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June 18, 2012

Procedural matters to satisfy when filing an appeal with the Commissioner of Education

Procedural matters to satisfy when filing an appeal with the Commissioner of Education
Appeal of Carl Stieffenhofer from actions of Donna Pieszala, President of the Board of Education of the Newfane Central School District, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education No. 15,846

Although the Commissioner dismissed Stieffenhofer’s appeal as untimely, he addressed a number of relevant procedural matters that are instructive. The Commissioner pointed out that:

1. A petition must contain “a clear and concise statement of the petitioner’s claim showing that the petitioner is entitled to relief, and shall further contain a demand for the relief to which the petitioner deems himself entitled … which statement must be sufficiently clear to advise a respondent of the nature of petitioner’s claim and of the specific act or acts complained of.”

2. Where the complaint relates to allegedly "illegal" actions taken while the Board was in “executive session,” such matters fall “squarely within the ambit of the Open Meetings Law [and] Public Officers Law §107 vests exclusive jurisdiction over complaints alleging violations of the Open Meetings Law in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and alleged violations thereof may not be adjudicated in an appeal to the Commissioner.”

3. The failure to join as a necessary party is fatal to the petition as a party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such, named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense.

Although the Commissioner dismissed the appeal, he did address a motion by Pieszala that he issue her a certificate of good faith pursuant to Education Law §3811(1) thereby authorizing the board to indemnify her for legal fees and expenses incurred in defending this proceeding which arose out of the exercise of her powers or performance of duties as a board member.

The Commissioner ruled that it was appropriate to issue such certification as there was nothing in the record to indicate that Piezala acted in bad faith.

The full text of the decision is posted on the Internet at:

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