Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Giving of false statements in the course of an official investigation constitute grounds for dismissal from municipal employment


Giving of false statements in the course of an official investigation constitute grounds for dismissal from municipal employment
2014 NY Slip Op 03944, Appellate Division, First Department

A New York City police officer [Plaintiff] was terminated from his position based on a finding that he had made false statements regarding his whereabouts to an investigating officer during a department "GO-15"* interview concerning his alleged unauthorized absence from his home while on sick report. Plaintiff admitted that he knew he was required to remain at his residence while on sick report and that he gave a false account of the reason for his absence at the GO-15 interview.

Plaintiff challenged his termination alleging that the penalty of dismissal was excessive and an abuse of discretion. The Article 78 petition filed by his then attorney was dismissed because the attorney had filed to file a timely appeal. Plaintiff then initiated an action against the attorney to “recover damages for legal malpractice” but Supreme Court dismissed Officer’s petition alleging legal malpractice.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, explaining that in an action for legal exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession and that the attorney's breach of this duty caused his or her plaintiff-client to sustain "actual and ascertainable damages." Further, said the court, to establish causation, the plaintiff-client must show that he or she “would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages ‘but for’ the lawyer's negligence."

Supreme Court had granted the respondent attorney’s motion for summary judgment after finding this critical "but for" element was missing as Officer would not have prevailed in the underlying Article 78 proceeding challenging his dismissal from his position. The Appellate Division concurred with the Supreme Court’s ruling noting that “The giving of false statements in the course of an official investigation has been upheld as a ground for dismissal from municipal employment," citing Duncan v Kelly, 43 AD3d 297, affirmed 9 NY3d 1024.

As the United States Supreme Court held in Bryson v. United States, 396 U.S. 64 (1969), "Our legal system provides methods for challenging the Government's right to ask questions - lying is not one of them. A citizen may decline to answer the question, or answer it honestly, but he cannot with impunity knowingly and willfully answer with a falsehood."

* A GO-15 interview is one conducted "in connection with allegations of serious misconduct or corruption." 
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