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Thursday, May 25, 2017

An employee on leave from work due to a reasonable fear of domestic violence is not "unavailable" or unwilling to work for the purposes of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits


An employee on leave from work due to a reasonable fear of domestic violence is not "unavailable" or unwilling to work for the purposes of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits
Matter of Derfert (Commissioner of Labor), 2017 NY Slip Op 04016, Appellate Division, Third Department

To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, claimant must be "ready, willing and able to work." Further, whether a claimant is available for work ordinarily presents a question of fact for the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [Board] to determine and its decision will be sustained provided it is supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The uncontroverted evidence in this appeal from the Board's denial of claimant's application for unemployment insurance benefits for the period May 2, 2015 through June 7, 2015, was that claimant did not report to work, with the employer's approval, because a former boyfriend was physically and verbally abusing her. Such abuse included calling claimant on a daily basis and leaving threatening and disparaging voicemail messages and regularly sat in a car outside or near her home waiting for her to emerge.*

Although the Board ruled that claimant was ineligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits because she was not available for employment, the Appellate Division said that it disagreed with the Board ruling that claimant's leave of absence "necessitated by the actions of a perpetrator of domestic abuse rendered her legally unavailable for work."

The court, citing Labor Law §593(1)(b)(i), explained that the Legislature had provided that an employee may not be disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits for separating from employment "due to any compelling family reason," which includes "domestic violence . . . which causes the individual reasonably to believe that such individual's continued employment would jeopardize his or her safety or the safety of any member of his or her immediate family."

The genesis of §593(1)(b)(i) was a ruling by a New Jersey appeals court that a woman who was forced to quit her job due to domestic violence was not entitled to collect unemployment benefits. The Appellate Division said that §593(1)(b)(i) indicated "the legislative intent remained to ensure that 'individuals who are voluntarily separated from employment due to compelling family reasons are eligible for [unemployment insurance] benefits.'"

The Board had, in this instance, rejected the claimant's application for benefits notwithstanding the claimant's uncontroverted testimony that she was the victim of domestic violence, stalking and harassment, as well as her testimony that she was willing and able to work during the period in issue but was prevented from leaving her home to get to work due to her justifiable fear of further violence by her former boyfriend.  

The Appellate Division disagreed with the Board's holding that an employee who takes a leave from work due to a reasonable fear of domestic violence, a "compelling family reason" under Labor Law §593(1)(b), is "unavailable" for or unwilling to work and is, therefore, ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits under Labor Law §591(2). The court said such a ruling "contradicts the intent underlying the protection afforded to domestic violence victims from disqualification for unemployment insurance benefits."

Accordingly, the court ruled the Board should not have found claimant to be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits due to unavailability. It then reversed the Board's determination and remanded that matter to the Board "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this Court's decision."

* The decision notes that such abuse commenced after a "stay-away order of protection" expired and claimant had been unsuccessful in obtaining a new order.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_04016.htm

____________________________

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions - A 765 page electronic book [e-book] focusing on penalties imposed on public employees of New York State and its political subdivisions found guilty of misconduct or incompetence by hearing officers and arbitrators and the judicial review of such penalties. More information is available on the Internet at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com.
____________________________  


Friday, May 19, 2017

An employee's failure to use the grievance procedure set out in the relevant collective bargaining agreement before commencing an Article 78 action may not be excused by the court


An employee's failure to use the grievance procedure set out in the relevant collective bargaining agreement before commencing an Article 78 action may not be excused by the court
Finkelstein v Board of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of the City of N.Y., 2017 NY Slip Op 03850, Appellate Division, First Department

Supreme Court annulled the New York City's Board of Education's [BOE] discontinuing Petitioner's probationary employment and ordered BOE to reinstate Petitioner to her former position "with full salary and benefits retroactive to September 30, 2014."

The Appellate Division unanimously vacated the Supreme Court's ruling, "on the law" with respect to Petitioner's reinstatement to her former position and payment of "full salary and benefits," but, citing Tucker  v Board of Educ., Community School Dist. No. 10, 82 NY2d 274, found that Petitioner was entitled to nine days' pay because she was given inadequate notice of her termination.

