohibiting arbitration. The Appellate Division ruled that §80 of the Civil Service Law "reflects a legislative imperative" that the City was powerless to bargain away.

As the Court of Appeals said in County of Chautauqua v. Civil Service Employees Ass'n, 8 N.Y.3d 513, “Once such an informed decision as to which positions are to be [abolished] is made, §80(1) obligates the employer to respect the seniority rights of its employees." Similarly, in Szumigala v Hicksville Union Free School District, 148 AD2d 621, the Appellate Division, citing Cheektowaga v Nyquest, 38 NY2d 137, held that a seniority clause in a Taylor Law agreement violated §2510 of the Education Law when it permitted seniority in different tenure areas to be combined for the purposes of determining seniority with the District for the purposes of layoff.

How could applying these decisions have an impact on State employees in the collective bargaining units represented by CSEA?

Should a State employee represented by PEF to be laid off because he or she is the least senior permanent employee in the layoff unit have layoff, displacement or retreat rights that would result in the layoff of a State employee in one of the collective bargaining units represented by CSEA, the courts may well rule that the PEF unit employee has layoff rights superior to those enjoyed by the CSEA employee notwithstanding the “no layoff” provision set out in the CSEA-State collective bargaining agreement.

Accordingly, in the event the PEF individual is found to have superior rights to continued employment pursuant to Civil Service Law §80(1), the resulting layoff of the CSEA individual presumably constitutes a violation of the CSEA-State collective bargaining agreement. 

In other words, if a collective bargaining agreement cannot diminish or impair the layoff rights of an individual in the relevant collective bargaining unit, it seems unlikely that the courts would rule that the layoff provisions in such a collective bargaining agreement are controlling with respect to employees in other collective bargaining units thereby defeating the statutory layoff rights of individuals not subject to the provisions of that agreement.

* The full text of the summary of the Agreement is posted on the Internet at

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click On for additional information about this electronic reference manual.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Statement from director of state operations Howard Glaser on PEF vote rejecting the negotiated agreement between the State and the Public Employees Federation [PEF]

Statement from director of state operations Howard Glaser on PEF vote rejecting the negotiated agreement between the State and the Public Employees Federation [PEF]

In a press release issued by the Executive Chamber on September 28, 2011, Director of State Operations Howard Glaser said:

"Today's vote [in which the membership rejected the proposed negotiated agreement] represents a failure by PEF's leadership to effectively communicate the benefits of the contract to its members as CSEA's leadership did. Layoffs could still be avoided if PEF clearly articulates to its members the benefits of the contract as well as the consequences of rejection and schedules a revote. We spent months working with PEF's leadership and reached an agreement. We now find out that they do not truly represent their membership.

”Members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), who agreed to a layoff protection as part of their ratified collective bargaining agreement, will not be subject to the approximately 3,500 layoffs that will begin today."

With respect to the ratification process of a proposed Taylor Law contract reflecting the agreements and understanding between the negotiators representing the employer and the employees in the unit, in Matter of Copaigue Union Free School District, 23 PERB 3046, PERB addressed the duty of negotiators to recommend ratification of a proposed agreement and held that "the failure of negotiators affirmatively to support an agreement is in violation of the Taylor Law unless the negotiators had advised the other party in advance that they would not give such support."

Section 75 of the Civil Service Law limits suspension without pay to thirty days notwithstanding the individual’s being found guilty of the charges

Section 75 of the Civil Service Law limits suspension without pay to thirty days notwithstanding the individual’s being found guilty of the charges
Vargo v Safir, App. Div., First Dept., 291 A.D.2d 268

Although the Appellate Division did not have any difficulty in affirming New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir's imposing the penalty of dismissal after finding police officer guilty of misconduct, it did find that there was a question as to whether the officer was entitled to back pay.

The court said that it appeared that the officer had been suspended without pay for more than 30 days after he was served with disciplinary charges filed against him.

Civil Service Law Section 75.3-a, in pertinent part, provides that a New York City police officer may be suspended without pay for thirty days pending the determination of disciplinary charges.

Accordingly, said the court, and the Department agreed, it was necessary to remand the matter to the Department to determine if the police officer was entitled to back salary for any period of suspension without pay in excess of 30 days.

CSL Section 75.3-a further provides that if a New York City police officer is found guilty of the charges, the Commissioner "may punish the police officer pursuant to the provisions of Sections 14-115 and 14-123 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York."

The Appellate Division sustained the Commissioner's determination that Vargo was guilty of being the driver of a motor vehicle involved in "a hit-and-run" while off duty and that he used illegal drugs. Under the circumstances, said the court, "[t]he penalty of dismissal does not shock our sense of fairness,” citing Kelly v Safir, 96 NY2d 32, in support of its ruling.

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State is a 1272 page e-book available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on for additional information concerning this electronic reference manual.

Conflicting medical opinions

Conflicting medical opinions
Buczynski v NYSERS, 291 AD2d 630

Daniel Buczynski, a marketing specialist for the State's Lottery Division, filed an application for disability retirement benefits in January 1997. The basis for his application: anxiety and depression.

Buczynski had stopped working in May 1996 for what was ultimately diagnosed as panic attacks and depression. Buczynski claimed that his condition was the result of increased work and he developed Bell's palsy.

His psychologist said that Buczynski:

1. "continued to exhibit significant cognitive deficits despite several years of therapy and medication" and

2. "was permanently disabled from performing his duties."

The Retirement System's psychiatrist who examined Buczynski in July 1997 "opined that [Buczynski] had suffered a major depression in 1996 that left him unable to perform his duties but that [Buczynski's] condition had improved, that he had no cognitive deficiency and that, with further treatment, he should be able to return to the type of work he had been doing."

In other words, the System's psychiatrist concluded that Buczynski was not permanently disabled from the performance of his duties. Based upon the psychiatrist's opinion, the System denied Buczynski's application for disability retirement.

In response to Buczynski's appeal, the Appellate Division held that there was no merit to Buczynski's claim that the psychiatrist's opinion was insufficient to provide the necessary substantial evidence to support the Comptroller's determination.

The court said that "[w]here, as here, the Retirement System's expert provides an articulated, rational and fact-based opinion, founded upon a physical examination and review of relevant medical reports and records, the expert's opinion generally will not be considered so lacking in foundation or rationality as to preclude the Comptroller from exercising the authority to evaluate conflicting medical opinions...."

Protected union activity

Protected union activity
CSEA Local 861 and Wyoming County, 34 PERB 3042
Local 814 and Town of Poughkeepsie, 34 PERB 3043

Where the employer's reason for dismissing a probationary employee is rejected by PERB as pretextual because the employee was not disciplined for the misconduct claimed as the basis for the dismissal, the inference that the employer retaliated against the employee for pursuing a grievance in violation of Civil Service Law Sections 209-a.1(a) and 209-a.1(c) has not been rebutted by the employer.

