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Friday, January 04, 2019

An administrative determination made after a hearing will be sustained by the court if the decision is supported by substantial evidence

An administrative determination made after a hearing will be sustained by the court if the decision is supported by substantial evidence
DeStefano v Incorporated Vil. of Mineola, 2018 NY Slip Op 08481, Appellate Division, Second Department

Michael A. DeStefano, a member of the Volunteer Fire Department of the Incorporated Village of Mineola, was served with disciplinary charges alleging that he had violated certain provisions of the Fire Department's constitution and by-laws. Found guilty of the charges by the Fire Department's Fire Council [Fire Council], DeStefano membership in Fire Department was terminated.

DeStefano asked the Board of Trustees of the Incorporated Village of Mineola [Board] to review the Fire Council's determination. The Board of Trustees appointed a hearing officer, who conducted a hearing. Following the hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the Fire Council's findings of misconduct and the penalty of termination of DeStefano's membership in the Fire Department be sustained. The Board adopted the recommendation of the hearing officer.

DeStefano appealed the Board's decision by commencing a proceeding pursuant to CPLR Article 78 contending that the Board's determination "was made in violation of lawful procedure and was not supported by substantial evidence."* Supreme Court denied DeStefano's petition and dismissed the proceeding. DeStefano appealed the Supreme Court's ruling to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division, noting that as a matter of procedure Supreme Court should have transferred the proceeding to the Appellate Division but as the complete record "is now before this Court," held that it would treat the matter as one that has been transferred here and will review the determination de novo."

The court explained that with respect to judicial review of a determination rendered by an administrative body following a hearing, the Appellate Division's function "is limited to consideration of whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence." In this instance, said the Appellate Division, the Board's determination that DeStefano violated certain provisions of the Fire Department's constitution and its by-laws was supported by substantial evidence. Further, said the court, "... contrary to [DeStefano's] contention, certain members of the Fire Council were not required to disqualify themselves from acting on the disciplinary charges filed against him."

With respect to the penalty imposed, termination from the Fire Department, the Appellate Division noted that a court may set aside an administrative penalty only if it is so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness, thus constituting an abuse of discretion as a matter of law." 

The Appellate Division said that it found that the penalty of dismissal imposed on DeStefano was "not so disproportionate to the offenses as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness," citing Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222.

The court then confirmed the Board's decision and dismissed DeStefano's appeal "on the merits."

* Substantial evidence it is less than a preponderance of the evidence, overwhelming evidence or evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and "means such relevant proof as a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support a conclusion or ultimate fact [300 Gramatan Ave. Assoc. v State Div. of Human Rights, 45 NY2d 176].

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2018/2018_08481.htm

Click here to Read a FREE excerpt from A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances with respect to public employees in New York State.


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