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October 25, 2017

A decision issued pursuant to a compulsory arbitration proceeding must have evidentiary support, cannot be arbitrary and capricious and meet the requirements of administrative due process


A decision issued pursuant to a compulsory arbitration proceeding must have evidentiary support, cannot be arbitrary and capricious and meet the requirements of administrative due process
Mazzella v Bedford Cent. Sch. Dist., 2017 NY Slip Op 07127, Appellate Division, Second Department

An Education Law §3020-a hearing officer sustained sustained five of the seven specifications supporting the charge of incompetence that Bedford Central School District [Employer] had alleged in disciplinary the charge it had filed against Ava Mazzella [Petitioner]. The penalty imposed by the hearing officer: termination of Petitioner from her position.*

Petitioner challenged the hearing officer's findings and the penalty imposed and initiated a CPLR Article 75 proceeding in Supreme Court seeking to have the arbitration award vacated. Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion to vacate the award and Petitioner appealed the Supreme Court's ruling to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division said that in a CPLR Article 75 proceeding the grounds for vacating a hearing officer's decision rendered pursuant to Education Law §3020-a "include misconduct, abuse of power, and procedural irregularities." Where, as here, the parties are subject to compulsory arbitration, the decision "is subject to closer judicial scrutiny under CPLR 7511(b) than it would receive had the arbitration been conducted voluntarily."

To be sustained, said the Appellate Division, a decision in a compulsory arbitration proceeding must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious and must be in accord with administrative due process. In an appeal of a compulsory §3020-a arbitration decision, the Appellate Division said that "the court should accept the arbitrators' credibility determinations, even where there is conflicting evidence and room for choice exists."

Finding that the hearing officer's decision was rational, supported by adequate evidence, and not arbitrary and capricious, the court noted that under the controlling provisions of the Education Law "two consecutive annual ineffective ratings" constituted "a pattern of ineffective teaching or performance" and "a pattern of ineffective teaching or performance" constituted "very significant evidence of incompetence for purposes of this section."

Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that "It was rational for the hearing officer to rely on the 'ineffective' APPR ratings that Petitioner received during the relevant rating periods", as well as all the other evidence presented at the hearing, in sustaining the charge of incompetence.

Citing the so-called Pell Doctrine,** the Appellate Division said that "[u]nless an irrationality appears or the punishment shocks one's conscience, sanctions imposed by an administrative agency should be upheld" and then opined "[h]ere, the penalty of termination of [Petitioner's] employment was not irrational or shocking to one's sense of fairness." 

* Education Law §3020-a, as amended, provides for the compulsory arbitration of disciplinary charges filed against an educator by the appointing authority. The appointing authority or the employee may seek to confirm or vacate the arbitration award, as the case may be, in accordance with Subdivision 4 of §3020-a of the Education Law , which, in pertinent part, provides that "Not later than ten days after receipt of the hearing officer's decision, the employee or the employing board may make an application to the New York state supreme court to vacate or modify the decision of the hearing officer pursuant to section seventy-five hundred eleven of the civil practice law and rules. The court's review shall be limited to the grounds set forth in such section ...." 

** Pell v Board of Education. of Union Free School District. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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