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Nominations sought for the Empire Star Public Service Award

This award recognizes exemplary employees of New York State serving in the Executive Branch.

Nominations must be submitted no later than December 15, 2017 and may be completed online.

For more information about the Empire Star Public Service Award, visit www.ny.gov/EmpireStarPublicService.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

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:

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

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