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May 13, 2016

Teachers who retired while an expired CBA continued in force under the Triboro Doctrine contend that the expired CBA controls with respect to their health insurance benefits

Teachers who retired while an expired CBA continued in force under the Triboro Doctrine contend that the expired CBA controls with respect to their health insurance benefits
Evans v Deposit Cent. Sch. Dist., 2016 NY Slip Op 03578, Appellate Division, Third Department

The petitioners in this CPLR §3001 action are former Deposit Central School District schoolteachers [Retired Teachers] who retired from their employments with the School District at a time when, pursuant to Civil Service Law §209-a(1)(e), which codified the so-called Triboro Doctrine, the terms of an expired Collective Bargaining Agreement [CBA] remained in effect pending the negotiation of a successor CBA.

In November 2013, the District notified the Retired Teachers that a new CBA had been negotiated and ratified and that, under the terms of that contract, the District's contribution toward the cost of the Retired Teachers' health care premiums had been reduced.

The Retired Teachers sought a declaratory judgment that they "are lawfully entitled to receive the same health benefits as all other teachers who retired during the effective term of the [prior CBA]" and reimbursement of the premiums that they paid "under protest" pursuant to the terms of the new CBA. Rather than submitting an answering, the School District moved to dismiss the complaint, asserting that [1] Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction over the matter, [2] the Retired Teachers failed to state a cause of action and [3] the claim was untimely. Supreme Court granted School District's motion and the Retired Teachers appeal.

The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court's ruling, explaining that the Retired Teachers’ claim does not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] as Civil Service Law §205(5)(d) [the Taylor Law] provides that PERB lacks the "authority to enforce an agreement between an employer and an employee organization and shall not exercise jurisdiction over an alleged violation of such an agreement that would not otherwise constitute an improper employer . . . practice."

Further, said the court "PERB . . . has consistently interpreted that provision to deprive it of jurisdiction ... when the underlying disputes are essentially contractual, favoring that the parties instead resort to the courts to resolve such disputes."

As framed by the Appellate Division, the Retired Teachers “raise, in essence, a contractual dispute as to whether they are entitled to the contribution amount [for health insurance] set by the prior CBA because, although expired, that was the contract that was in effect at the time of their respective retirements” and do not allege that School District committed any act or omission that would constitute a violation of the Taylor Law.  

The parties do not dispute that the provision of health care benefits is a matter plainly addressed in both contracts. Significantly, said the Appellate Division, as the petitioners are now retireed, the School District does not have a statutory duty to bargain with them within the meaning of the Taylor Law, citing Aeneas McDonald Police Benevolent Assn. v City of Geneva, 92 NY2d 326. Thus the Retired Teachers’ claim is contractual in nature and Supreme Court erred in dismissing the complaint for want of subject matter jurisdiction.

Considering the School District’s alternative claim that the Retired Teachers failed to state a cause of action, the Appellate Division said “On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, the trial court must construe the complaint liberally, accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, afford the plaintiffs the benefit of all favorable inferences and determine whether the facts alleged support any legally cognizable theory,” Applying this standard, the Appellate Division concludes that, by alleging that the School District failed to honor a contractual obligation under the prior CBA, the Retired Teachers have stated a legally cognizable claim for breach of contract.

The Appellate Division also held that the Retired Teachers’ claim was timely. Noting that the proper vehicle for seeking damages arising from an alleged breach of contract by a public official or governmental body is an action for breach of contract, not a proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78, the court opined that the Retired Teachers’ claim “falls safely within the six-year statute of limitations applicable to breach of contract claims, as [the Retired Teachers] commenced this action less than a year after learning of the ratification of the new CBA and paying their premiums under protest."

Ruling that the grounds raised by School District in its motion to dismiss are “without merit” and Supreme Court erred in dismissing the complaint, the Appellate Division reversed Supreme Court’s order and remitted the matter to the Supreme Court to permit the School District to serve an answer within 20 days of the date of this Court's decision.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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