March 14, 2019

PERB has exclusive jurisdiction to resolve a claim that a public employer committed an improper practice by discontinuing a past practice


In 2008 the City of Albany [Albany] began to implement changes to the health insurance plans it offered to Albany employees. In 2010, the Albany Police Officers Union, Local 2841 [Local 2841], the bargaining representative for police officers and and certain others working for Albany, filed an improper practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] alleging that Albany had changed the health insurance offered to certain retirees by unilaterally discontinuing the practice of reimbursing the retirees their Medicare Part B monthly premiums.

A PERB Administrative Law Judge dismissed the improper practice charge after a hearing. Local 2841 filed an administrative appeal with PERB but PERB sustained the Administrative Law Judge's determination, holding that Local 2841 did not establish that there was a binding past practice with respect to the health insurance benefit claimed by the retirees.

Local 2841 appealed PERB's determination and the Appellate Division, opining  that PERB's determination was not supported by substantial evidence, annulled the determination and granted Local 2841's petition [see Matter of Albany Police Officers Union, Local 2841, Law Enforcement Officers Union Dist. Council 82, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v New York Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 149 AD3d 1236 [Decision 1]. When Local 2841 asked PERB to "fulfill its statutory duty" and provide a remedy following the Appellate Division's ruling in its favor, PERB declined, taking the position that it did not have an obligation to enter a remedial order because there had been no finding that there was a violation of the Taylor Law.

Local 2841 then commenced this, its second CPLR Article 78 proceeding,  concerning its allegation that Albany had violated Civil Service Law §209-a(1)(d) when it unilaterally discontinuing the practice of reimbursing retirees for their Medicare Part B monthly premiums and asked Supreme Court to compel PERB to issue an appropriate remedial order. PERB, however, contending that Local 2841 had "failed to state a cause of action," asked  Supreme Court to dismiss Local 2841's petition. Supreme Court granted PERB's motion to dismiss the petition and Local 2841 appealed.

Citing Matter of Chenango Forks Cent. Sch. Dist. v New York State Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 21 NY3d 255, the Appellate Division observed that a binding past practice is established where "the practice was unequivocal and was continued uninterrupted for a period of time sufficient under the circumstances to create a reasonable expectation among the affected bargaining unit employees that the practice would continue" and PERB has exclusive jurisdiction to resolve a claim that a public employer committed an improper practice by discontinuing a past practice.

As the PERB's decision was made after a mandated hearing, the Appellate Division explained that its review of PERB's ruling in Decision 1 was limited to determining whether PERB's decision was "supported by substantial evidence," and it had found that it was not so supported. In contrast, in this action, said the Appellate Division, Local 2841 is seeking a writ in the nature of mandamus to compel PERB to impose a remedy based on the Appellate Division's holding in Decision 1.

While mandamus may be available to a party to compel the enforcement of a clear legal right where a public official has failed to perform a duty enjoined on the official by law, the Appellate Division said that "... while a mandamus is an appropriate remedy to enforce the performance of a ministerial duty, ... it will not be awarded to compel an act in respect to which the officer may exercise judgment or discretion."

The Appellate Division said that in Decision 1 it granted Local 2841's petition "only to the extent of finding that PERB's determination was not supported by substantial evidence." In contrast, the court stated that it had not found that Albany had violated Civil Service Law §209-a(1)(d) and thus Local 2841 has not established a clear right to mandamus relief directing PERB to issue a remedy.

In other words, the underlying issue -- did Albany engage in an improper practice -- has not been resolved. The Appellate Division then ruled that while Local 2841 had not demonstrated a clear legal right to a remedial order, Local 2841 and Albany "are entitled to a final and binding resolution of this issue" by PERB.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division remanded the matter to PERB and directed PERB to resolve "the 2010 improper practice charge in a manner that is not inconsistent with" the Appellate Division's determination in Decision 1.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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