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Monday, December 12, 2011

Evidence obtained using a global positioning device [GPS] permitted in administrative disciplinary hearing

Evidence obtained using a global positioning device [GPS] permitted in administrative disciplinary hearing
Matter of Matter of Cunningham v New York State Dept. of Labor, 2011 NY Slip Op 08529, Appellate Division, Third Department

Michael A. Cunningham, an employee of the New York State Department of Labor, was served with disciplinary charges alleging that he had reported false information about hours he had worked on many days and that he had submitted false vouchers related to travel with his vehicle. The disciplinary hearing officer found Cunningham guilty of certain charges and recommend that Cunningham be dismissed from his position. The Commissioner of Labor accepted the hearing officer's findings and recommended penalty and terminated Cunningham from service.

In the course of an investigation which resulted in the disciplinary charges being filed against Cunningham, the State’s Office of the Inspector General used a global positioning system (GPS) device placed on Cunningham’s vehicle and the resulting information was used in the course of Cunningham’s disciplinary hearing as evidence to prove charges that he had reported false information and submitted false vouchers related to his travel using his personal vehicle.*

Cunningham, contending that the GPS devices placed on his car without a warrant constituted an illegal search and seizure under the NY Constitution, appealed and argued that all such information should have been excluded from evidence at the administrative hearing.

One of the significant issues before the Appellate Division was Cunningham’s challenging the GPS evidence used in the disciplinary action. Essentially the Appellate Division had to determine if the admission of evidence obtained through the use of the GPS to prove certain of the disciplinary charges was unduly prejudicial to Cunningham.

The Appellate Division noted that in a case decided after OIG had concluded its investigation of Cunningham, a majority in the Court of Appeals held that, within the context of a criminal investigation, "[u]nder our State Constitution, in the absence of exigent circumstances, the installation and use of a GPS device to monitor an individual's whereabouts requires a warrant supported by probable cause" (People v Weaver, 12 NY3d 433 [2009]).

Concluding that although the GPS evidence gathered in the course of the OIG investigation would have likely been excluded from a criminal trial under Weaver, the Appellate Division said that the standard for using or excluding evidence at administrative proceedings is not controlled by criminal law, citing McCormick, Evidence §173 [6th ed] [supp], in which it was observed that “most courts do not apply the exclusionary rule to various administrative proceedings including employee disciplinary matters”.

The court said that the test applied in a search conducted by a public employer investigating work-related misconduct of one of its employees is whether the search was reasonable “under all the circumstances, both as to the inception and scope of the intrusion.”

Similarly, said the court, when the search was “conducted by an entity other than the administrative body” seeking to use the evidence in a disciplinary proceeding, the rule is applied by "balancing the deterrent effect of exclusion against its detrimental impact on the process of determining the truth."

As in this instance the investigation was refer to the OIG. Under such facts, said the court, “the reasonableness test appears applicable.”

The court concluded that in order to establish a pattern of serious misconduct such as repeatedly submitting false time records in contrast to a mere isolated incident, it was necessary to obtain pertinent and credible information over a period of time. Here the Appellate Division ruled that “obtaining such information for one month using a GPS device was not unreasonable in the context of a noncriminal proceeding involving a high-level state employee with a history of discipline problems who had recently thwarted efforts to follow him in his nonworking-related ventures during work hours.”

Under the circumstances the Appellate Division said that neither OIG nor Department of Labor had acted unreasonably.

* See, also, Matter of Halpin v Klein, 62 AD3d 403. In Halpin the employee was found guilty of disciplinary charges involving absence from work based on records generated by global positioning equipment. Halpin's guilt was established using data from the global positioning system (GPS) installed in his Department-issued cell phone. The Halpin decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2009/2009_03593.htm


Another decision that addresses this issue is United States v Skinner, [USCA, 6th Circuit] posted on the Internet at::
http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/12a0262p-06.pdf

The Cunningham decision is posted on the Internet at:

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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