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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Notice of claim pursuant to Education Law §3813

Notice of claim pursuant to Education Law §3813
CSEA v West Islip UFSD, Supreme Court, Suffolk County, Justice Doyle, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Justice Doyle, holding that “is well established that as a condition precedent to an action against a school district, Education Law Section 3813 requires that a notice of claim be presented to the governing body of the school district within 90 days from the accrual of the claim,” dismissed CSEA's law suit alleging a “breach of contract” because it had not filed a timely “Section 3813” notice of claim.

The events leading to this litigation are fairly simple. Luanne Dunne and Patricia Plompen was appointed by the West Islip Union Free School District to clerk-typist positions in 1998, positions in the negotiating unit represented by CSEA. Each was scheduled to work 17.5 hours per week. A full-time clerk-typist works 35 hours a week.

The district refused to provide health insurance to Dunne and Plompen on the ground that they only worked part-time. CSEA, however, argued that the collective bargaining agreement provides for employees to be eligible to participate in the Enhanced Empire Health Insurance Plan and for the cost to be paid by the District. The agreement, according to CSEA, “covers all unit members and does not distinguish between part-time and full-time employees with respect to health insurance benefits.”

The district, on the other hand, contended:

1. Since at least 1985 it did not to provide health insurance to individuals working one-half or less of a full-time schedule; and

2. No grievance had ever been filed concerning its not providing health insurance to such part-time workers in the unit.

In September 1999 CSEA sued the district. West Islip asked the court to dismiss its complaint because CSEA had not filed a notice of claim within 90 days after accrual of the claim as required by Education Law Section 3813. CSEA, argued the district, was now time-barred from litigating the dispute.

Holding that CSEA's claims accrued in July and August 1998, when Dunne and Plompen were hired without being given health insurance benefits, the court said that under the facts of this case, it did not have any authority to allow CSEA to serve a late notice of claim.

Justice Doyle commented that the grievance procedure set out in the collective bargaining agreement “was merely an alternative remedy” and did not serve to toll the statute of limitations otherwise applicable for perfecting an Article 78 action.

The court granted the district's motion for summary judgment dismissing CSEA's petition.

There are some exceptions to the “well established” rule noted by Justice Doyle, however -- the key element appearing to be whether or not the school district had “actual notice” or “knowledge” of the allegations within the time limits set out in Section 3813.

In Union-Endicott Central School District v PERB, 197 AD2d 276 the Appellate Division clearly ruled that compliance with Section 3813 “is a condition precedent to PERB's exercise of jurisdiction over an improper practice charge.” The Court of Appeals declined to hear the appeal from Appellate Division's decision.

However, this was not the end of the matter. Union-Endicott involved allegations of improper practices filed by an employee organization. Here, said the court, although the Association had not filed a formal Section 3813 notice of claim, it had, in fact, filed its charges with PERB within five weeks of the District's declaration of impasse in contract negotiations with the Association and PERB had sent a copy of the Association's allegations to the District.

Therefore, the Appellate Division concluded, the District had received its copy of the charges “within 90 days after the claim arose as evidenced by the fact that it had filed its answer to the charges [with PERB] within the 90-day period.”

As the purpose of the Section 3813 “notice of claim” requirement is to give a school district prompt notice of claims to permit its efficient investigation, here, the court concluded, there was substantial compliance with Education Law Section 3813 since all that is required is that the school district be sufficiently informed of the claim in a timely manner.

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