The court explained that Petitioner failed to avail herself of the grievance procedure set forth in her collective bargaining agreement before commencing the instant action seeking relief under CPLR Article 78 and thus Supreme Court "erred in relieving [Petitioner] of her obligation to exhaust her administrative remedies."*

In any event, said the court, a probationary employee may be terminated for "almost any reason, or for no reason at all," as long as it is not "in bad faith or for an improper or impermissible reason." Upon such termination "[T]he burden falls squarely on the petitioner to demonstrate, by competent proof, that a substantial issue of bad faith exists, or that the termination was for an improper or impermissible reason, and mere speculation, or bald, conclusory allegations are insufficient to shoulder this burden."

In this instance the Appellate Division found that the record indicated that Petitioner's dismissal was made in good faith and was based on substantiated findings after an independent investigation demonstrating that she neglected her duties and falsified records.

As to Petitioner's claim of the investigator's delay in publishing the written report concerning the matter, the court said that such delay "amounted to a mere technical violation of the collective bargaining agreement," as Petitioner had received timely notice of the allegations, as well as an opportunity to respond, prior to the issuance of the report. The Appellate Division then opined that Supreme Court's "conclusion of bad faith stemming from the lateness of the report was purely speculative."

* However, as the Appellate Division held in Amorosano-LePore v Grant, 56 AD3d 663, the employee's exhaustion of his or her administrative remedies is not required where his or her so doing would constitute an exercise in futility.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

An agency investigating a particular complaint on behalf of an employee may not, without prior notice to the employer, make broad findings of fact involving the employer's "over-all operations" and impose sanctions


An agency investigating a particular complaint on behalf of an employee may not, without prior notice to the employer, make broad findings of fact involving the employer's "over-all operations" and impose sanctions
MTA Bus Co. v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 2017 NY Slip Op 03903, Appellate Division, First Department

The New York State Division of Human Rights [SDHR] found that the MTA's policy of disqualifying all employees with bipolar disorder from working as a bus operator was an unlawful discriminatory act. The Division order MTA to pay a civil fine and penalty of $30,000. MTA appealed and the Appellate Division unanimously annulled the Division's decision and dismissed the complaint.

The Appellate Division noted that the record demonstrates, and the SDHR determined, that the "employee complainant" [Complainant], a bus operator, was placed on restricted duty for reasons unrelated to his alleged disability of bipolar disorder and ultimately terminated from his position. The record also indicated that Complainant had a "reckless driving record and that MTA dismissed him for his conduct in vandalizing three buses in passenger service." The court held that MTA "was justified" in terminating Complainant.

The court, however, said that rather than dismissing the complaint, SDHR proceeded to conclude that "[b]ecause MTA has a blanket policy disqualifying all employees with bipolar disorder from being appointed to, or remaining in, the Bus Operator position and passenger service, and because [MTA] does not individually assess the ability of those with bipolar disorder to perform the essential functions of the job, [MTA's] policy violates the Human Rights Law."

SDHR had not advised MTA that its policies with respect to the employment of individuals with a bipolar disorder were going to be reviewed. Such failure on the part of SDHR, said the court, denied MTA its right to due process.

The Appellate Division explained that although SDHR, its own motion, may investigate and file a complaint alleging discriminatory practices, it did not do in this instance. Rather, while investigating the bus operator's complaint, which was filed solely on his behalf and found that he had not been discriminated against, SDHR could not "and at the same time," make broad findings of fact and impose broad sanctions pertaining to MTA's "over-all operations."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_03903.htm


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An employee's unreasonable failure to use an employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus bars the consideration of his or her complaints of unlawful discrimination


An employee's unreasonable failure to use an employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus bars the consideration of his or her complaints of unlawful discrimination
Magnusson v. County of Suffolk, et al., USCA, 2nd Circuit, Docket #16-1876-cv

This civil rights action brought pursuant to Title VII and 42 U.S.C. §1983 was founded on allegations of sexual harassment and sexual orientation harassment.*

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, did not reach the merits of the question of whether the County’s conduct constituted sex discrimination would constitute a violations of Title VII and, or, 42 U.S.C. §1983 because the Plaintiff, Arline Magnusson, "failed to follow the County’s internal grievance procedures" available to her.

The Circuit Court explained that “An employer may defend against [a hostile work environment claim] by showing both (1) that it had installed a readily accessible and effective policy for reporting and resolving complaints of sexual harassment, and (2) that [Magnusson] unreasonably failed to avail herself of that employer-provided preventive or remedial apparatus.”

