May 18, 2021

Recall rights of educators receiving disability retirement benefits from the New York State Teachers' Retirement System

Plaintiff in this CPLR Article 78 proceeding applied for and was granted disability retirement benefits by the New York State Teachers' Retirement System [TRS].* 

Subsequently Plaintiff's condition improved and the school district [Board] recalled him and appointed Plaintiff as a probationary teacher. The Board subsequently summarily terminated Plaintiff from that position under color of §3013 of the Education Law and then appointed another individual to replace him.

Plaintiff challenged the Board's action, seeking a court order annulling the Board's  terminating his employment and directing the Board to reinstatement him to the position with back pay. Plaintiff argued, among other things, that the Board had "violated his recall rights pursuant to Education Law §2510 and interfered with his tenure rights by unlawfully terminating him without a hearing" in violation of §2510[3][a] of the Education Law. The Board, in its defense, contended, among other things, that Education Law §2510 only applied to small city school districts and Plaintiff's employer was a central school district.

Supreme Court granted Plaintiff's petition, holding that both Education Law §§2510(3)(a) and 3013(3)(a) applied under the circumstances. The court opined  that "the overall statutory scheme of both sections, as it related to recall rights, 'are most effectuated by affording similar protections to teachers within all school districts,' regardless of size." The court also ruled, among other things, that Plaintiff did not give up his recall rights upon acceptance of the position, and, in doing so, he also did not relinquish his rights to tenure.

The Board appealed Supreme Court's ruling, which ruling was affirmed by the Appellate Division following its analysis of the legislative history of the provisions of the Education Law respectively relied upon by the parties. 

Although the Board contended that Supreme Court erred in granting Plaintiff's petition as the controlling law is Education Law §3013, rather than Education Law §2510, arguing that §2510 does not grant recall rights to teachers who received disability retirement, the Appellate Division held:

1. Its review of Plaintiff's CPLR Article 78 claims is limited to whether the Board's determination, made without a hearing, was arbitrary and capricious, irrational, affected by an error of law or an abuse of discretion;

2. No deference is given to the Board's interpretation of the law as the questions raised on appeal depend only "the accurate apprehension of legislative intent;" and

3. "The main goal in statutory construction is to discern the will of the Legislature and, as the clearest indicator of legislative intent is the statutory text, the starting point in any case of interpretation must always be the language itself, giving effect to the plain meaning thereof".

Citing Matter of Soriano v Elia, 155 AD3d 1496, [leave to appeal denied 31 NY3d 913], the Appellate Division held that Education Law §2510(3)(a) supersedes Educational Law §3013(3) (a) "as it regards recall rights, and, consequently, it applies to all school districts, not just those districts within cities with less than 125,000 inhabitants."

The court pointed out that "Education Law §2510 has generally not been limited in its application to small city school districts; rather, it has been applied to other types of school districts, including central school districts," citing a number of court decisions including Van Derzee v Board of Educ. of Odessa-Montour Cent. School Dist., 228 AD2d 998, leave to appeal denied 89 NY2d 803.

Accordingly, the Appellate Division found that Plaintiff in the instant appeal "was entitled to recall rights pursuant to Education Law §2510(3)(a), which included, among other things, an opportunity for an administrative hearing prior to his termination," and held that "the Board's summary termination of [Plaintiff's]  employment was affected by an error of law and Supreme Court properly granted [Plaintiff's] petition."

* See §511 of the Education Law, which provides for a member of the New York State Teachers' Retirement System's "Retirement on account of disability" in general, and subdivisions (4), (5), and (6) of §511 of the Education Law with respect to discontinuing such disability retirement status in particular.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision. 

 

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