Friday, February 17, 2012

The failure of the appointing authority to designate the §75 hearing officer in writing is a fatal jurisdictional defect

The failure of the appointing authority to designate the §75 hearing officer in writing is a fatal jurisdictional defect
Gardner v Coxsackie-Athens Cent. School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 2012 NY Slip Op 01156

A Civil Service Law §75 hearing officer found in A. Dennis Gardner guilty charges alleging that he had engaged in “inappropriate behavior” and he was terminated from his head custodian position by the Coxsackie-Athens Board of Education.

Gardner appealed claiming that the decision and the penalty imposed had to be annulled as the hearing officer had not been designated to serve as the hearing officer in writing as mandated by §75.2 of the Civil Service Law. The Appellate Division agreed and annulled the school board’s determination.

Noting that Civil Service Law §75(2) mandates that an employee disciplinary proceeding "shall be held by the officer or body having the power to remove the person against whom such charges are preferred, or by a . . . person designated by such officer or body in writing,” the Appellate Division said that “in the absence of a written designation” the removing body or hearing officer has no jurisdiction to discipline an employee and “any disposition flowing from such a proceeding will be void.”

Although in cases as Perryman v Village of Saranac Lake, 64 AD3d 830 where there was evidence that the designation of hearing officer was reflected in minutes of board meeting and Stafford v Mohonasen CSD, 61 AD3 1259, (Leave to Appeal denied, 13 NY3d 704) where the “designation of hearing officer memorialized in letter referencing appointment of hearing officer at board meeting,” in this instance the Appellate Division said that Coxsackie-Athens “provided no evidence that it ever designated the Hearing Officer in writing as required by Civil Service Law §75(2).”

The court rejected Coxsackie-Athens argument that Gardner “had notice of the Hearing Officer's identity because its attorney copied [Gardner] on an e-mail to the Hearing Officer establishing the time and date of the hearing.”

The e-mail, said the court, “did not reference any official designation of the Hearing Officer” by Coxsackie-Athens and, citing Perez v New York State Dept. of Labor, 244 AD2d 844, ruled that the school district’s reliance on such a writing was insufficient to meet the specific requirement of Civil Service Law §75(2).

In addition, the Appellate Division pointed out that this “jurisdictional defect” could not be waived by Gardner’s failure to object to the defect.

The Appellate Division said that the Hearing Officer's determination and school district’s adoption thereof must be annulled and that Gardner was to be restored to his former position, with back pay and benefits.

Addressing the school district’s claim that Gardner’s Article 78 petition was untimely, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court’s holding that the four-month statute of limitations to commence an CPLR Article 78 proceeding was extended for 30 days upon filing a notice of claim under Education Law §3813(1) was correct and, therefore, Gardner’s Article 78 petition was timely.

New York courts have distinguished between proceedings “which on the one hand seek only enforcement of private rights and duties and those on the other in which it is sought to vindicate a public interest; the provisions of subdivision 1 of section 3813 are applicable as to the former but not as to the latter” (see Union Free School Dist. No. 6 of Towns of Islip & Smithtown v New York State Div. of Human Rights Appeal Bd., 35 NY2d 371, 380, rearg denied 36 NY2d 807).
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The 2012 edition of the Discipline Book is now available
To learn more about this concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State click on http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/
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The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_01156.htm

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Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

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

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