Similarly, in the Town of Poughkeepsie case, PERB held that the Town terminated an employee because of union organizing activities in violation of Civil Service Law Sections 209-a.1(a) and 209-a.1(c), finding that the reasons given by the Town justifying its action were pretextual because the employee had not been served with disciplinary charges for his alleged misconduct prior to his dismissal.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Depression resulting from being served disciplinary charges not a disability for the purposes of Workers’ Compensation Benefits

Depression resulting from being served disciplinary charges not a disability for the purposes of Workers’ Compensation Benefits
Youngs v Village of Penn Yan, 291 AD2d 852

A Village of Penn Yan police officer was suspended without pay for 30 days effective February 18, 1993. Found guilty of insubordination, the penalty imposed was a reprimand and the officer was directed to report to work effective March 22, 1993.

On the advice of his physician, the police officer did not report for duty on March 22, and subsequently applied for performance of duty disability retirement. His application was approved effective October 2, 1993 and the Retirement System told the Village not to pay any salary to the officer after October 1, 1993.

The officer had filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that he was injured on February 18, 1993 and that his injury was depression. His claim was rejected by the Workers' Compensation Board based on its finding that the "major depressive illness was brought about by the ongoing frustration he perceived in his police work." This, said the Board, does not of itself rise to the level of compensability. The Board also considered other factors such as "the trauma of the arrest of [the police officer's] brother [and] the disciplinary action taken on February 17, 1993...."

The Board found that the officer had not sustain an "injury arising out of and in the course of the employment" within the meaning of Workers' Compensation Law Section 10[1] because the term injury "shall not include an injury which is solely mental and is based on work related stress if such mental injury is a direct consequence of a lawful personnel decision involving a disciplinary action ... taken in good faith by the employer."

The police officer next sued the Village, seeking damages in the amount of $25,000, his unpaid wages from March 18, 1993 through October 1, 1993, together with his medical expenses since March 18, 1993. He claimed that the Village actions in not paying his wages and medical expenses during this period violated Section 207-c of the General Municipal Law [GML]. A State Supreme Court justice determined that the officer was not entitled to GML Section 207-c benefits and the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed the lower court's ruling.

The Appellate Division explained its decision as follows:

1. A police officer is entitled to GML Section 207-c wages and benefits if he "is injured in the performance of his duties or ... is taken sick as a result of the performance of his duties."

2. A determination by the Workers' Compensation Board that an injury is work-related does not, "by operation of collateral estoppel, automatically entitle an injured employee to GML Section 207-c benefits," citing Balcerak v County of Nassau, 94 NY2d 253.

3. Conversely, the fact that the Board found that the officer did not sustain an injury in the course of employment is not dispositive of the issue concerning his entitlement to GML Section 207-c benefits.

The court, however, commented that the findings of the Board are relevant, particularly where, as here, they are the only evidence in the record concerning the nature of plaintiff's injury.

The frustration that the officer experienced at work and the disciplinary action brought against him involved a dispute that he had with a superior officer, and did not relate to the actual performance of his duties as a police officer. According, ruled the court, the injury sustained by the police officer is beyond the scope of GML Section 207-c.

On another issue in the case concerned certain "premium pay payments" the Village had provided the officer. The officer complained that he should not be required to reimburse the Village for alleged "overpayments of longevity pay and an Associate Degree stipend for the fiscal year from June 1, 1993 to May 31, 1994." The court responded "[w]e disagree."

The Appellate Division decided that the Village had calculated the officer's longevity payments and his Associate Degree stipend based on its expectation that he would be employed for the entire year. Accordingly the court ruled that they "were subject to adjustment pursuant to the contract between the parties" and thus the officer was entitled to the "premiums" only for the period from June 1, 1993 to October 1, 1993.

Free speech rulings by the federal courts

Free speech rulings by the federal courts
Selected decisions by U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal

In Swartzwelder v McNeilly, 01-1085, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, held that a public employer may not require that its employee obtain its prior approval before he or she may give his or her opinion as an expert witness concerning matters of public interest at a trial unless the employer is able to demonstrate that such a requirement is appropriately tailored to the employer's interests.

In deciding Nieves v Board of Education, City of Chicago, 01-3814, the Circuit Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, rejected a claim advanced by Rose Nieves, a City of Chicago school employee, that she had been terminated in retaliation for her exercising her right to free speech, holding that there was no evidence connecting the timing of Nieves' termination when her position was abolished as part of a reduction in force to her exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.

According to another ruling by the Seventh Circuit, Thompson v Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, 01-4074, because Mark A. Thompson, a chief administrative law judge, held a policy making position, he could not maintain his law suit based on allegations that his demotion and transfer was in retaliation for his exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech concerning his political beliefs.

Freespeech issues raised by public employees have been considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Its decisions suggest that the following general guidelines will be applied in addressing such free speech issues:

1. Public officers and employees enjoy "protected speech" in connection with their public comments concerning a State or municipal employer's activities that are a matter of public concern.

2. Speech by a public officer or employee that merely addresses a personal concern such as the individual's personal unhappiness working for the public employer or for a particular supervisor, or related to the individuals' particular position, work assignments or working conditions, or the individual's personal disagreement concerning the internal operations of the department or agency, that do not rise to the level of speech concerning a "public interest," does not involve "protected speech" within the meaning of the First Amendment.

Demonstrating a party's failure to negotiate in good faith

Demonstrating a party's failure to negotiate in good faith
Public Employees Federation and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, 34 PERB 3040

An employee organization must show that the employer, in exercising its management prerogatives, violated the parties' memorandum of understanding in order to prove that the employer's actions constituted a refusal to negotiate in good faith in violation of Civil Service Law Section 209-a1(d).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Counseling memoranda may constitute disciplinary action when coupled with more than "job-related feedback"

Counseling memoranda may constitute disciplinary action when coupled with more than "job-related feedback"
Matter of Harper v New York State Off. of Mental Health, 12 Misc 3d 1197(A)

An employee received a “counseling memorandum” following an investigation of a complaint alleging sexual harassment filed against him by one of his subordinates.. The counseling memorandum, in part, issued by the New York State Office of Mental Health stated:

“This Memorandum serves as a written counseling based on the Sexual Harassment complaint that was filed and investigated. You will be required to participate in Supervisory Training as well as Sexual Harassment Prevention Training in the near future."

A “counseling memorandum” issued to a permanent employee typically is not considered disciplinary action requiring “notice and hearing.” In this instance, however, the court ruled that the counseling memorandum given to Harper did, in fact, constitute a disciplinary action taken against him and thus was subject to the disciplinary grievance procedures set out in a collective bargaining agreement [CBA].

While the CBA specifically provided that “counseling is not discipline,” the court said that the counseling memorandum issued to Harper by his employer also requires that he attend Supervisory Training and Sexual Harassment Prevention Training,. This additional requirement extended beyond the mere "job-related feedback" referred to in the CBA and thus constituted disciplinary action within the meaning of the CBA. Accordingly, Harper was entitled to administrative due process in the form of a notice of discipline and a hearing.

Dismissal in consideration of the misconduct proven not a viewed as "shocking"

Dismissal in consideration of the misconduct proven not a viewed as "shocking"
Ortiz v Safir, App. Div., 1st Dept., February 5, 2002

The Appellate Division, First Department sustained New York City's for Police Commissioner Howard Safir's terminating police officer James Ortiz after finding Ortiz guilty of a number of charges of misconduct in the performance of his duties.

Applying the so-called "Pell Doctrine," [Pell v Board of Education, 34 NY2d 222], the court said that under the circumstances imposing the penalty of dismissal did not shock its sense of fairness.

Ortiz was found guilty of disciplinary charges that alleged that in the course of effecting an arrest of an individual for disorderly conduct, he "manhandled an unthreatening, nonresistant arrestee, shoved him down a subway stairway, flung his passport into his face, charged him with resisting arrest without probable cause and made false statements about the incident to the Civilian Complaint Review Board."

Disciplinary penalties imposed on public employees in New York State must meet the "Pell Doctrine." The standard applied: any permissible penalty may be imposed unless the court finds that under the circumstances such a penalty is "shocking to one's sense of fairness."

Typically an individual will appeal the disciplinary findings as to guilt as well as the penalty imposed. Once a court determines that the record supports a finding that the disciplinary determination was not arbitrary or illogical and that it is supported by substantial evidence, it will turn to the issue of whether the disciplinary penalty imposed should be upheld.

This is the point at which the court will apply the Pell Doctrine. The test used by courts: is the sanction imposed so disproportionate to the offense or offenses of which the individual has been found guilty as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness?

What constitutes a penalty judged to be so shocking? An example of the type of punishment that might be judged violating Pell would be to fire someone for a minor offense such as a single instance of smoking on the job.

On the other hand, everything depends on the circumstances. The unique conditions and requirements of a given workplace must be considered in determining the fairness of a penalty.

If, for example, a hospital employee was discovered smoking while working with a patient who was receiving oxygen therapy in violation of hospital rules and procedures, the danger of smoking in such a unique work site to the patient and others could justify the employer imposing a harsher penalty -- even termination -- than might be imposed for a smoking infraction by a hospital employee discovered to be smoking in another, but safer, "non-smoking area."

Another factor that goes hand-in-hand with Pell is the concept that judges are to give "deference" to the appointing authority's determination regarding the penalty to be imposed. Ahsaf v Nyquist, 37 NY2d 182, is a decision illustrating this point.

In short, a court will overturn the disciplinary penalty imposed by an appointing authority only in the event it perceives it to be essentially unfair when measured against the offense committed by the employee.

Further, as a general rule, courts are reluctant to substitute their judgment as to the appropriate penalty to be imposed for that of the employer, especially in disciplinary actions involving law enforcement personnel as law enforcement personnel are viewed as holding "quasi-military" status. As the court commented in Laspisa v Mahoney, 603 NYS2d 536, a law enforcement agency is a quasi-military organization which demanded strict discipline and "great deference is to be accorded a determination regarding the internal discipline of its members."

Appealing retirement system member service determinations

Appealing retirement system member service determinations
Marsh v NY State and Local Employees' Retirement System, App. Div., 291 AD2d 713

The Marsh decision addresses the procedure to follow when challenging a New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System's [ERS] determination regarding a retiree's "years of service credit" for the purpose of determining the individual's retirement allowance. The bottom line: the controlling statute of limitations requires that the individual file an Article 78 [Civil Practice Law and Ruled Article 78] petition within four months of his or her receipt of the "final determination" concerning the calculation of years of service credit.

Two members, Patricia M. Marsh and Nicholas J. Vianna, believed that they were entitled to more member service credit than ERS calculated for them upon their respective retirements.

ERS sent Marsh a letter dated April 25, 1997, advising her of its determination to prorate certain of her member service credit because she worked part time during various periods during her public employment. Marsh retired on March 30, 2000.

Vianna retired on January 1, 1997. ERS told him that he had 17.37 years of member service credit for the purposes of determining his retirement allowance.

Neither Marsh nor Vianna requested an administrative hearing and redetermination of their retirement benefits as determined by ERS. However, in January 2000 they filed a petition asking the court for a "declaratory judgment" that they were entitled to additional service credit.

The Appellate Division said that it was clear that Marsh and Vianna were simply challenging the calculation of their respective "service credits" by challenging ERS's "nearly 25-year-old internal administrative proration procedure as well as an administrative regulation codifying such procedure" set out in 2 NYCRR 370.

The court said that the procedure to be used if an individual believes that his or her member service credit has been miscalculated is expressly governed by Retirement and Social Security Law Sections 74 [b] and 374 [b].

These provisions, said the Appellate Division, require that a member or retiree "dissatisfied with any aspect of his or her retirement package" appeal to the Comptroller by seeking "a hearing and redetermination." If, following this appeal, the individual is dissatisfied with the Comptroller's final determination, he or she must bring a timely Article 78 proceeding if he or she wishes to seek any further relief. The statute of limitations for bringing an Article 78 action is four months.

The court pointed out that the "simple expedient" of calling their current action one for declaratory relief and "characterizing the matter as one of constitutional and contractual dimension" does not cure "this fatal inaction" on the part of both Marsh and Vianna. Clearly filing an Article 78 action in January 2000 was untimely, said the court, and it dismissed both Marsh's and Vianna's petitions.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law

Decisions of interest involving Government and Administrative Law
Source: Justia September 23, 2011

Gonzalez-Droz v. Gonzalez-Colon
Court: U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-1881 September 16, 2011
Judge: Selya
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Medical Malpractice
Until 2005, when the Puerto Rico Board of Medical Examiners promulgated a first-in-the-nation regulation that limited the practice of cosmetic medicine to particular classes of medical specialists, all licensed physicians in Puerto Rico could perform cosmetic surgery. The Board enforced the regulation against a physician who did not possess the required specialty board certification. The district court disposed of challenges on the ground that the defendants enjoyed various kinds of immunity and did not reach constitutional issues. The First Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the suspension of plaintiff's license amounted to a substantive due process violation and was retaliation for past testimony. The Board afforded due process protections in its hearing process. View Case

