Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A breach of contract complaint fails as a matter of law in the absence of any showing that a specific provision of the contract was breached


A breach of contract complaint fails as a matter of law in the absence of any showing that a specific provision of the contract was breached
Westchester County Corr. Officers Benevolent Assn., Inc. v County of Westchester, 2012 NY Slip Op 07106 {See, also, 2012 NY Slip Op 07107 decided herewith], Appellate Division, Second Department

The Westchester County Correction Officers Benevolent Association, Inc., and individually named retired correction officers, commenced this action to recover damages for an alleged breach of contract based on Westchester County’s' failure to pay the individual plaintiffs benefits equivalent to those provided by the Worker's Compensation Law for loss of earning capacity due to permanent partial disability.

The Association argued that any correction officer who has been receiving disability benefits pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-c and who then receives a disability retirement pension upon the County of Westchester's application* for such retirement on the behalf of the individual is entitled, upon retirement, to benefits equivalent to those provided by the Workers' Compensation Law for loss of earning capacity due to permanent partial disability.

Westchester, on the other hand, contended that the parties' intention at the time that the collective bargaining agreement (the CBA) was negotiated was to assure that the correction officers were afforded all of their rights under the Workers' Compensation Law.

The Associating had admitted that the CBA "is silent as to awards for permanent partial disability." Accordingly, argued the County, as the CBA is silent as to such awards, the correction officers were not entitled, upon retirement, to Workers' Compensation awards for permanent partial disability.

The Appellate Division pointed out that "A breach of contract cause of action fails as a matter of law in the absence of any showing that a specific provision of the contract was breached."

Here, the Association failed to identify a specific provision in the CBA that requires the County to pay benefits equivalent to those paid pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Law for loss of earning capacity due to permanent partial disability. Accordingly, ruled the court, the Association failed to establish its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law.

The Appellate Division explained that "[W]hen the terms of a written contract are clear and unambiguous, the intent of the parties must be found within the four corners of the contract, giving practical interpretation to the language employed and the parties' reasonable expectations. Thus, a written agreement that is complete, clear and unambiguous on its face must be enforced according to the plain meaning of its terms."

Further, said the court, "[i]nterpretation of an unambiguous contract provision is a function for the court, and matters extrinsic to the agreement may not be considered when the intent of the parties can be gleaned from the face of the instrument. A court should not imply a term which the parties themselves failed to include."

Finding that the specific provisions of the CBA did not provide for the retirement benefits sought by the Association, the Appellate Division held that the Association’s “reliance upon generalized language in the CBA is unavailing.”

* §207-c.2 of the General Municipal Law, in pertinent part, provides that the “Payment of the full amount of regular salary or wages, as provided by subdivision one of this section, shall be discontinued with respect to any policeman who is permanently disabled as a result of an injury or sickness incurred or resulting from the performance of his [or her] duties if such policeman is granted an accidental disability retirement allowance …If application for such retirement allowance or pension is not made by such policeman, application therefor may be made by the head of the police force or as otherwise provided by the chief executive officer or local legislative body of the municipality by which such policeman is employed. [Emphasis supplied.]

The 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/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions 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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