The federal district court's decision indicated that "the County maintained a sexual harassment policy for the entire term of [Magnusson] employment" and that Magnusson had received documents instructing her on the Department of Public Work's [DPW] sexual harassment reporting procedures from both the DPW and her own union.  

Magnusson, however, had never provided appropriate County employees with any notice of the alleged incidents of harassment before initiating her action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Accordingly, even if Magnusson had an otherwise viable hostile work environment claim, the County was protected from Title VII liability by successfully advancing such an affirmative defense.

Although there are instances where an employee’s failure to report sexual harassment can be excused if the employee has a credible fear of retaliation or believes that the complaint would be futile, based on the record the Circuit Court concluded that Magnusson's "conclusory assertions that she feared retaliation or that complaining would be futile fail as a matter of law to constitute sufficient evidence to establish that her fear was ‘credible.'"

Addressing Magnusson 's equal protection claim, the Circuit Court said it agreed with the district court that Magnusson "does not have a viable hostile work environment claim under §1983."

According to the Circuit Court's ruling, the incidents that Magnusson alleged in her complaint had occurred in 2003 and 2012. While presumably inappropriate incidents, the court observed that they had occurred nine years apart and the Magnusson failed to present evidence that these incidents unreasonably interfered with her job performance.

Accordingly, the Circuit Court ruled that Magnusson did not have a viable hostile work environment claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

* The court noted that Magnusson's Title VII sexual orientation harassment complaints were timely but that such allegations under §1983 were untimely.

The decision is posted on the Internet at"

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The basis for challenging a decision by a civil service commission are limited


The basis for challenging a decision by a civil service commission are limited
Agbai v New York City Civ. Serv. Commn., 2017 NY Slip Op 03699, Appellate Division, First Department

Supreme Court granted the NYC Civil Service Commission's motion dismissing a CPLR Article 78 petition seeking to vacate a determination by the Commission the terminated the petitioner's [Petitioner] employment as a New York City correction officer.

The Appellate Division explained that the New York City Civil Service Commission is subject to judicial review only if "the agency has acted illegally, unconstitutionally, or in excess of its jurisdiction," citing New York City Dept. of Envtl. Protection v New York City Civ. Serv. Commn., 78 NY2d 318.

Supreme Court, said the Appellate Division, "properly rejected Petitioner's argument that the Administrative Law Judge did not have the authority and jurisdiction to conduct the challenged disciplinary hearing."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Tenured teacher unwilling to improve her pedagogical skills despite being provided with substantial assistance terminated from her position



Tenured teacher unwilling to improve her pedagogical skills despite being provided with substantial assistance terminated from her position
Broad v New York City Bd./Dept. of Educ., 2017 NY Slip Op 03691, Appellate Division, First Department

Supreme Court granted a New York City tenured teacher's [Teacher] CPLR Article 75 petition to set aside a determination of an arbitrator that sustained numerous disciplinary charges and specifications filed against her and terminating her employment as a tenured teacher.

The New York City Board/Department of Education appealed and the Appellate Division   unanimously reversed the lower court's ruling "on the law" and reinstated the arbitrator's decision.

The Appellate Division ruled that the arbitrator's decision had a rational basis and was supported by adequate evidence. The court said that he arbitrator reasonably determined that Teacher's performance had been deficient for two years based on the observations and ratings of the school principal and two assistant principals.

Although some of the charges and specifications were not significant, the Appellate Division noted that "the record reflects that petitioner was provided with substantial assistance over a two-year time period to improve her pedagogical skills, but she was unwilling to improve her performance."

As to the penalty imposed by the arbitrator, termination from employment, the court said that the penalty "does not shock our sense of fairness," citing Russo v NYC Dept of Education, 25 NY3d 946.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


_____________


Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions - A 765 page electronic book [e-book] focusing on penalties imposed on public employees of New York State and its political subdivisions found guilty of misconduct or incompetence by hearing officers and arbitrators and the judicial review of such penalties. More information is available on the Internet at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com.
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Monday, May 15, 2017

Some exceptions to the Doctrine of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies


Some exceptions to the Doctrine of Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Police Benevolent Assn. of N.Y. State, Inc. v State of New York, 2017 NY Slip Op 03588, Appellate Division, Third Department

Civil Service Law §64 bars temporary appointments to positions in the competitive class excess of three months, subject to certain exceptions, including, but not limited to, when an employee is on leave of absence from the position.

