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Thursday, October 10, 2013

A NYC police officer “not in service” on the effective date of his or her retirement or vesting of retirement benefits forfeits the pension portion of his or her retirement allowance


A NYC police officer “not in service” on the effective date of his or her retirement or vesting of retirement benefits forfeits the pension portion of his or her retirement allowance
2013 NY Slip Op 51252(U), Supreme Court, New York County [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

The Administrative Code of the City of New York requires a member of the NYC Police Retirement System to "be in service" on the effective date of his or her retirement or vesting of retirement benefits in order to be eligible for a retirement allowance. If the employee is not "in service" on that date, he or she forfeits the pension portion his or her retirement allowance.*

In this Article 78 proceeding a New York City police officer [Officer] asked the court to annul the termination of his employment as a New York City Police Department [NYPD] Police Officer following a disciplinary hearing. Officer's disciplinary termination was effective prior to a final determination regarding his application for disability retirement by the NYC Police Pension System's Board of Trustees .

In 2009 NYPD filed disciplinary charges and specifications against Officer for allegedly receiving a bribe, a violation of Penal Law §200.10, in that in 2007 Officer had accepted $400 from an acquaintance in exchange for helping him recover a car which was in NYPD custody. In 2010, NYPD filed additional disciplinary charges against Officer for allegedly failing an integrity test conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau [IAB] involving Officer’s alleged not having properly invoiced property and allegedly not having notified IAB of the possible misconduct of other police officers.

In October 2010, Officer, who had suffered a stroke and heart attack earlier that year, applied for disability retirement under the so-called Heart Bill.** NYPD's Medical Board approved Officer’s application. However, in February 2011, Officer agreed to defer the application and final determination by the NYC Police Retirement System's Board of Trustees until the resolution of the disciplinary charges then pending, or upon "the Police Commissioner's approval of either a Negotiated Settlement or the disposition pursuant to trial."

The disciplinary hearing was conducted in July 2011 and Officer was found guilty of soliciting and accepting a bribe, and based on petitioner's plea of guilty to failing the integrity test by failing to voucher property, failing to safeguard that property and other misconduct such as transmitting a radio signal with the intent to conceal from the NYPD the existence of the property, failing to report misconduct related to the taking of the property, attempting to cover up the improper handling of the property, and trying to cover up the incident by initially failing to provide accurate information about it at an official NYPD interview.

The hearing officer recommended that Officer be terminated from his position. The Commissioner of Police accepted the hearing officer’s findings and recommendation and terminated Officer from his position.

As Officer’s termination was prior to the effective date of his retirement, he became ineligible to receive pension portion of his retirement benefits. In ruling on Officer’s CPLR Article 78 petition, Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffee sustained the forfeiture of the pension portion of Officer's retirement allowance, commenting that this was “a risk he took by engaging in the misconduct at issue.”

In reviewing an administrative agency's determination as to whether it is arbitrary and capricious under CPLR Article 78, said the court, the test is whether the determination "is without sound basis in reason and . . . without regard to the facts.” Further, the determination of an administrative agency, "acting pursuant to its authority and within the orbit of its expertise, is entitled to deference, and even if different conclusions could be reached as a result of conflicting evidence, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency when the agency's determination is supported by the record."

Here, given the charges and findings, which rest on the credibility determinations of the hearing officer, it cannot be said, as a matter of law, that respondents' decision to terminate petitioner's employment was arbitrary and capricious.

As to the penalty imposed, Judge Jaffeet, citing Matter of Pell, 34 NY2d at 222, said that the standard for reviewing a penalty imposed after a hearing is whether the punishment imposed "is so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness." 

Judge Jaffee noted that “NYPD may not terminate employee in order to prevent employee from collecting [a] disability pension, [the] pension may be denied as unintended consequence of [the] termination if [the] termination [was] made in good faith." However, the fact that Officer was terminated "after his application for disability retirement had been provisionally approved” by Medical Board did not show bad faith as Officer's disciplinary investigation was not completed until after Medical Board's determination and prior to any action being taken by the Retirement System's Board of Trustees.

Accordingly, Judge Jaffee denied Officer’s petition and dismissed the action.

* §13-240 of the New York City Administrative Code, which concerns the New York City Police Pension Fund, address the termination of membership or discontinuance of service. It provides, in pertinent part,  “Should a member discontinue city-service except by death or retirement, he or she shall be paid such part of the amount of the accumulated deductions standing to the credit of his or her individual account in the annuity savings fund as he or she shall demand.” Waldeck v NYC Employees' Retirement System, 81 N.Y.2d 804 [181 A.D.2d 412] decided with Barbaro v NYC Employees' Retirement System, [181 A.D.2d 437] addresses a similar situation involving members of the NYC Sanitation Workers' Retirement System.

** See General Municipal Law §207-k

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_51252.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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