July 13, 2018

Filing a noticed of claim may be required as condition precedent to initiating litigation against a public entity


Filing a noticed of claim may be required as condition precedent to initiating litigation against a public entity
Fotopoulos v Board of Fire Commr. of the Hicksville Fire Dist., 2018 NY Slip Op 03128, Appellate Division, Second Department

New York courts have distinguished between proceedings brought against public entities  "which on the one hand seek only enforcement of private rights and duties and those on the other in which it is sought to vindicate a public interest." In Union Free School Dist. No. 6 of Towns of Islip and Smithtown v New York State Div. of Human Rights Appeal Board, 35 NY2d 371, 380, motion to reargue denied, 36 NY2d 807, it was held that an aggrieved individual must file a timely notice of claim "as to the former but not as to the latter."*

In this CPLR Article 78 action a volunteer firefighter [Petitioner] with the Hicksville Fire Department [Department] and a dispatcher employed by the Hicksville Fire District [District], working under the direction of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Hicksville Fire District [Board] until he was allegedly forced to resign from both of these positions by coercion and duress.

When Petitioner subsequently attempted to withdraw his resignation, he was advised that the Department, the District, and the Board [collectively Respondents] refused to approve his request to withdraw the resignation.**

Petitioner initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking a court order compelling Respondents to reinstate him to his former positions as a dispatcher and as a volunteer firefighter with all of the benefits of these employment including back pay. Respondents opposed the petition arguing, among other things, that the petition should be denied since Petitioner failed to file a notice of claim as required by General Municipal Law §50-e.

Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, determining  that the Petitioner's failure to file a notice of claim precluded the court from considering the complaint. Petitioner appealed.

The Appellate Division explained that, as a general rule, "[t]he service of a notice of claim is a condition precedent to the maintenance of an action against a public corporation to recover damages for a tortious or wrongful act" but such a notice of claim requirement does not apply when a litigant seeks only equitable relief or commences a proceeding to vindicate a public interest. Further, said the court, a litigant who seeks "judicial enforcement of a legal right derived through enactment of positive law" is exempt from the notice of claim requirement.

Finding that in Petitioner's case both equitable relief and the recovery of damages in the form of back pay was demanded, the Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court's ruling, holding that "the filing of a notice of claim within 90 days after [Petitioner's] claim arose was a condition precedent to the maintenance of this proceeding."

* It should be noted that in CSEA v Lakeland Central School District, 230 A.D.2d 703, the Appellate Division rejected Lakeland's theory that CSEA’s action for damages “for breach of a collective bargaining agreement” should be dismissed because CSEA had not complied with the “notice of claim” requirements set out in §3813 of the Education Law. The Court said that “the collective bargaining agreement entered into by the parties contained detailed grievance procedures and this constituted [Lakeland's] waiving compliance with that requirement.”

** Typically once the employee has delivered his or her resignation to the appointing authority or its designee, he or she may not withdraw or rescind the resignation without the approval of the appointing authority. For example, 4 NYCRR 5.3(c), which applies to employees of the State as an employer, provides that “A resignation may not be withdrawn, cancelled or amended after it is delivered to the appointing authority without the consent of the appointing authority.” Many local civil service commissions and personnel officers have adopted a similar rule.

The Fotopoulos decision is posted on the Internet at:

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