Kolev v. Euromotors West/The Auto Gallery, et al.
Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 09-55963 September 20, 2011
Judge: Reinhardt
Areas of Law: Arbitration & Mediation, Consumer Law, Contracts, Government & Administrative Law
Plaintiff brought suit against the Dealership and Porsche when the pre-owned car that she purchased from the Dealership developed serious mechanical problems during the warranty period and the Dealership refused to honor her warranty claims. Plaintiff alleged breach of implied and express warranties under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (MMWA), 15 U.S.C. 2301 et seq., and breach of contract and unconscionability under California law. The district court granted the Dealership's petition to compel arbitration pursuant to the mandatory arbitration provision in the sales contract that plaintiff signed when she bought the car and stayed the action against Porsche. Plaintiff's principal argument on appeal was that the MMWA barred the provision mandating pre-dispute binding arbitration of her warranty claims against the Dealership. Although the text of the MMWA did not specifically address the validity of pre-dispute mandatory binding arbitration, Congress expressly delegated rulemaking authority under the statue to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC construed the MMWA as barring pre-dispute mandatory binding arbitration provisions covering written warranty agreements and issued a rule prohibiting judicial enforcement of such provisions with respect to consumer claims brought under the MMWA. Because it was required to defer to the reasonable construction of a statute by the agency that Congress had authorized to interpret it, the court held that the MMWA precluded enforcement of pre-dispute agreements such as Porsche's that required mandatory binding arbitration of consumer warranty claims. The court declined to address plaintiff's remaining claims. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View Case

Father M, et al. v. Various Tort Claimants
Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-35206 September 21, 2011
Judge: Ikuta
Areas of Law: Bankruptcy, Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law
This case was related to certain documents produced in discovery and filed in the bankruptcy court, containing allegations that Father M and D, two priests who were not parties to the Portland Archdiocese's bankruptcy case, had sexually abused children. The bankruptcy court held that the discovery documents at issue could be disclosed to the public, because the public's interest in disclosure of these discovery documents outweighed the priests' privacy interest under Rule 26(c) and that the documents filed in court could be disclosed because they did not contain "scandalous" allegations for purposes of 11 U.S.C. 107(b). The court affirmed the bankruptcy court's ruling as to the release of discovery documents disclosing Father M's name under Rule 26(c), because the public's serious safety concerns could not be addressed if Father M's name was redacted. But because the record did not reflect the existence of any similar significant public interest that required the disclosure of Father D's name, the court held that Father D's name must be redacted from any discovery documents that were released. Finally, because of the mandatory duty to keep scandalous material confidential at the request of a party under section 107(b), the court reversed the decision to release the punitive damages memorandum and attached documents. View Case

Comite de Jornaleros de Redondo Beach, et al. v. City of Redondo
Court: U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 06-56869, 06-55750 September 16, 2011
Judge: Smith
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
Day-laborer organizations challenged a city anti-solicitation ordinance that barred individuals from standing on a street or highway and soliciting, or attempting to solicit, business, or contributions from an occupant of any motor vehicle. The court agreed with the day laborers that the ordinance was a facially unconstitutional restriction on speech where the ordinance failed to satisfy the narrow tailoring element of the Supreme Court's time, place, and manner test and where the ordinance was not narrowly tailored because it regulated significantly more speech than was necessary to achieve the city's purpose of improving traffic safety and traffic flow at two major intersections. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View Case

Bakanovas v. Holder, Jr.
Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 11-9500 September 20, 2011
Judge: Hartz
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Immigration Law, International Law
Israeli citizens Arturas Bakanovas, Edita Bakanovas, and their daughter, Karolina Bakanovas, sought review of an order of the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that denied their motion to reopen. In 1990 Arturas and Edita Bakanovas emigrated from Lithuania to Israel and became Israeli citizens. In 1991 they entered the United States on visitor visas and, after they overstayed their visas and the Immigration and Nationalization Service issued orders to show cause why they should not be deported, Arturas applied for asylum. The asylum application stated that Arturas had suffered persecution in Israel because of his Catholic faith and Lithuanian origin, that Edita had suffered persecution in Lithuania because of her Jewish faith, and that they both suffered persecution in Israel because of their interfaith marriage. In 1994 an immigration judge denied the Bakanovases asylum and withholding of deportation but granted their request for voluntary departure, with an alternate order of deportation to Israel or Lithuania if they remained in the United States after the voluntary-departure deadline. In October 2000 the BIA affirmed the order, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed that decision. The Bakanovases did not leave the United States, and in January 2007 they were arrested on immigration charges and released on bond. They then met with their current attorney, who informed them in April 2007 of the availability of relief under the Convention Against Torture. In March 2010, almost three years later, they filed a motion to reopen with the BIA, which the BIA denied. They petitioned the Tenth Circuit to review that decision. Because the denial of a motion to reopen is "a final, separately appealable order," the Tenth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to review the case. The Court dismissed Petitioners' appeal. View Case

Southern Ute Indian Tribe v. Sebelius
Court: U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 09-2281 September 19, 2011
Judge: Seymour
Areas of Law: Contracts, Government & Administrative Law, Native American Law
This was the second appeal in litigation arising from the Secretary of Health and Human Services' (HHS) decision not to enter into a self-determination contract with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (Tribe). In an initial order, the district court ruled that HHS's decision was unlawful, granted summary judgment to the Tribe, and directed the parties to prepare a proposed order for injunctive relief. After the parties were unable to agree on the proposed order, the district court issued an interlocutory order in which it endorsed HHS's approach to the contract’s start date and contract support costs. The Tribe appealed, and the Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. On remand, the district court issued a final order, directing the parties to enter a self-determination contract including HHS's proposed language regarding the contract start date and contract support costs and denying the Tribe’s request for damages. Both parties appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that HHS was required to contract with the Tribe and regarding the contract start date, but reversed the court's decision regarding contract support costs. View Case

Serrano v. U.S. Attorney General, et al.
Court: U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-12990 September 16, 2011
Judge: Per curiam
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Immigration Law
Plaintiff appealed the district court's judgment dismissing his petition for a writ of mandamus and his complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq. Plaintiff's complaint requested the district court to mandamus the defendants (1) to determine as a matter of law that plaintiff had been "admitted" to the United States for purposes of his application for adjustment of status under 8 U.S.C. 1255(a) and (2) to re-open and re-adjudicate plaintiff's application for adjustment of status, which was previously denied. The court held that plaintiff could not satisfy the requirements for mandamus relief and that he had not demonstrated that he lacked an adequate remedy for obtaining relief. In fact, plaintiff had sued under the APA, which provided an adequate remedy. Therefore, the court held that because plaintiff had an adequate remedy available to him, the district court properly dismissed his request for mandamus relief. The court also held that the plain language of section 1255(a) limited eligibility for status adjustment to an alien who had been inspected and admitted or paroled. That an alien with Temporary Protected Status had lawful status as a nonimmigrant for purposes of adjusting his status did not change section 1255(a)'s threshold requirement that he was eligible for adjustment of status only if he was initially inspected and admitted or paroled. Accordingly, the court held that the district court's ruling was consistent with the plain language of the statute. Furthermore, even if the statutory language was ambiguous, the court deferred to the Department of Homeland Security's consistent and well-reasoned interpretation of the interplay between section 1255(a) and section 1254a(f)(4). Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the petition and complaint. View Case