The Police Benevolent Association of New York State, Inc. [PBA], the bargaining representative for individuals employed as university police officers [UPO] at the State University of New York [SUNY] brought an Article 78 action seeking an order, among other things, annulling the temporary part-time appointment of an individual [Employee] as a UPO by SUNY's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. PBA contended that SUNY's appointment of Employee as a temporary part-time employee violated Civil Service Law §64.

Supreme Court granted SUNY's pre-trial motion to dismiss PBA's petition on the ground that PBA did not exhaust its administrative remedies. SUNY cited  an appeal of a grievance filed by PBA pursuant to the relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] then pending before the Governor's Office of Employee Relations [GOER] in support of its "failure to exhaust administrative remedies" in support of its motion to dismiss PBA's Article 78 petition.

PBA appealed and the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court's decision, finding that the exhaustion of remedies principle was inapplicable here because the matter was "ripe for judicial review."

Although the court observed that  "[A] determination made by an administrative agency must first be challenged through every available administrative remedy before it can be raised in a court of law," it said that this rule does not apply where [1] "an administrative challenge would be futile" or [2] where "the issue to be determined is purely a question of law."

The Appellate Division noted that PBA's Article 78 petition did not challenge the grievance determinations by SUNY processed pursuant to the grievance procedure set out in the CBA and that an appeal concerning those decisions were then pending a determination by the Governor's Office of Employee Relations.*

Rather PBA's Article 78 action challenged the appointment of Employee on the ground that it violated Civil Service Law §64. As PBA does not allege that SUNY violated the CBA, but instead alleges a statutory violation, it was not required to use the CBA's grievance procedure.

Indeed, said the court, "Article 7 of the CBA limits the grievance process to three types of disputes: first, concerning the application and/or interpretation of the CBA; second, concerning a term or condition of employment; and third, concerning a claim of improper or unjust discipline. However, none of these provisions "can be reasonably viewed as applicable to an (alleged) unlawful appointment by SUNY" in violation of §64 of the Civil Service Law.

As the cited provisions in the CBA are inapplicable with respect to adjudicating the alleges violation of Civil Service Law §64, use of the grievance process to challenge the appointment on statutory grounds would have been futile. As Employee's appointment was final, resulting in an alleged injury to PBA and, or, collective bargaining unit members, and because the question presented is "purely legal," the Appellate Division ruled that the matter "is ripe for judicial review" and Supreme Court erred in granting SUNY' pre-answer motion to dismiss.

* The Appellate Division noted that GOER denied the grievance and PBA made no demand for arbitration.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Friday, May 12, 2017

Applying the Pell Doctrine in a disciplinary action


Applying the Pell Doctrine in a disciplinary action
Sullivan v County of Rockland, 2017 NY Slip Op 03519, Appellate Division, Second Department

Disciplinary penalties imposed on public employees in New York State must meet the test set out in Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck, 34 NY2d 222, generally referred to as the "Pell Doctrine."  Essentially the Pell Doctrine instructs that any permissible disciplinary penalty may be imposed on an employee found guilty of one or more disciplinary charges and specifications by an appointing authority or arbitrator unless the court finds that, considering the circumstances underlying the disciplinary action, such a penalty is "shocking to one's sense of fairness."

The genesis of this litigation was a disciplinary action involving an individual [Employee] who had served with the Rockland County Department of Social Services [DSS] since 1990. The appointing authority initiated disciplinary action against Employee alleging of gross misconduct — "falsification of business records." The Charge served on Employee set out two specifications alleging Employee had made false entries in DSS's computer system.

Following a disciplinary hearing, a hearing officer found that DSS had submitted substantial evidence in support of both specifications set out in the Charge and recommended that Employee be terminated from his position.

The appointing authority adopted the hearing officer's findings and recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed and terminated Employee.

