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Monday, June 29, 2015

Termination as "a final agency action” is effected when the letter of dismissal is delivered to the officer or employee



Termination as "a final agency action” is effected when the letter of dismissal is delivered to the officer or employee
2015 NY Slip Op 04892, Appellate Division, Third Department

An internal investigation by the Division of State Police concerning missing evidence resulted in misconduct charges being filed against a State Trooper [Trooper] for allegedly failing to obey a lawful order to truthfully answer questions and knowingly making a false entry in official records. The Division of State Police Hearing Board found Trooper guilty of the two charges and recommended a penalty consisting of a 60-day suspension without pay, a one-year disciplinary probation period and a letter of censure.

Trooper, however, was shown a determination already signed by the Superintendent of State Police imposing the penalty of termination from his employment and was told that he had 10 minutes in which to resign or he would be terminated.

Trooper resigned but subsequently commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking to be reinstated. Supreme Court transferred the matter to the Appellate Division for review of the question of  “substantial evidence” supporting the findings of the Hearing Board with respect to Trooper's being found guilty of the charges filed against him.

Initially the Appellate Division considered the question of the Trooper’s resignation, commenting that a resignation "would ordinarily be beyond [its] review,” but noting “exceptions exist where . . . the resignation was allegedly ineffective and involuntary,"* citing Melber v NYS Education Department, 71 AD3d 1216.

As it was undisputed that the Superintendent had signed a written decision terminating Trooper’s employment, which document was shown to him and Trooper was told that he had 10 minutes to accept an "option" of resigning, the Appellate Division ruled that “under the narrow circumstances” of this case Trooper was effectively terminated by a final agency action when he was handed the signed termination document.

Turning to the merits of the issue of “substantial evidence,” the court sustained the hearing panel’s determination as to Trooper’s guilt with respect to the charges filed against him, explaining that “credibility determinations are for the administrative factfinder when conflicting proof is presented.”

Although Trooper offered explanations “for some of the many discrepancies” in his testimony, the Appellate Division said that “this created a credibility question which was resolved against him” and substantial evidence supports the administrative determination.

As to the penalty imposed by the Superintendent, the court said “we have observed that ‘a State Trooper holds a position of great sensitivity and trust and a higher standard of fitness and character pertains to police officers than to ordinary civil servants," citing Bassett v Fenton, 68 AD3d at 1387-1388. The court said that the penalty imposed, termination, did not shock its sense of fairness in view of findings of Trooper’s “repeated false statements where the underlying matter implicated missing evidence, together with [Trooper’s] failure to accept responsibility even when confronted with contrary documentary proof.”

* Concerning the issue obtaining an "involuntary resignation," in Rychlick v Coughlin, 63 NY2d 643, the Court of Appeals  pointed out that threatening to do what the appointing authority had a right to do -- in this instance filing disciplinary charges against the employee if the employee did not submit his resignation from his position -- did not constitute coercion so as to make the resignation involuntary.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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