Samish Indian Nation v. United States
Court: U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals
Docket: 10-5067 September 20, 2011
Judge: Gajarsa
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Native American Law
The Court of Federal Claims dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, the most recent claims brought by the Samish Indian Nation in its continuing quest for federal recognition and benefits. The claims court reasoned that some of the allegations were not premised upon any statute that was money-mandating, and that allegations reliant on money-mandating statutes were limited by other statutes, so that they fell outside the scope of the Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. 1491(a)) and the Indian Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. 1505). The Federal Circuit affirmed with respect to some of the allegations because the Tribal Priority Allocation system (25 CFR 46.2) is not money-mandating. The court reversed dismissal of claims under the Revenue Sharing Act, reasoning that the court's ability to provide a monetary remedy under that law is not limited by operation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341. View Case

Griffin v. Bentley
Court: Alabama Supreme Court
Docket: 1101031 September 16, 2011
Judge: Main
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law
Ashley Rich, district attorney of Mobile County, and the State filed separate petitions for a writ of mandamus directed to the Montgomery Circuit Court in an inverse-condemnation action filed by Jesse Griffin and others. Griffin filed the Montgomery action seeking compensation for property, namely electronic "bingo" machines and related equipment and money, previously confiscated by the State from Griffin's facility in Mobile County. Rich and the State each argued that the Montgomery Circuit Court was without subject-matter jurisdiction to interfere with the executive branch's enforcement of the criminal law, and without jurisdiction based on principles of sovereign immunity. In 2010, Griffin opened and operated a facility in containing 25 electronic devices Griffin promoted as lawful charitable bingo machines. That same day, members of the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling seized the 25 machines, as well as other items, from the facility. The machines were transported to a state warehouse in Montgomery County to be stored temporarily. Upon review, the Supreme Court consolidated the petitions for the purpose of writing one Opinion, and granted them, issuing the writs. The Court concluded that neither the fact that the electronic-bingo machines were brought to Montgomery County to be temporarily stored nor the fact that Griffin filed the Montgomery action before the Mobile County district attorney filed the Mobile action erased the fact that the events in this case arose from a criminal action initiated by the investigation of the facility and the resulting seizure of the machines and other evidence, "[t]hus, Griffin's reliance on the duel-litigation statute and the compulsory-counterclaim rule is misplaced." The Court issued the writs and directed the circuit court to vacate its order in favor of Griffin. View Case

Jemison v. Donaldson
Court: Alabama Supreme Court
Docket: 1100768 September 16, 2011
Judge: Murdock
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law
Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman, Jr., and Deputy Sheriff Ernest Larry Donaldson petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order denying their motion to dismiss a complaint filed by Plaintiff Marie Jemison alleging multiple claims against them in their individual capacities. Plaintiff alleged that on August 23, 2008, she was traveling in Selma while, at the same time, Deputy Donaldson "was operating a motor vehicle in the line and scope of his agency and/or employment with the Dallas County Sheriff's Department." According to Plaintiff, as she entered the intersection of Lauderdale Avenue and Dallas Avenue, she was struck by Deputy Donaldson's vehicle and, as a result, sustained serious personal injuries. Jemison sued Deputy Donaldson, Donaldson's supervisor Sheriff Huffman, the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, and the Dallas County Commission. Among other claims, Plaintiff alleged negligence and wantonness against Deputy Donaldson for the manner in which he operated his vehicle, negligent entrustment and negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention against Sheriff Huffman, and vicarious liability against the Dallas County Sheriff's Department and the Dallas County Commission. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims, asserting a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and a failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that under the circumstances of this case, Deputy Donaldson was acting in the line and scope of his employment and was entitled to State immunity. Therefore, the trial court erred in failing to grant the motion to dismiss all claims against Deputy Donaldson and Sheriff Huffman. View Case

J.P. v. Anchorage Sch. Dist.
Court: Alaska Supreme Court
Docket: S-13624/S-13633 September 16, 2011
Judge: Christen
Areas of Law: Civil Rights, Education Law, Government & Administrative Law, Juvenile Law, Public Benefits
Parents requested that the Anchorage School District evaluate their child for eligibility for special education services. While awaiting the results of the eligibility assessment, the parents arranged for private tutoring. The school district did not assess the child’s eligibility within the statutorily-required time, and the parents requested a due process hearing. They also arranged for their child to be privately evaluated to determine whether he was eligible for special education services. The school district subsequently completed its evaluation and determined the child to be ineligible for services. At the due process hearing, the parents alleged that the school district committed procedural violations under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including impermissibly delaying the evaluation. They sought reimbursement for the cost of their child’s private evaluation and tutoring. An independent hearing officer presided over the due process hearing and ultimately agreed with the district that the child was ineligible for services. The hearing officer ordered the school district to pay the cost of the private eligibility assessment and to partially pay the cost of the tutoring. The superior court upheld the award of the private eligibility assessment, but reversed the award of the private tutoring cost. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the school district argued that the parents should not be reimbursed for the evaluation or the tutoring; the parents argued they are entitled to full reimbursement for both expenses. The central question the Court addressed was: where a child is ultimately determined to be ineligible for special education services, does the IDEA provide relief for procedural violations that occur during the process of evaluating the child’s eligibility for services? The Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, upholding the independent hearing officer’s award of the private assessment cost, but reversing the hearing officer’s award of the private tutoring expenses. View Case

Robinette v. Dep't of Fin. & Admin.
Court: Arkansas Supreme Court
Docket: 10-1208 September 15, 2011
Judge: Danielson
Areas of Law: Criminal Law, Government & Administrative Law
Robert Robinette was arrested for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. After Robinette received notice of suspension of his driving privileges, Robinette requested an administrative hearing before the Department of Finance and Administration's Office of Driver Services (DFA). After a hearing the hearing officer allowed the suspension. Robinette appealed, alleging that (1) the notice was deficient because rather than stating that a hearing be requested within seven "calendar" days, the notice stated seven days, thus violating Ark. Code Ann. 5-65-402 or -403; and (2) the omission of the term "calendar" rendered the notice, and any action to suspend his license, void. The circuit court denied Robinette's motion for summary judgment and sustained the decision of the DFA. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order, holding that because Robinette was granted the opportunity to be heard, he did not demonstrate any prejudice resulting from want of strict compliance in the notice provided him, and therefore, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Robinette's summary-judgment motion. View Case