Employee challenged his dismissal and the Appellate Division subsequently determined that  "specification number 2 was not supported by substantial evidence." The court granted Employee's Article 78 petition to the extent of annulling the appointing officer's determination that found Employee guilty of specification number 2, vacated the penalty imposed, dismissal, but otherwise confirmed the determination. The court then remitted the matter to the appointing authority for a determination of the appropriate penalty to be imposed in view of the finding that Employee was guilty of specification number 1.*

The appointing authority issued a new determination based solely on Employee's having been found guilty of specification number 1 and, again, imposing the penalty of termination of employment. Employee again filed an Article 78 petition seeking judicial review the penalty imposed after the appointing authority reconsideration of the matter.

The Supreme Court granted Employee's petition and remitted the matter to the appointing authority for the imposition of a lesser penalty. The appointing authority appealed the Supreme Court's ruling.

Applying the Pell Doctrine, the Appellate Division said that "[a]n administrative penalty must be upheld unless it is so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law." The court explained that "[a] result is shocking to one's sense of fairness if the sanction imposed is so grave in its impact on the individual subject to it that it is disproportionate to the misconduct, incompetence, failure, or turpitude of the individual, or the harm or risk of harm to the agency or institution, or to the public generally visited or threatened by the derelictions of the individuals."

In this instance the Appellate Division found that the penalty imposed was so grave in its impact on the Employee that it was disproportionate to the misconduct, or the risk of harm to DSS or the public.

Thus, under the circumstances of this case, the Appellate Division ruled that the penalty of termination of employment for "this single incident of misconduct" was so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, and constituted an abuse of discretion as a matter of law.

As Employee's actions "were not so egregious or of such moral turpitude as to justify termination of his employment in light of his previously unblemished record," the Appellate Division concluded that Supreme Court properly granted Employee's Article 78 petition and remitted the matter to the appointing authority for the imposition of a lesser penalty.


The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions - A 765 page electronic book [e-book] focusing on penalties imposed on public employees of New York State and its political subdivisions found guilty of misconduct or incompetence by hearing officers and arbitrators and the judicial review of such penalties. More information is available on the Internet at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com.
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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Defamatory statements


Defamatory statements
Camaj v Plassmann, 2017 NY Slip Op 03473, Appellate Division, Second Department

Supreme Court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment for alleged liable after determining that the defendant had defamed the plaintiff by publishing false statements about him.

The court, after a nonjury trial on the issue of damages, determined that the plaintiff was entitled to compensatory damages in the principal sum of $25,000 and punitive damages in the sum of $10,000.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court's ruling, holding that "[i]n light of the nature of the defamatory statements, the fact that they were published to employees of the school district in which the plaintiff was employed and were repeated by students, and the evidence of the emotional distress caused to the plaintiff, the awards for compensatory and punitive damages were proper."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Applying the Doctrine of Conflict Preemption


Applying the Doctrine of Conflict Preemption
Matter of Highway Supt. Assn. of Rockland, Inc. v Town of Clarkstown, 2017 NY Slip Op 03511, Appellate Division, Second Department

Under the Doctrine of Conflict Preemption, a local law is preempted by a State law when a right or benefit is expressly provided by the State law has been curtailed or taken away by the local law. 

The Superintendent of Highways of the Town of Clarkstown, Wayne Ballard, among others [Plaintiffs], commenced this proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 and, in addition, brought an action seeking a "declaratory judgment" that the Town of Clarkstown Local Law 1-2012 was "illegal, unconstitutional, void, and preempted by the State's Highway Law."

Local Law 1-2012 consolidated Town vehicle maintenance operations to one central garage by transferring the authority to appoint and supervise automotive mechanics responsible for the repair, service, and maintenance of Highway Department vehicles from the Town of Clarkstown Highway Superintendent to the Town Board of the Town of Clarkstown.

Supreme Court ruled in favor of Plaintiffs, concluding that Local Law 1-2012 was preempted by the State's Highway Law because it was in direct conflict with the power vested in the Town Highway Superintendent by the State's Highway Law §§140(4) and 142(2). Clarkstown appealed.

The Appellate Division, applying the Doctrine of Conflict Preemption, explained that conflict preemption occurs when a local law prohibits what a state law explicitly allows  or when a state law prohibits what a local law explicitly allows. Further, said the court, to determine that the applicability of the Doctrine of Conflict Preemption courts examine not only the language of the local ordinance and the state statute, but also whether the direct consequences of a local ordinance render illegal what is specifically allowed by State law.

