August 6, 2019

Evaluating a public employer's duty to defend and indemnify an employee named as a defendant in an "underlying action"


The City of Buffalo [Respondent] appealed from a judgment of Supreme Court denying its motion to dismiss the petition of two police officers [Officer A and Officer B] seeking a court order directing the Respondent to provide for their defense and indemnification* in an underlying action brought against them by a nonparty to this CPLR Article 78 proceeding.

Petitioners commenced their Article 78 proceeding after Respondent determined that it would not provide them with a defense or indemnification in the underlying action. Supreme Court ordered the Respondent to provide for a defense and indemnification of both Officer A and Officer B in the underlying action, whereupon the Respondent appealed the ruling to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division said it agreed with the Respondent that Supreme Court erred in granting the petition with respect to Officer A by denying that part of the Respondent's motion seeking to dismiss the petition as to Officer A on the ground that he failed to timely commence this proceeding. Accordingly, the Appellate Division so modified the Supreme Court's judgment with respect to Officer A.

In contrast, the Appellate Division said Supreme Court "properly determined, however, that Respondent's determination not to provide [Officer B] with a defense was arbitrary and capricious, noting that the Respondent's determination concerning Officer B was based on its conclusion that Officer B was acting outside the scope of her employment at the time of the incidents concerning the plaintiff in the underlying action.

The Appellate Division, observing that "it is undisputed that [Officer B] was on duty and working as a police officer when the alleged conduct occurred," opined that the facts that Officer B pleaded guilty to a disciplinary charge in connection with her conduct that gave rise to the underlying action "cannot establish, as [Respondent] must, that [Officer B's] was acting outside the scope of her employment at the time of the incidents concerning the plaintiff in the underlying action" by showing that Officer B's actions were "wholly personal" in nature.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that Supreme Court's determination that Officer B is entitled to indemnification was "premature at this time" and then elected to "further modify the [Supreme Court's] judgment accordingly."

* Presumably Officers A and B sought the Respondent's providing for their "defense and indemnification" pursuant to Public Officers Law §18, a provision in a collective bargaining agreement or as otherwise authorized by law, rule or regulation. §18 provides for the defense and indemnification of officers and employees of public entities which are defined as "(i) a county, city, town, village or any other political subdivision or civil division of the state, (ii) a school district, board of cooperative educational services, or any other governmental entity or combination or association of governmental entities operating a public school, college, community college or university, (iii) a public improvement or special district, (iv) a public authority, commission, agency or public benefit corporation, or (v) any other separate corporate instrumentality or unit of government; but shall not include the state of New York or any other public entity the officers and employees of which are covered by section seventeen of this chapter or by defense and indemnification provisions of any other state statute taking effect after January first, nineteen hundred seventy-nine."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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