Lewis, et al. v. Leon County, et al.
Court: Florida Supreme Court
Docket: SC09-1698 September 22, 2011
Judge: Quince
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law
Twenty-six Florida counties and the Florida Association of Counties filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that section 19 of the Laws of Florida (Act) was unconstitutional. The district court affirmed the trial court's decision and held that section 19 of the Act unconstitutionally shifted the responsibility to fund certain costs of court-appointed counsel from the state to the counties in violation of article V, section 14, of the Florida Constitution and that section 19 was unconstitutional based on the Legislature's failure to make the constitutionally required determination of an important state interest, as provided by article VII, section 18(a) of the constitution. The court agreed with the district court and the circuit court that the plain language of article V, section 14 provided that the state was responsible for funding the Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (RCC), including the overhead costs outlined in subsection (c). The court held that, based on its determination that the district court correctly held that section 19 was unconstitutional under article V, section 14, the court concluded that it was unnecessary to address whether section 19 violated article VII, section 18(a) of the constitution. View Case

Kiplinger v. Neb. Dep't of Natural Res.
Court: Nebraska Supreme Court
Docket: S-10-296 September 16, 2011
Judge: Stephan
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
This case involved a constitutional challenge to an occupation tax levied pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 2-3226.05. Appellant landowners, who were residents and taxpayers of natural resources districts in the Republican River basin, brought an action for declaratory and injunctive relief seeking to have the occupation tax declared unconstitutional and its levy and collection enjoined. The district court upheld the constitutionality of the occupation tax, determining that it did not violate the Nebraska Constitution as (1) the occupation tax was not a property tax but, rather, an excise tax levied upon the activity of irrigation; (2) the occupation tax did not result in a commutation of taxes; and (3) section 2-3226.05 was not special legislation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the judgment in Garey v. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources did not bar this action under the doctrine of res judicata; and (2) the landowners did not meet their burden of establishing that the occupation tax was unconstitutional. View Case

Wyle v. Lees
Court: New Hampshire Supreme Court
Docket: 2010-624 September 20, 2011
Judge: Duggan
Areas of Law: Construction Law, Government & Administrative Law, Real Estate & Property Law
Defendants Scott and Christina Lees appealed a trial court decision that found in favor of Plaintiff Stephen Wyle on his claim of negligent misrepresentation. In 2002, Defendants purchased a two-unit apartment building. Defendants wished to expand the building, and approached a contractor to add a third apartment to the back of the property. Conditional approval for the site plan was granted in November 2003 and final approval was obtained in January 2004. However, Defendants did not obtain the proper permits prior to building or occupying the unit. As a result, the town's building inspector never inspected the unit. The Lees again hired the contractor both to complete a second addition to the property. Defendants again failed to secure the necessary building permits. After the completion of construction, town officials visited the property a number of times in 2006 and 2007. The town informed Defendants that "[s]ave for acceptable field changes[,] the site plan requirements have been satisfied." Defendants listed the property for sale in 2007. After entering into the agreement, Plaintiff had a comprehensive home inspection performed and sent a list of specific concerns regarding the property to Defendants. The concerns were either remedied by the Defendants or waived by Plaintiff prior to closing. Approximately six weeks after closing, the entire property was inspected by the town building inspector and fire chief which revealed numerous building and life safety code violations. Plaintiff was ordered not to occupy the unit until he corrected the violations and made the site compliant with site plan regulations. After correcting the violations, Plaintiff then brought a single claim against Defendants for negligent misrepresentation. Following a two-day bench trial, the trial court issued an order awarding damages to the Plaintiff. Upon review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found that the evidence at trial established that Defendants negligently misrepresented that the premises were licensed for immediate occupancy and that they had obtained all the necessary permits. Accordingly, the Court found that the trial record supported the decision in favor of Plaintiff, and the grant of damages. View Case

In the Matter of World Trade Center Bombing Litigation. Steering Committee v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Court: New York Court of Appeals
Docket: No. 217 September 22, 2011
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law
This appeal involved litigation that arose from the 1993 terrorist bombing incident in the parking garage of the World Trade Center complex (WTC). At issue was whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (Port Authority) was performing a governmental or proprietary function in its provision of security at the premises. And if the Port Authority was engaged in such a governmental function, whether it exercised discretion in its security decision-making to entitle it to the common-law defense of governmental immunity. The court held that, pursuant to the court's precedents, the provision of security for the benefit of a greater populace involved the allocation of police resources and constituted the performance of a governmental function. The court also held that the governmental immunity doctrine required it to find that the Port Authority was insulated from tortious liability where the court afforded deference to the exercise of discretion by the officials of municipalities and governmental entities. View Case

Weeks v. Workforce Safety & Insurance
Court: North Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 20110024 September 15, 2011
Judge: Maring
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law, Public Benefits
Petitioner Toni Weeks appealed a district court judgment that affirmed a decision by Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) that reduced her disability benefits. Petitioner was injured at work after being exposed to anhydrous ammonia while employed by Dakota Gasification Company, in Beulah, North Dakota. In 2009, WSI received confirmation that on November 1, 2009, Weeks' social security disability benefits would convert to social security retirement benefits. WSI issued a notice of intention to discontinue or reduce benefits, in which Petitioner was informed that her permanent total disability benefits would end on October 31, 2009, and she would receive an "additional benefit payable" beginning November 1, 2009. Petitioner requested reconsideration. In November 2009, WSI issued an order denying Petitioner further disability benefits after October 31, 2009. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that because Petitioner failed to adequately brief her argument that WSI's reduction of her wage loss benefits violated equal protection under the federal and state constitutions, the Supreme Court declined to address her argument and otherwise affirmed the judgment. View Case

