Thursday, July 25, 2013

Civil Service Law §106 does not authorize an individual to maintain a private cause of action based on alleged violation of the statute

Civil Service Law §106 does not authorize an individual to maintain a private cause of action based on alleged violation of the statute
Goddard v Martino, 2013 NY Slip Op 23240, Supreme Court, Dutchess County, Justice Peter M. Forman

Donald J. Goddard was appointed as a police officer in the Town of Hyde Park Police Department in 1986 and ultimately was permanently appointed to the position of Lieutenant in 2004. He was subsequently provisionally appointed to serve as Chief of Police pending his passing and qualifying for appointment from a promotion list for Chief.

In the words of Justice Peter M. Forman, “the relationship between [Goddard] and the newly-elected Town Board quickly became toxic” and Goddard subsequently submitted a letter expressing his intent “to retire from the Town of Hyde Park Police Department effective April 10, 2010.”

Goddard sued the Town alleging that:

1. He submitted this retirement letter because (a) he had become aware that the Town Board was contemplating abolishing the position of Lieutenant, and (b) he was advised by a member of the Town Board that he would never be appointed as the permanent Chief of Police, regardless of his performance on the civil service examination and “felt compelled to retire in order to preserve his health benefits, which would be forfeited if his employment ended due to termination rather than retirement;” and

2. The Town Board abolished the Lieutenant position in order to prevent him from being reinstated to that position once the permanent Chief of Police position was filled. 

Although the Town Board asserted that the Lieutenant position was being abolished for financial reasons, Goddard alleges that this financial justification was a pretext, and that "the Town Board was manipulating the civil service system in order to prevent [Goddard] from being reinstated as Lieutenant."

Ultimately Goddard filed a notice of claim with the Town alleging that the Town had “obstructed or defeated his civil service rights in violation of Civil Service Law §106.” Following a hearing conducted with respect to the notice of claim filed pursuant to General Municipal Law §50-h, Goddard commenced the instant litigation asserting a private cause of action based upon Town’s alleged violation of Civil Service Law §106.

Civil Service Law §106, in pertinent part, makes it a misdemeanor to defeat, deceive or obstruct the civil service rights of any person who seeks appointment, promotion, or reinstatement to a covered civil service position. However, notes the opinion, "Civil Service Law §106 does not expressly make a private cause of action available to individuals who believe that their civil service rights have been violated."

Addressing the Town’s motion seeking summary judgment dismissing Goddard’s complaint on the grounds that no private cause of action is available under Civil Service Law §106, Justice Forman said that a petitioner had to satisfy three tests to maintain his or her cause of action based on alleged violations of Civil Service Law §106.

The courts said that “When assessing whether a statute provides an implied right to a private cause of action, "the essential factors to be considered are: (1) whether the plaintiff is one of the class for whose particular benefit the statute was enacted; (2) whether recognition of a private right of action would promote the legislative purpose; and (3) whether creation of such a right would be consistent with the legislative scheme."

Commenting that the first factor is the one that is most easily satisfied, the court noted that “When a statute seeks to deter certain conduct, the second factor will be satisfied upon a determination that a private cause of action for injuries arising from this prohibited conduct would further the statute's deterrent goal.”

Goddard, said the court, clearly falls within the class of people for whose benefit Civil Service Law §106 was enacted. Recognizing a private cause of action under Civil Service Law §106 would also clearly advance the statute's deterrent goal. Therefore, said the court, the first two prongs of this three-prong test were satisfied.

The third factor, generally recognized as the most important factor, is whether a private right of action is consistent with the legislative scheme.

In Justice Forman’s view, there was no clear evidence that the Legislature intended to expose municipalities to the risk of financial liability for a violation of Civil Service Law §106. Rather, said the court, “Civil Service Law §102(3) squarely places the authority for enforcement of Civil Service Law §106 on the appropriate municipal civil service commission,” thus precluding an aggrived individual from bringing a private cause of action seeking redress of his or her grievance.

Justice Forman, upon reading §102(3) and §106 together, concluded that “the Legislature intended to limit enforcement of Civil Service law §106 to criminal proceedings (to punish past violations), and to actions by the appropriate municipal civil service commission seeking injunctive relief (to prevent continued violations).”

Noting the Goddard had a number of other legal remedies available to him regarding his allegations concerning his statutory right to his continued employment in the public service, including his claim that he was forced to retire because the Lieutenant position was being abolished, not for the purpose of economy or efficiency, but as a subterfuge to deprive Goddard of his civil service rights, Justice Forman granted the Town’s motion for summary judgment dismissing Goddard’s complaint.

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

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at

The Disability Benefits E-book: at

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