January 06, 2021

Court vacates agency's grievance decision after finding it arbitrary and capricious and not rational under the circumstances presented

The Acting Director of Labor Relations [Director] of the New York State Unified Court System [UCS] denied a grievance filed by certain individuals [Plaintiffs] challenging the placement of the names of certain candidates on the promotion examination No. 55-787 eligible list for appointment to the title of Senior Court Reporter with UCS.

Plaintiffs filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 78 appealing the Director's decision and seeking a court order directing UCS:

[1] To remove from the eligible list for promotional examination No. 55-787 the names of candidates who were not employed in the Court Reporter title by the date of the examination; and

[2] To remove any candidate from the position of Senior Court Reporter appointed  from the promotional examination eligible list who did not meet the minimum qualifications to compete in the promotion examination.

Citing 22 NYCRR 25.13[k], Supreme Court "determined that the complained-of conduct by the UCS violated its own rules and eligibility requirements." Holding that such action "was arbitrary and capricious," the court granted Plaintiffs' petition. UCS appealed the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Appellate Division's decision notes that UCS had simultaneously administered an open-competitive examination and a promotional examination for the title of Senior Court Reporter, which examinations were substantively identical. Further, both examination announcements stated that the promotion list "will be used to make appointments before appointments are made from the list established from the open-competitive examination."

Separate eligible lists for each examination were established. However the names of 22 individuals who had taken the open-competitive examination appeared on both the competitive list and the promotion list, although none of these 22 individuals met the minimum qualifications to take the promotional examination and none had actually taken the promotional examination.

Also noted in the Appellate Division's decision was the fact that these 22 individuals "had been appointed as entry level Court Reporters after the examination but before the eligibility lists were established," and that a number of these 22 candidates "had scored higher than those who had taken the promotional examination."

Agreeing with the Supreme Court's determination that the UCS's placement of open-competitive candidates for the Senior Court Reporter position on the promotion list was arbitrary and capricious and not rational under the circumstances presented herein, the Appellate Division explained Article V, §6 of the New York State Constitution provides that "[a]ppointments and promotions in the civil service of the state and all of the civil divisions thereof, including cities and villages, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive."

Conceding that a civil service commission exercises wide discretion in determining the fitness of candidates, the Appellate Division observed that the exercise of such discretion is to be sustained unless it has clearly been abused  and a court, in determining a CPLR Article 78 petition, ''may not substitute its judgment for that of the agency responsible for making the determination and, as long as the administrative determination is not irrational or arbitrary and capricious, [the court] may not annul it."

Here, however, the Appellate Division agreed with the Supreme Court's finding that UCS's placement of the names of open-competitive candidates for the Senior Court Reporter position on the promotion list for that title was arbitrary and capricious and not rational under the circumstances presente and opined that UCS's conduct, among other things, "violated its own rules and eligibility requirements set forth in the exam announcements." It then sustained the Supreme Court's decision granting Plaintiffs' petition, with costs.

Click here to access the decision.

 

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