Interest of A.L.
Court: North Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 20110174-20110177 September 15, 2011
Judge: Kapsner
Areas of Law: Family Law, Government & Administrative Law, Juvenile Law
R.G., father of A.L., appealed a juvenile court order confirming a judicial referee's decision to terminate his parental rights to four minor children. In 2003, R.G. was placed on criminal probation, and in March 2009, his probation was revoked and he was sentenced to a three-year prison term. In September 2009, R.G.'s four children involved in this action were all less than four years old and were residing with their mother when the children were taken into protective custody by Benson County Social Services and placed in foster care after the mother left the children with relatives and did not return. In May 2010, the State petitioned to terminate the parental rights of R.G. and the mother. In August 2010, the juvenile court terminated the mother's parental rights and also found the children were deprived as to R.G., but the evidence was not sufficient to terminate his parental rights. The juvenile court stated R.G. was anticipating being paroled in January 2011 with release to a halfway house for three to four months. The court also stated R.G.'s early release was contingent upon his completion of a drug and alcohol treatment program. After a hearing, a judicial referee terminated R.G.'s parental rights to the four children, finding R.G. was not granted his early parole as anticipated because he had not yet completed his drug and alcohol treatment program due to his conduct in the prison facility. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the court did not clearly err in finding the children were deprived, and did not abuse its discretion in terminating R.G.'s parental rights. View Case

Simons v. North Dakota
Court: North Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 20110012 September 15, 2011
Judge: Sandstrom
Areas of Law: Family Law, Government & Administrative Law, Juvenile Law
Defendant Ben Simons appealed a district court judgment that affirmed an order of the Department of Human Services which found that he had abused his two-year-old child and that services were required. Defendant and his wife Traci required their children to always respond to a parent in a respectful manner and to use the phrases "yes, sir" or "yes, ma'am." In 2009, while the Simons family was attending church, their two-year-old child refused to use the phrases "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am" when responding to his parents. Defendant took the child outside and swatted him twice on his bottom. When they went back inside, Traci Simons was able to get the child to say "yes, sir" and "yes, ma'am." Later that evening, after returning home, the child again refused to respond to Defendant with "yes, sir." Defendant took the child to an upstairs bedroom and explained to him that he would be spanked if he did not say "yes, sir." When the child continued his refusal, Defendant placed him over his knee and struck him on his buttocks three times with a wooden backscratcher. The child was wearing pants and a diaper. Defendant then hugged and consoled the child for approximately fifteen minutes, explained the consequences if he refused to say "yes, sir," and emphasized to the child that he needed to show respect to his parents. He then gave the child the opportunity to say "yes, sir," and the child again refused. Defendant repeated the three swats with the wooden backscratcher, and again consoled and spoke with the child for approximately fifteen minutes. Two days later, Stark County Social Services received a report of suspected child abuse regarding the child. A social worker investigated the report and observed the bruises on the child's buttocks. Upon completion of the investigation, Stark County Social Services found the child was an abused child and issued a "services required" finding. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the Department's findings that Defendant had inflicted bodily injury upon the child and used unreasonable force were supported by a preponderance of the evidence and the relevant statutory provisions governing child abuse were not unconstitutionally overbroad or vague. View Case

Brandvold v. Lewis &Clark Public Sch. Dist.
Court: North Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 20110039 September 15, 2011
Judge: Crothers
Areas of Law: Education Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law
Plaintiffs Lee Brandvold, Steve Bigelow, Dwight Johnson, Nikki Johansen, and Bruce Peterson (collectively "Brandvold") appealed a district court judgment dismissing their petition for declaratory and injunctive relief. In 2009, the school board of the District voted to close the elementary school located in Ryder as part of an overarching reorganization plan. In February 2010, Brandvold filed a petition in district court alleging that the reorganization process had been tainted by fraud because the Berthold Public School District had not disclosed during its reorganization process information about certain outstanding debts it owed on lease-purchase transactions. Brandvold sought a declaration that the reorganization was invalid and that the District be dissolved and the former districts be reinstated. Brandvold also sought an injunction prohibiting the District from closing any school within the District. The District moved for judgment on the pleadings for Brandvold's failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted the motion, and judgment was entered dismissing the petition. On appeal, Brandvold challenged only the dismissal of the request for declaratory relief, not the dismissal of the request for injunctive relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in granting judgment on the pleadings dismissing the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the alleged irregularities in the reorganization process were rendered moot by the completion of a District-wide election: "[c]onstruing the petition in the light most favorable to Brandvold and accepting the allegations in the petition as true, we conclude no justiciable controversy was presented and the district court did not err in dismissing the petition ." View Case

State ex rel. Dolgencorp, Inc. v. Indus. Comm'n
Court: Ohio Supreme Court
Docket: 20100124 September 15, 2011
Judge: Per Curiam
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Labor & Employment Law
Employee splashed bleach in her left eye while working for Employer. While Employee lost little vision as a result of the accident, Employee experienced other complications, including light sensitivity and reduced depth perception. Employee subsequently underwent a corneal transplant. Employee sought scheduled-loss compensation under Ohio Rev. Code 4123.57(B), alleging she had sustained a total loss of vision in her left eye due to the removal of her cornea. A staff hearing officer for Industrial Commission of Ohio agreed and awarded Employee a total loss of use. Employer filed a complaint in mandamus. The court of appeals issued a writ ordering the commission to vacate its order, concluding that the commission had abused its discretion in awarding compensation for a total loss of vision. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals pursuant to State ex rel. Baker v. Coast to Coast Manpower, L.L.C. View Case

State ex rel. Tindira v. Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund
Court: Ohio Supreme Court
Docket: 20102065 September 20, 2011
Judge: Per Curiam
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
Thomas Tindira was a member of Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund (OP&F) while working as a police officer with Lakewood Police Department. Before he resigned from the department, Tindira filed his application for disability benefits with OP&F, including in his list of disabling conditions PTSD, anxiety disorder, and major depression. The OP&F board of trustees determined that Tindira was disabled but denied his claim for disability benefits. The court of appeals denied Tindira a writ of mandamus to compel appellees, OP&F and its board of trustees, to vacate the board's denial of his claim and to award him disability benefits and attorney fees. The Supreme Court reversed and granted the writ, holding that the pension fund and its board abused their discretion in denying disability benefits as Tindira had established his entitlement to the benefits. View Case

State ex rel. Miller v. Warren County Bd. of Elections
Court: Ohio Supreme Court
Docket: 20111469 September 15, 2011
Judge: Per Curiam
Areas of Law: Election Law, Government & Administrative Law
Mike Gilb, who had been appointed to fulfill a second unexpired term on the Mason City Council, took out candidate petitions for the upcoming general election for city council. Relators, registered voters and city residents, sent Respondents, the county board of elections, a letter claiming that Gilb was ineligible pursuant to the term-limit provisions of the city charter. The board considered the letter at its regular meeting, determining that there was no action for it to take at the time. Subsequently, Relators filed an expedited election action, requesting a writ of prohibition to prevent Respondents from certifying Gilb as a candidate and a writ of mandamus to compel Respondents to sustain their protest. The Supreme Court (1) denied Relators' prohibition claim because they failed to establish their entitlement to the requested relief as (a) Respondents had not exercised or were not about to exercise quasi-judicial power, and (b) Relators did not establish that they lacked an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law to challenge Gilb's candidacy; and (2) dismissed Relators' mandamus claim for lack of jurisdiction. View Case

