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August 18, 2017

Applying the substantial evidence test rather than the arbitrary and capricious test in the course of litigation


Applying the substantial evidence test rather than the arbitrary and capricious test in the course of litigation
2017 NY Slip Op 06077, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Petitioner filed a grievance with the Unified Court System [UCS] alleging that Court Office Assistants had been given responsibilities constituting out-of-title work. After a grievance meeting, the Acting Deputy Director of Labor Relations of the UCS issued a determination denying the grievance.

Petitioner challenged the Acting Director's determination by filing a CPLR Article 78 action in Supreme Court. Supreme Court concluded that the challenged duties did not constitute out-of-title work and that the administrative determination was not arbitrary or capricious. The court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding.

Contending that Supreme Court erred in failing to apply the "substantial evidence" standard of review in deciding the petition,* Petitioner appealed.

The Appellate Division, sustaining the lower court's ruling, explained that "a substantial evidence question is presented only where a quasi-judicial evidentiary hearing has been held." Notwithstanding the fact that Petitioner had the "right to be heard . . . and to present facts in support of [his] position" at the grievance meeting," this did not render the grievance meeting "a quasi-judicial proceeding involving the cross-examination of witnesses and the making of a record within the meaning of Civil Practice Law and Rules §7803(4)."

As the administrative determination in this case was made after a grievance meeting, in contrast to having been made after a quasi-judicial evidentiary hearing, the Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court "properly concluded that the relevant standard of review was whether the Acting Director's "determination was made in violation of lawful procedure, was affected by an error of law, or was arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion."

Addressing Petitioner's alternative contention -- that the Deputy Director's determination was arbitrary and capricious -- the Appellate Division said that "[a]n action is arbitrary and capricious when it is taken without sound basis in reason or regard to the facts" and "[i]n applying the arbitrary and capricious' standard, a court inquires whether the determination under review had a rational basis." Here, said the court, the Deputy Director's determination that the challenged duties did not constitute out-of-title work was not arbitrary and capricious as work is not considered out-of-title if it is related to, similar in nature to, or a reasonable outgrowth of, the employee's in-title work."

Finding that Petitioner failed to identify any duty that has been assigned to Court Office Assistants that is not related to the types of general tasks enumerated in the relevant title standard, the Appellate Division concluded that the Deputy Director's ruling that the challenged duties were reasonably related to the duties described in the Court Office Assistant title standard was not arbitrary or capricious.


* CPLR §7804 provides, in pertinent part, "(g) Hearing and determination; transfer to appellate division. Where the substantial evidence issue specified in question four of §7803 is not raised [i.e., whether a determination made as a result of a hearing held, and at which evidence was taken, pursuant to direction by law is, on the entire record, supported by substantial evidence], the court in which the proceeding is commenced shall itself dispose of the issues in the proceeding. Where such an issue is raised, the court shall first dispose of such other objections as could terminate the proceeding, including but not limited to lack of jurisdiction, statute of limitations and res judicata, without reaching the substantial evidence issue." [Emphasis supplied.]
 
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