Failure to name a necessary party dooms an appeal to the Commissioner of Education to dismissal
Appeal of Jules J. Comeau, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17372
Jules J. Comeau [Petitioner] appealed the adoption of a resolution by the Board of Education of the Long Lake Central School District approving a "side letter of understanding with the Long Lake Faculty Association" that relieved District retirees who retired prior to July 1, 2014 from the obligation to pay health insurance premiums.
The genesis of this appeal was resignation of board member Christine Blumberg effective January 29, 2015 and the Board's appointing Ms. Lorrie Hosley to fill the vacancy left by Ms. Blumberg’s resignation until an election scheduled for May 2015. Ultimately Brian Penrose was elected to fill Ms. Blumberg's unexpired term.
The record before the Commissioner indicated that a "draft agenda indicated that Mr. Penrose would be sworn in early in the meeting while, in fact, the Board at its June 11, 2015, distributed a revised agenda indicating that Mr. Penrose’s swearing in had been moved to the end of the meeting. Also stated in the record before the Commissioner was the fact that prior to Mr. Penrose taking the oath of office, the board approved a side letter of understanding with the union described above in a 3-2 vote and Ms. Hosley was one of the three board members who voted to approve the resolution. This appeal followed.
Mr. Comeau alleged that the Board "improperly postponed Mr. Penrose’s swearing in so that Ms. Hosley could provide the necessary vote to approve the side letter" and further contends that the Board's "inappropriately moved Mr. Penrose’s swearing in from the beginning of the June 11, 2015 board meeting to the end of the meeting to prohibit him from voting on the side letter resolution."
The Commissioner dismissed Mr. Comeau's appeal for a number of reasons, including the failure to join necessary parties. A necessary party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such and joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense.
Here necessary parties included the retired teachers that would be adversely affected were Mr. Comeau's efforts to invalidate a side letter were successful as if the side letter annulled approximately 18 retired teachers would be required to contribute money in order to maintain their health insurance. The Commissioner found the failure to name these teachers in the caption in the appeal and serve them with a copy of the notice of petition and petition warrants dismissal of the appeal.
Notwithstanding this procedure omission, the Commissioner noted that Mr. Comeau's appeal would have been dismissed on the merits as in an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief.
Mr. Comeau, said the Commissioner, failed to allege or prove that the timing of Mr. Penrose’s swearing in violated any law or policy. The Public Officers Law requires that every officer shall take the required oath of office and Mr. Penrose satisfied that requirement. Further, the Commissioner noted that "there is no legal basis for a finding that Mr. Penrose’s failure to take his oath of office at the beginning of a board meeting as opposed to the end of a board meeting, especially where this meeting was well within the 30-day timeframe imposed by the Public Officers Law, was in any way improper."
In addition, the Commissioner's decision indicates that while Mr. Comeau alleged that the Board delayed Mr. Penrose’s swearing in so that the Board "could utilize Ms. Hosley’s vote to pass the side letter resolution," Mr. Comeau failed to allege or prove that the vote would have been different had Mr. Penrose participated.
While Mr. Comeau asserts that he spoke with Mr. Penrose on June 12, 2015 but does not allege or establish that Mr. Penrose would have voted against the side letter had he been sworn in at the start of the meeting. Accordingly, said the Commissioner, Mr. Comeau failed to meet his burden of proving that, but for the allegedly improper conduct, the outcome of the vote would have been different.
The decision is posted on the Internet at: