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January 30, 2020

Applying the "relations back" doctrine in an Article 78 action to cure a respondent's claim that the petition was untimely filed

The petitioners in this CPLR Article 78 action relied on the "relations back" doctrine for the purposes the court having assume jurisdiction in the matter. The Appellate Division explained reliance on the relations back doctrine requires that the Article 78 petitioner establish:

1. "that the claims arose out of the same occurrence;

2. "that the later-added respondent[s] [were] united in interest with a previously named respondent;, and

3. "that the later-added respondent[s] knew or should have known that, but for a mistake by petitioner as to the later-added respondent[s'] identity, the proceeding would have also been brought against [them]."

In this instance the issued on which the parties focused was the third prong of this test.

The genesis of the Article 78 action was a collective bargaining representative [Union] filing two improper employer practice charges against the Employer with the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB]. A PERB Administrative Law Judge [ALJ], following a hearing, issued a decision finding that the Employer guilty of one charge but dismissed the other charge. 

The Employer filed exceptions to the ALJ's ruling and, after an administrative appeal, PERB reversed the ALJ's determination. The Union then commenced a CPLR Article 78 solely against PERB seeking to annul its determination. Subsequently, however, the Union filed an amended Article 78 petition adding the Employer as respondents as well as PERB. The Employer contended that the amended petition was untimely, whereupon the Union argued that its petition was timely, relying on the relation back doctrine. PERB submitted a reply arguing that if Supreme Court agreed with the Employer's untimeliness objection, the amended petition should be dismissed against it due to the Union's failure to join necessary parties. 

Supreme Court dismissed the amended petition insofar as asserted against the Employer, finding that it was untimely filed and transferred the remaining portion to the Appellate Division in accordance with CPLR §7804[g]).

The Appellate Division observed "that the record fails to disclose that the failure to name the [Employer as] respondents in the original petition was due to a mistake as to their identity. The explanation provided by [the Union] was that it did not believe that the [Employer] were necessary parties to the proceeding." Citing Windy Ridge Farm v Assessor of Town of Shandaken, 45 AD3d 1099affd 11 NY3d 725, the Appellate Division explained that such a mistake is a mistake of law not contemplated by the relation back doctrine."

In the words of the court, "[g]iven that [the Union] was aware of the [Employer's] existence and 'failed to appreciate that [they] were legally required to be named in proceedings of this type', [the Union's] reliance on the relation back doctrine is unavailing."

As the Employer was necessary parties to this proceeding and it demonstrated that the amended petition was not timely commenced against it, the Appellate Division ruled that the amended petition must also be dismissed insofar as asserted against PERB in view of the timeline involved in perfecting the Union's underlying Article 78 action. The Appellate Division then dismissed the Union's amended petition.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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