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February 14, 2019

Improper performance of a judicial function by a legislative body

Improper performance of a judicial function by a legislative body
Porcari v Griffith, 2019 NY Slip Op 00918, Appellate Division, Second Department

In 2016, the individuals [Plaintiffs] initiating this action were appointed to certain local offices by the Mayor of the City of Mount Vernon. Later that same year the Mount Vernon City Council enacted an ordinance declaring that the offices occupied by the Plaintiffs were "vacant" because the Plaintiffs were not residents of the City within the meaning of §50-38* of City's Code.

The ordinance as enacted also required the City's Comptroller to "... immediately cease payment of salary and benefits to Plaintiffs."** The Comptroller ceased paying salary and benefits to Plaintiffs notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiffs continued to perform the duties of their respective offices.

The Plaintiffs thereupon brought an action seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the actions of the members of the City Council and the Comptroller, alleging that City Council "exceeded its legislative authority in enacting the ordinance that declared that the offices held by the plaintiffs were vacant." Plaintiffs asked Supreme Court to issue an order enjoining their suspension, termination, any interference with their salary and benefits or preventing them from performing the duties and responsibilities of the positions to which they had been appointed by the Mayor. Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs' motions and Mt. Vernon appealed the court's ruling.

The Appellate Division, noting that the "party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate a probability of success on the merits, danger of irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction and a balance of equities in its favor," explained that "the decision to grant a preliminary injunction is a matter ordinarily committed to the sound discretion of the court hearing the motion" and "[i]n the absence of unusual or compelling circumstances, [the] court[s] [are] reluctant to disturb said determination."

The Appellate Division then opined that Plaintiffs had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits on their claim that the City Council "improperly performed a judicial function" by enacting an ordinance  "declaring" that the local offices were vacant within the meaning of §50-38 of the City of Mount Vernon's Code.*** In addition, said the court, Plaintiffs also demonstrated "a danger of irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction, and that the equities balance in their favor."

Accordingly, the Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court's determination granting Plaintiffs' motion for the preliminary injunction.

* Article III, [Residency Requirements] of Chapter 50 [Personnel Policies] set out in City of Mount Vernon's Code requires certain local officers and employees to be residents of the City of Mount Vernon [See].

** The Appellate Division's decision indicates the City Council overrode the Mayor's veto of the ordinance.

*** §36 of the Public Officer Law sets out the procedures for the removal of a town, village, improvement district or fire district officer other than a justice of the peace.  Typically, such officers may be removed from office for misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance or malversion in office by the filing of an application for such removal with the Appellate Division have jurisdiction.  

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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