Local Law 1-2012 transferred the power to appoint and supervise automotive mechanics who repair, service, and maintain Highway Department equipment from the Highway Superintendent to the Town Board. Highway Law §140(4), however, vests the duty to, "[w]ithin the limits of appropriations[,] employ such persons as may be necessary for the maintenance and repair of town highways and bridges, and the removal of obstructions caused by snow, subject to the approval of the town board, and provide for the supervision of such persons" in the Town's Highway Superintendent.

With respect to the impact or effect of the words "subject to the approval of the town board," the Appellate Division said this referred to the "maintenance and repair of highways and bridges, and the removal of snow therefrom, not to the employment of persons."

Additionally, the court observed that pursuant to Highway Law §142(2), "[a]ll tools, implements and other highway equipment owned either by the town or the highway districts therein" are "under the control" of the Highway Superintendent and shall "be cared for by him at the expense of the town."

In contrast, Local Law 1-2012 effectively prevented the Highway Superintendent from being able to control and care for highway equipment by vesting the Town Board with the authority to supervise the automotive mechanics who repair, service, and maintain this equipment and thus, to this extent, is in conflict with existing state law.

The Appellate Division then remitted the matter to the Supreme Court for the entry of a judgment declaring that Local Law 1-2012 is void and of no effect.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Friday, May 05, 2017

Failure of the individual to timely execute his or her oath of office upon election to a public office results in the position becoming vacant by operation of law


Failure of the individual to timely execute his or her oath of office upon election to his or her  public office results in the position becoming vacant by operation of law
Appeal of Oscar Cohen, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,075

§30(1)(h) of the Public Officers Law provides that an incumbent’s office “shall be vacant upon ... [an incumbent’s] refusal or neglect to file his [or her] official oath ... before or within thirty days after the commencement of the term of office for which he [or she] is chosen, if an elective office ....”1

§2108 of the Education Law provides that a district clerk is obligated to inform a successful electoral candidate of his or her election in writing and further provides that  “[t]he presence of any such person at the meeting which elects him [or her] to office, shall be deemed a sufficient notice to him [or her] of his [or her] election.”

Sabrina Charles-Pierre ran for, as was elected to, membership on the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District [Board]. She was present at a Board meeting on May 17, 2016 at which the unofficial "election results" revealed that she had won election to the Board.

Ms. Charles-Pierre subsequently attended a June 7, 2016 Board meeting at which the final election results were certified and accepted by the Board. At the Board's reorganization meeting on July 14, 2016, the district clerk administered the oath of office to Ms. Charles-Pierre.  Shortly thereafter the Board determined that at the result of  "an administrative timing error,” Ms. Charles-Pierre’s oath of office had been administered to her more than 30 days after she had been elected to her position and, consequently, by operation of law her seat was deemed vacant.2

On July 26, 2016, the Board held a special meeting and appointed Ms. Charles-Pierre to the seat it had earlier declared vacant until the Board’s next annual meeting and election in May 2017.

Oscar Cohen appealed the Board's action contending that its determination that Ms. Charles-Pierre’s position became vacant was arbitrary and capricious. Mr. Cohen claimed that the 30-day time period for taking and filing the oath of office imposed by Public Officers Law §30(1)(h) did not commence “until Ms. Charles-Pierre receive[d] formal notice of the election results.”3 Mr. Cohen, "upon information and belief," argued that Ms. Charles-Pierre never received such written notice.  The remedy sought by Mr. Cohen: an order by the Commissioner "restoring" Ms. Charles-Pierre to her two-year elected term, which would run through June 30, 2018.

While the Board admitted that it failed to provide Ms. Charles-Pierre with written notice of her election, it pointed out that she was present at the May 17, 2016 and June 7, 2016 Board meetings “where the election results were announced and confirmed, respectively.”  Notwithstanding this defense, the Board had “joined” Mr. Cohen in his request to reinstate Ms. Charles-Pierre to her elected term.

However, the Commissioner dismissed Mr. Cohen's appeal as moot, taking "judicial notice"4 that Chapter 5 of the Laws of 2017, effective February 1, 2017, excused Ms. Charles-Pierre’s failure to file her official oath within the statutorily prescribed period, provided that she filed her oath of office within 30 calendar days of the effective date of that act. Ms. Charles-Pierre had, in fact, timely filed her oath of office on February 7, 2017, which is within the 30-day period specified in Chapter 5.

