Monday, June 20, 2016

If a State Department’s policy memorandum constitutes a "rule or regulation" within the meaning of the State’s Constitution it must be filed with the Secretary of State before it can have the force and effect of law


If a State Department’s policy memorandum constitutes a "rule or regulation" within the meaning of the State’s Constitution it must be filed with the Secretary of State before it can  have the force and effect of law
Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers v New York State Health Ins. Plan, 2016 NY Slip Op 04473, Appellate Division, Third Department
[See, also, 2016 NY Slip Op 04472, http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_04472.htm, granting NYSHIP’s motion to reargue the court’s decision.]

Roslyn Teachers Assn. v New York State Health Ins. Plan, 2016 NY Slip Op 04475, Appellate Division, Third Department*
[See, also, 2016 NY Slip Op 04474, http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_04474.htm, granting NYSHIP’s motion to reargue the court’s decision.]*

While the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District [School District], a participating employer in the New York State Health Insurance Program [NYSHIP] administered by the New York State Department of Civil Service, was negotiating the terms of new collective bargaining agreements with the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers and its Clerical Unit and Teachers Unit, [Association], the Department of Civil Service issued its "Policy Memorandum No. 122r3" [Memorandum], which limited the circumstances under which an employee of a participating employer such as the School District may decline NYSHIP coverage in exchange for a cash payment.

Although earlier collective bargaining agreements between the parties had included such a "buyout program," the School District took the position that the buyout program was required to conform to the new restrictions set forth in the Memorandum.

In response to the position taken by the School District, the Association commenced a combined CPLR Article 78 proceeding and action for declaratory judgment seeking, among other things, a judicial declaration that the Memorandum is null and void. NYSHIP and the Department of Civil Service [the State] moved for summary judgment.

Supreme Court denied the State’s motion, granted the Association’s petition declaring the Memorandum null and void, and remitted the matter to the State for further action. The State appealed.

In an earlier, and similar action, the Appellate Division, School Administrators Association of New York v New York State Department of Civil Service, 124 AD3d 1174, the State had argued that School Administrators' claims were barred by the four-month statute of limitations. In response to the State’s argument that the Association’s claim was similarly untimely, the Appellate Division ruled that the Association had advanced an argument regarding the timeliness of their challenge that was not before the court in School Administrators.

Here, said the Appellate Division, the Association contended the Memorandum was, in fact, a new, formal rule governing employee eligibility for the NYSHIP buyout program. Thus, argued the Association, its provisions are unenforceable because, among other things, it was not filed with the Department of State in accordance with the mandates of the State’s Constitution** and Executive Law §102[1][a]).

In the words of the Appellate Division, “… the resolution of the [Association's] challenge hinges on whether the policy memorandum is more properly characterized as a rule or regulation, or as an interpretive statement or general policy which are not subject to constitutional and statutory filing requirements.”

The court explained that a rule or regulation is "a fixed, general principle to be applied by an administrative agency without regard to other facts and circumstances relevant to the regulatory scheme of the statute it administers." Interpretive statements and guidelines, in contrast, merely assist agency officials in exercising some aspect of their discretionary authority granted by existing statutes and regulations but do not have, in and of themselves, the force and effect of law.

The primary difference between a rule or regulation and an interpretive statement or guideline, said the court, is that the former “set standards that substantially alter or, in fact, can determine the result of future agency adjudications” while interpretive statements and guidelines simply provide additional detail and clarification as to how such standards are met by the public and upheld by the agency.”

The Appellate Division found that the Memorandum constituted a "rule or regulation" within the meaning of Article IV, §8 of the State Constitution and Executive Law §102 and thus it is “invalid and without effect” until it is filed with the Department of State.

As the State did not comply with this filing requirement, it follows that the statute of limitations never commenced to run on the Association’s claims.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division sustained Supreme Court's determination.

* In Roslyn, which the Appellate Divisions characterized as a case that is virtually indistinguishable from Matter of Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers v New York State Health Insurance Plan, 2016 NY Slip Op 04473, [see above], the court said that the new restriction that the policy memorandum imposes on eligibility for the NYSHIP buyout program constitutes "a firm rigid, unqualified standard or policy" that effectively "carves out a course of conduct for the future.” Accordingly the policy memorandum constituted a "rule or regulation" within the meaning of Article IV, §8 New York State’s Constitution and Executive Law §102(1)(a) and, thus, is not effective until it is filed with the Department of State. The Roslyn decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_04475.htm

** Article IV, §8 of the State Constitution provides that “No rule or regulation made by any state department, board, bureau, officer, authority or commission, except such as relates to the organization or internal management of a state department, board, bureau, authority or commission shall be effective until it is filed in the office of the department of state. The legislature shall provide for the speedy publication of such rules and regulations by appropriate laws.”

The Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers decision is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2016/2016_04473.htm

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/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions 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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