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October 9, 2015

A court’s review of the disciplinary penalty imposed on an employee is whether the penalty imposed constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law


A court’s review of the disciplinary penalty imposed on an employee is whether the penalty imposed constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law
Peterson v City of Poughkeepsie, 2015 NY Slip Op 07031, Appellate Division, Second Department

Ronald J. Knapp, as Acting City Administrator of the City of Poughkeepsie, terminated Carleton Peterson, a street supervisor employed by the City of Poughkeepsie Department of Public Works, after Peterson was found guilty of three charges of misconduct, which included, falsifying his time records.

Following his termination, Peterson commenced an Article 78 proceeding to review Knapp’s determination. The Appellate Division granted Peterson’s petition to the extent of annulling the finding of guilt with respect to certain charges, dismissing those charges, and annulling the penalty imposed. The court than remitted the matter to the City for a new determination as to the penalty to be imposed in connection with the charges that were sustained.

After a new hearing Knapp again imposed the penalty of termination of Peterson's employment.

Peterson commenced this second CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking, among other things, a review of the penalty imposed following the second disciplinary hearing. The Supreme Court annulled Knapp’s decision terminating Peterson’s employment and remitted the matter to the City for a new hearing on the issue of the imposition of a lesser penalty and a new determination thereafter.

Poughkeepsie appealed the Supreme Court’s ruling and the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s order annulling Knapp’s decision to terminate Peterson.

The Appellate Division said that “Judicial review of an administrative penalty is limited to whether the mode of penalty or discipline imposed constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law” and, citing Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222, observed that a court may only set aside an administrative agency's determination if the punishment or discipline imposed is "so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.

The Appellate Division then ruled that under the circumstances of this case, where the Peterson was found guilty of having submitted a falsified time sheet, the penalty of dismissal from employment “was not so disproportionate to the offenses as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness.”

Accordingly, said the court, Supreme Court should have denied that branch of Peterson’s petition seeking to annul the Acting City Administrator's determination terminating his employment.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances - a 618-page volume focusing on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/7401.html
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Public Personnel Law E-books

The Discipline Book - A concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State set out in a 700 page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 442-page e-book focusing on determining an appropriate disciplinary penalty to be imposed on an employee in the public service in instances where the employee has been found guilty of misconduct or incompetence. Now available in two formats - as a large, paperback print edition and as an e-book. For more information click on

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The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - A 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html


General Municipal Law §§207-a and 207-c - Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - A 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on

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