1 Section 30 excuses the failure to file the oath within the 30-day period if the individual “was on active duty in the armed forces of the United States and absent from the county of his [or her] residence at the time of his [or her] election or appointment....”

2 The failure to file a timely oath cannot be cured by subsequently filing the required oath, Informal Opinion of the Attorney General, 86-41.

3 "Where ... the individual was present at the board meeting at which he was appointed and thus had actual notice of his appointment, written notice thereof was not required to commence the 30-day period," McDonough v Murphy, 92 AD2d 1022, affirmed 59 NY2d 941.

4 Judicial notice is the recognition by a judicial body or an individual acting in a judicial capacity of a fact that is not reasonably disputable and without the introduction of supporting evidence.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Determining when "actual notice," in contrast to "constructive notice," of an administrative action is required to trigger the running of the Statute of Limitations for filing an Article 78 action


Determining when "actual notice," in contrast to "constructive notice," of an administrative actionis required to trigger the running of the Statute of Limitations for filing an Article 78 action
Knave v West Seneca Cent. Such. Dist., 2017 NY Slip Op 03416, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The collective bargaining agreement between the West Seneca Central School District [District] and the employee organization representing certain employees provided that upon retirement employees in the collective bargaining unit "could enroll in the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance and Guardian dental insurance plans available to the District's then current employees, at their own expense."

When the District sent an undated letter to its retired employees of under the age of 65 [Petitioners] advising them that it would discontinue its practice of offering "Under Age 65 retirees" the opportunity to enroll in the same plans that were available to its active employees, Petitioners challenged the District's action and sought a court order annulling the District's discontinuation of its "Under Age 65 retirees" practice.

The District moved to dismiss Petitioners' Article 78 action contending it was untimely. The District advanced the theory that the statute of limitations had began to run when it issued the undated letter addressed to the Petitioners, which action constituted "constructive notice" of the discontinuance of their participation in the District's health insurance plan.

The Appellate Division said that applying the date of mailing of the undated letter in a constructive notice test argument, as the District contended, requires a judicial determination, as a threshold matter, that the administrative determination at issue was "quasi-legislative" in nature.

A quasi-legislative-type administrative determination is one having an impact "far beyond the immediate parties at the administrative stage." The court explained that where a quasi-legislative determination is challenged, "actual notice of the challenged determination is not required in order to start the statute of limitations clock" ticking as the policy underlying the rule is that actual notice to the general public is not practicable. Thus, said the Appellate Division, the statute of limitations begins to run once the administrative agency's quasi-legislative determination concerning the matter at issue became "readily ascertainable" to the complaining party.

In contrast, where the public at large is not impacted by an administrative determination, actual notice, commonly in the form of the receipt of a letter or other writing containing the final and binding administrative determination is required to be delivered to the parties affected to commence the running of the statute of limitations.

The Appellate Division found that the only evidence in the record with respect to the determination to discontinue the practice affecting "Under Age 65 retirees" was the undated letter that was signed by the District's "Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources." The letter, however, made no mention of any meeting of, or resolution by, the West Seneca Central School District Board of Education at which the participation of "Under Age 65 retirees" in active employees' the health insurance plan was discussed or voted upon nor did the letter set out the authority, if any, upon which Assistant Superintendent relied upon in issuing the letter.

In the words of the Court, the District "wholly failed to submit any evidence establishing the process that resulted in the issuance of the undated letter, and the record is otherwise devoid of any evidence of the nature of the process giving rise to the determination. In our view, all of those facts and factual shortcomings are critical to the analysis."

Noting that the determination clearly had no impact upon the public at large, the court said that the District failed to establish that actual notice to the affected persons would be impracticable or unduly burdensome.

Thus, the Appellate Division concluded that the District [1]2 failed to meet its burden of establishing that  the challenged determination affecting the "Under Age 65 retirees" was "quasi-legislative" in nature and [2] failed to meet its burden of showing that the "readily ascertainable" constructive notice test should be applied here.

Concluding that Petitioners had filed a timely Article 78 action, the Appellate Division provided the District with 20 days "from service of the order of this Court with notice of entry" to serve and file an answer to the Article 78 petition and remanded the matter to Supreme Court.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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