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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Showing that an Article 78 proceeding was initiated after the statute of limitations had expired is the burden of the party making the claim of untimeliness



Showing that an Article 78 proceeding was initiated after the statute of limitations had expired is the burden of the party making the claim of untimeliness
2015 NY Slip Op 05998, Appellate Division, Third Department

The petitioner in this Article 78 proceeding [Spouse] was married to the retiree [Decedent] at the time of his death on January 11, 2011. In March 2011 the NYS Employees’ Retirement System [System] paid Decedent's ordinary death benefits to his son and his former spouse in accordance with the beneficiary designations reportedly filed by decedent.

In response to Spouse’s inquiry, the System advised her by letter dated June 12, 2013 that Decedent's death benefits had been paid out to the named beneficiaries. Spouse then commenced an action for declaratory against the System contending that she was entitled to "a portion" of Decedent's death benefits. Ultimately Supreme Court concluded that Spouse's challenge to the payment of death benefits should have been brought in a CPLR Article 78 proceeding and, after converting the action to a proceeding, dismissed the petition as untimely. Spouse appealed.

The Appellate Division, pointing out that the System "has the exclusive authority to determine the validity of beneficiary designations," said "A determination generally becomes binding when the aggrieved party is “notified” and the burden is on the party asserting the statute of limitations defense to establish that the petitioner "was provided notice of the determination more than four months before the proceeding was commenced."

In this action Spouse alleged that she was not notified when the death benefits were paid out to the beneficiaries and, in their motion to dismiss, the System failed to submit any proof that Spouse was notified or otherwise aware of the disbursement of such funds prior to June 2013.

In response to the Systems request that the Appellate Division take judicial notice of the materials appended to its brief, the court said that:

1. Most of these documents in the record on appeal were available to the System but were not submitted to Supreme Court with its motion to dismiss, and

2. These documents do not conclusively establish that [Spouse] received notice.

The Appellate Division found that “on the present record” the System failed to establish that Spouse’s action was untimely.

Considering another aspect of this litigation, the Appellate Division said that as Spouse was seeking a portion of Decedent's death benefits that were paid to the beneficiaries, those beneficiaries are necessary parties to this proceeding as their interests may be inequitably or adversely affected should Spouse prevail.

While not raised by the parties in this action, the Appellate Division commented that “the absence of a necessary party may be raised at any stage of the proceedings, by any party or by the court on its own motion."

Accordingly, the court said that the matter must be remitted to Supreme Court to order the beneficiaries to be joined if they are subject to the jurisdiction of the court or, if not, to permit their joinder by motion, stipulation or otherwise. If such joinder cannot be effectuated, “Supreme Court must then determine whether this proceeding should be permitted to go forward in the absence of these necessary parties.”

The Appellate Division reversed Supreme Court’s decision, on the law, and “remitted [the matter] to the Supreme Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision.”

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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