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June 17, 2013

The Statute of Limitations for seeking payment of compensation alleged due an employee pursuant to a contract begins to run when the employee had a legal right to demand such payment


The Statute of Limitations for seeking payment of compensation alleged due an employee pursuant to a contract begins to run when the employee had a legal right to demand such payment
2013 NY Slip Op 04321, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Village Police Commissioner and the Village had signed a contract that provided that the Commissioner was to earn $5,000 more than the highest-ranking lieutenant for each year that he served as Commissioner. In June 2010, the Commissioner learned that he would not be reappointed as Commissioner and alleged that he subsequently learned that his Lieutenants were earning more than he had been earning.

The Commissioner filed a written claim with the Village on November 2, 2010 alleging that the Village had breached its contract with him from 1999 through 2010 and on September 28, 2011commenced an action in Supreme Court pursuant to CPLR Article 78 alleging breach of contract and sought to “recover the wages that allegedly were owed him for those years.”

Supreme Court denied the Village’s motion [1] to dismiss so much of the Commissioner’s complaint that sought to recover payments allegedly due him prior to March 28, 2010 and [2] to transfer the Commissioner’s complaint to District Court, Nassau County. The Village appealed.

The Appellate Division reversed Supreme Court’s ruling and remanded the matter to District Court, Nassau County. In the words of the court, ”the damages sought [by the Commissioner] in connection with the portion of the complaint that is not time-barred fall within the jurisdictional limit of the District Court. Therefore, removal to that court is appropriate.”

Addressing the issue of the timeliness of the Commissioner’s petition, the Appellate Division [1] said that §9802 of the Civil Practice Act and Rules provides that, "no action shall be maintained against the village upon or arising out of a contract of the village unless the same shall be commenced within eighteen months after the cause of action therefor shall have accrued, nor unless a written verified claim shall have been filed with the village clerk within one year after the cause of action shall have accrued," and [2] explained that “Where the claim is for the payment of a sum of money allegedly owed pursuant to a contract, the cause of action accrues when the plaintiff possesses a legal right to demand payment.”

The Village had argued that the Commissioner's causes of action alleging breach of contract accrued at the end of each year that the Commissioner allegedly was not paid in accordance with his contract. The Appellate Division agreed, ruling that as the Commissioner’s action was not commenced until September 28, 2011, the Village established, prima facie, that the action was time-barred to the extent that the Commissioner sought to recover damages accruing prior to March 28, 2010, i.e., 18 months prior to the commencement of his action.

Significantly, the Appellate Division held that the Commissioner’s reliance on “his lack of knowledge that the several breaches had occurred” did not toll the running of the statute of limitations for bringing a timely action.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_04321.htm

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