Smith v. McBride
Court: Ohio Supreme Court
Docket: 20100809 September 20, 2011
Judge: Cupp
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law
Travis Carpenter, a Clinton Township police officer, was involved in a motor vehicle accident outside his own jurisdiction while responding to a general dispatch call for assistance from an officer in another jurisdiction. The passenger in the vehicle that collided with Carpenter's vehicle filed a personal-injury suit naming as defendants, inter alia, Carpenter and Clinton Township. The trial court granted summary judgment to Carpenter and Clinton Township, concluding that they were entitled to immunity under Ohio Rev. Code 2744 because Carpenter was on an emergency call for purposes of the statute as he had a professional obligation to respond to the dispatch. The appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Carpenter could be considered to have been on an emergency call at the time of the accident for purposes of chapter 2744 when the evidence was insufficient to establish the existence of a mutual-aid agreement between the jurisdictions because application of the immunity statutes in this case did not depend on whether a mutual-aid agreement existed. View Case

Sandlands C&D v. County of Horry
Court: South Carolina Supreme Court
Docket: 27042 September 19, 2011
Judge: Toal
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
The Supreme Court accepted the certified question from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on whether the South Carolina Solid Waste Policy and Management Act, (SWPMA) preempted Horry County Ordinance 02-09 entitled "An Ordinance Regulating the County-Wide Collection and Disposal of Solid Waste Generated within Horry County and for the Prohibition of the Disposal of Solid Waste Materials in any Manner Except as Set Forth Herein; and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof."  Plaintiffs Sandlands C&D, LLC (Sandlands) and Express Disposal Service, LLC (EDS) are related, privately-owned South Carolina companies.  Sandlands owned and operated a landfill in Marion County, approximately two miles across the Horry County border, and EDS hauls waste originating in South Carolina and North Carolina to Sandlands' landfill.  DHEC granted Sandlands a permit to accept construction and demolition (C & D) waste at the Marion County site.  Prior to the passage of Horry County Ordinance 02-09, Sandlands received C & D waste originating in Horry County and hauled by EDS, accounting for a large portion of the waste processed at its landfill. Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court responded in the negative: the county ordinance was not preempted by the SWPMA. View Case

Skinner v. Westinghouse Electric Corp.
Court: South Carolina Supreme Court
Docket: 27037 September 6, 2011
Judge: Hearn
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
Thomas Skinner received an award of benefits from the Workers' Compensation Commission for asbestosis under the scheduled loss provisions of Section 42-9-30 of the South Carolina Code.  Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Skinner's former employer, appealed that decision, arguing Skinner could not recover for a scheduled loss and must proceed under the "general disability" statutes found in Sections 42-9-10 and 42-9-20 of the South Carolina Code. Westinghouse's arguments on appeal concerned the impact of section 42-11-60 on Skinner's right to recover for his pulmonary disease.  In particular, it argued Skinner could only recover for total or partial disability under sections 42-9-10 and 42-9-20, respectively.  The Supreme Court agreed with Westinghouse and reversed the special referee's affirmation of Skinner's award based upon the clear language of section 42-11-60: "[i]n that section, the General Assembly specified that recovery for a pulmonary disease such as Skinner's hinges upon a showing of lost wages under section 42-9-10 and 42-9-20.  Because our resolution of this issue is dispositive of the appeal, it is not necessary for us to address the remaining issues raised by the parties." View Case

Law v. City of Sioux Falls
Court: South Dakota Supreme Court
Docket: 25897 September 21, 2011
Judge: Konenkamp
Areas of Law: Constitutional Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law, Zoning, Planning & Land Use
At issue in this appeal was a zoning ordinance adopted by the City of Sioux Falls requiring that an on-sale alcoholic beverage business seeking to place video lottery machines in the establishment must meet certain location requirements and apply for a conditional use permit. Plaintiff Rick Law, who conditionally held a liquor license, brought a declaratory action against the City to determine the constitutionality of the ordinance. The South Dakota Lottery intervened in the action. The circuit court ruled that the City exceeded its authority when it enacted the ordinance, concluding that South Dakota's constitutional and statutory scheme indicated that the State intended to fully occupy the field of video lottery to the exclusion of municipal regulation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that (1) municipalities do not have the freedom or power to regulate video lottery as the South Dakota Constitution specifically reserves that right to the State and (2) existing legislation does not give municipalities power to license video lottery establishments or otherwise control the location of such establishments. View Case

Summit Water Distrib. Co. v. Utah State Tax Comm'n
Court: Utah Supreme Court
Docket: 20090921 July 29, 2011
Judge: Durham
Areas of Law: Environmental Law, Government & Administrative Law, Tax Law
Summit Water was a mutual water company providing culinary grade water to residential and commercial shareholders. After the Utah State Tax Commission audited Summit Water's annual property tax affidavit and concluded that the value of the distribution facilities was substantially higher than Summit Water reported that year, Summit County assessed Summit Water for the back taxes owed for the previous four years. In all, Summit County assessed Summit Water $204,020 in additional taxes. The Summit County Board of Equalization determined that Summit Water failed to establish that the taxation of the property was incorrect or illegal, concluding (1) Summit Water was not eligible for the constitutional tax exemption afforded to entities that own a water distribution system providing water for irrigating lands because the water used by Summit Water's shareholders was for nonagricultural purposes, and (2) there was no double taxation of Summit Water's property. The Commission affirmed. The district court reversed in part, holding that the constitutional exemption at issue includes any artificial watering of land, including nonagricultural properties. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that the constitutional exemption encompasses the nonagricultural watering of lands and that no double taxation occurred. View Case

State ex rel. Wyo. Workers' Safety & Comp. Div. v. Cave
Court: Wyoming Supreme Court
Docket: S-10-0126 September 20, 2011
Judge: Golden
Areas of Law: Government & Administrative Law, Injury Law, Insurance Law, Labor & Employment Law
Shannon Cave suffered a work-related injury and was awarded temporary total disability (TTD) benefits during her recovery. After Cave rejected an offer of temporary light duty work from her employer, the Wyoming Workers' Safety and Compensation Division (Division) reduced Cave's TTD benefits to one-third of the previously authorized amount in accordance with Wyo. Stat. Ann. 27-14-404(j). The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) upheld the reduction of TTD benefits. The district court reversed the OAH decision. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's order, holding that the OAH decision was supported by substantial evidence and was not contrary to law as the hearing examiner properly determined that the offer of light duty employment tendered to Cave was bona fide, and therefore, the OAH was obligated to reduce Cave's TTD benefits. View Case


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