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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Designating a Civil Service Law §75 disciplinary hearing officer and making a final disciplinary determination


Designating a Civil Service Law §75 disciplinary hearing officer and making a final disciplinary determination
6 Misc3d 1012(a), Affirmed 48 AD3d 815*

Civil Service Law §75 provides that the appointing authority may designate an individual to conduct a §75 disciplinary hearing and to make findings of fact and recommend the penalty to be imposed. The appointing authority is to then review such findings and recommendation and make the final determination. Where the appointing authority believes it cannot be impartial or is biased against the accused employee, the appointing authority is to delegate the decision-making authority to some other individual authorized to act in his absence. If no such person is available, then the Rule of Necessity would apply and the appointing authority would have to review the record and make the final determination, notwithstanding being “admittedly biased” or unable to act “impartially.”

Following her termination from her position, the individual [Petitioner] brought an Article 78 action seeking an order declaring that action “illegal, ultra vires, null and void.” State Supreme Court Justice Dickerson granted her petition.

Justice Dickerson’s decision indicates that on May 16, 2002, the Mayor preferred disciplinary charges against Petitioner pursuant to the Civil Service Law Section 75. The charges alleged insubordination and/or misconduct and neglect of duty and/or incompetence to perform the duties of her position.

The Mayor appointed an individual to serve as the Hearing Officer to determine the disciplinary charges. Stein sent his findings and recommendations to the Mayor on January 2, 2004. The Mayor then delegated to an independent arbitrator the full power and authority to make the disciplinary determination after considering Hearing Officer's report and recommendations.

The court ruled that the Mayor's designating an individual to serve as the hearing officer and his delegation of his decision making authority with respect to the charges filed against Petitioner to an independent arbitrator, including authority to make a final determination of those charges and subsequent termination of Petitioner's employment, were illegal, ultra vires, null and void. Justice Dickerson vacated the termination of Petitioner without prejudice to the City to appoint a new Hearing Officer for the purpose of conducting a new disciplinary hearing. He then awarded Petitioner back pay from the date of her termination together with any benefits to which she was entitled.

The decision states that the Mayor was admittedly biased, and, indeed, wanted Petitioner dismissed from her position. However, that bias, said the court, does not necessarily excuse him from the duty of making the final determination in this matter. The delegation must be to a duly qualified individual authorized to act during the absence or inability of the appointing authority not previously involved in the proceedings or charges. Only when there is no such official and one cannot be appointed, and thus no such delegation is possible, does the “Rule of Necessity” apply, permitting an otherwise partial official to make the final determination.”

The court said that an independent arbitrator with no connection "with the governmental employment at issue," was not “a duly qualified individual authorized to act during the absence or inability of the appointing authority. As the Mayor believed he was biased and not impartial, it was the Mayor's responsibility to try to delegate the decision-making authority to either the City's personnel officer, the City Clerk, or to some other individual authorized to act in his absence. If no such person was available, then the Rule of Necessity would apply and the Mayor would have had to make the final determination himself, notwithstanding being “admittedly biased.”

The court then considered Civil Service Law Section 75(2), which states, in pertinent part, "...The hearing upon such charges shall be held by the officer or body having the power to remove the person against whom such charges are preferred or by a deputy or other person designated by such officer or body in writing for that purpose."
But, said Justice Dickerson, the Mayor was neither "the officer or body having the power to remove" nor was he "a deputy or other person designated by such officer or body in writing for that purpose". Under the controlling provision in the City Code, the authority to remove, which is a function of the power to appoint, was not specifically designated to anyone by the officials having that authority.

As to the hearing officer conducting the disciplinary hearing, the court said, “It is readily apparent that there was no written delegation by the appropriate authority to hear Petitioner's disciplinary case”. Jurisdiction was thus lacking and the hearing Officer had no authority to either conduct the disciplinary hearing or to make a report and recommendation regarding his “findings”. 


* The Supreme Court’s decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2005/2005_50033.htm .  

The Appellate Division’s decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_01762.htm
.

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/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances 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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