March 21, 2018

Review of decisions that are the product of compulsory arbitration are subject to stricter judicial scrutiny than decisions resulting from voluntary arbitration procedures

Review of decisions that are the product of compulsory arbitration are subject to stricter judicial scrutiny than decisions resulting from voluntary arbitration procedures
Berkley v New York City Dept. of Educ., 2018 NY Slip Op 01669, Appellate Division, First Department

The standard of review mandated by Education Law §3020-a(5)(a) is that set out in  CPLR Article 75. Article 75 provides that an arbitration award may be vacated only on a showing of misconduct, bias, exceeding of power or procedural defects as set out in 7511(b)1.* Further, where the arbitration is compulsory, as it is with respect to appeals from a §3020-a administrative disciplinary decision, judicial scrutiny is stricter than applicable in reviewing a determination resulting from a voluntary arbitration proceeding.

Supreme Court granted the New York City Department of Education's [Education] motion to confirm a §3020-a hearing officer's award terminating an educator's [Educator] employment as a school teacher with Education. Educator appealed the Supreme Court's decision, which ruling was unanimously affirmed by the Appellate Division.

Educator had argued that his due process rights were violated because [1] a specification in the charges filed against him "did not allege the specific date of the misconduct" and [2] the hearing officer improperly relied on hearsay evidence that included out-of-court statements by students.

The Appellate Division indicated that with respect to specification in charges that did not indicate the specific date or dates of the alleged misconduct, due process in the context of administrative hearings requires only that the charges be "reasonably specific, in light of all the relevant circumstances, to apprise the party whose rights are being determined of the charges against him [or her] . . . and to allow for the preparation of an adequate defense."

The Appellate Division held that Supreme Court had properly found that Educator's due process rights were not violated by the failure to specify the date he was alleged to have engaged in the charged misconduct in that he was provided with enough information to mount an adequate defense. Moreover, at the hearing, he did not indicate any vagueness with regard to the incident, since he knew the name of the student who made the complaint and had received statements by other students in the room at the time.

With respect to Educator's claim that his due process rights violated by the hearing officer's partial reliance on hearsay evidence , the Appellate Division explained that hearsay evidence may be the basis of an administrative determination, as Educator had himself acknowledged. Further, noted the court, the challenged hearsay evidence "was supported by the testimony of various school administrators and aides," who were subject to cross-examination by Educator.

In addition, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court had correctly concluded that the hearing officer's decision was supported by the record, in that ample evidence, including Educator's admissions, supported the finding of the hearing officer and that the  hearing officer was entitled to reject Educator's explanations based on an assessment of Educator's credibility.

As to the penalty imposed, the termination of Educator's employment with Education,  the Appellate Division held that the penalty imposed "does not shock the conscience in light of the seriousness of the misconduct and [Educator's] failure to heed warnings."

* The First Department noted that it has applied a "hybrid" standard which incorporates the arbitrary and capricious test in CPLR article 78 as well.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: