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Friday, June 05, 2015

Filing a notice of claim required by Education Law §3813(1) not a condition precedent to an action seeking to vindicate a “public interest” in contrast to advancing a private right

Filing a notice of claim required by Education Law §3813(1) not a condition precedent to an action seeking to vindicate a “public interest” in contrast to advancing a private right
2015 NY Slip Op 04675, Court of Appeals

A teacher serving a three-year probationary period [Probationer] was terminated before the end of the probationary period. Probationer brought a CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking a court order [1] annulling the School District's determination, [2] reinstatement with tenure and [3] back pay.

The School District asked Supreme Court to dismiss Probationer’s petition contending that Probationer had not served a timely notice of claim as required by Education Law §3813(1).

Probationer’s sole argument in opposition to the District’s "affirmative defense" was that such a "[n]otice of [c]laim is not a condition precedent to a special proceeding properly brought pursuant to CPLR [a]rticle 78 seeking judicial enforcement of a legal right derived through enactment of positive law."

Supreme Court agreed with Probationer and directed that the District reinstate Probationer to her position with back pay “pending a hearing to determine whether Probationer was denied tenure and terminated from her probationary employment in bad faith.”

The School District appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s determination.

The Appellate Division ruled that the “positive-law exemption” on which Probationer relied “was not relevant to the situation of a probationary teacher seeking to compel a school district to grant tenure.”*

The Appellate Division also commented that in its view Education Law §3813(1) does not apply when a litigant seeks only equitable relief, but observed that Probationer asked for damages in the form of back pay in addition to an equitable remedy and brought the lawsuit “to advance a private right rather than vindicate a public interest.”

The Court of Appeals, after granting Probationer leave to appeal, affirmed the Appellate Division’s ruling, explaining that on appeal to the court Probationer advanced two arguments:

1. The monetary damages that Probationer demands “are merely incidental” to Probationer’s primary claim for equitable relief; and, or,

2. That Probationer seeks to enforce her claim to tenure by estoppel rights.

However, said the Court of Appeals, “Even if the Appellate Division may have considered one or both of these arguments,” Probationer “did not raise them at Supreme Court; therefore, they are unpreserved for our review.”  

* In Sephton v Board of Education of the City of New York, 99 AD2d 509 [appeal denied 62 NY2d 605], the Appellate Division noted that "the 'tenure rights' of teachers are ... considered a matter in the public interest and therefore §3813 is not applicable to cases seeking to enforce such rights,” [citations omitted]. However, said the Sephton court, the Sephton plaintiffs “are seeking to recover back pay due to the allegedly improper restructuring of their salaries. Such a claim seeks vindication of private rights and duties. Thus a [timely §3813(1)] notice of claim was a condition precedent to the maintenance of the action (citations omitted).”

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 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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