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March 24, 2023

Challenging the disqualification of a candidate for failure to meet the psychological requirements for appointment to the position

A candidate for appointment to a position of police officer [Plaintiff] was disqualified by the responsible civil service commission [Commission] for failure to meet the psychological requirements of the position. Plaintiff appealed the Commission's determination. Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's appeal, dismissed the proceeding and denied Plaintiff's motion for leave to reargue the petition. Plaintiff appealed Supreme Court's ruling.

The Plaintiff had passed the written portion of the County Police Officer Examination and his name was placed on eligible list. Plaintiff was subsequently given a conditional offer of employment, subject to his successful completion of physical and psychological screenings, among other things. Following a complete psychological screening, the Commission's staff psychiatrist concluded that Plaintiff was not capable of performing the duties of a police officer and the Commission disqualified Plaintiff "for failure to meet the psychological requirements of the position."

Plaintiff appealed the Commission's determination, submitting an independent evaluation by a psychiatrist, who disagreed in detail with the conclusions of the prior evaluators, and numerous letters of recommendation. The Commission referred Plaintiff to another staff psychiatrist for an additional interview and review of his file. This second staff psychiatrist also concluded that Plaintiff was not capable of performing the duties of a police officer. The Commission affirmed its original determination disqualifying Plaintiff for appointment as a police officer and denied Plaintiff's request to administratively reargue his appeal the Commission's determination.*

Supreme Court denied the Plaintiff's petition challenging the Commission's decision and dismissed the proceeding. Petitioner appealed the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Appellate Division, noting that reinstating Plaintiff's name to the subject eligible list is no longer possible as the eligible list had expired. The court then explained that an "appointment of an individual from a constitutionally valid expired list violates Article V, §6 of the NY Constitution" citing Matter of City of New York v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 93 NY2d 768.**

Nevertheless, in light of the conditional offer of employment given to Plaintiff, and his request for back pay, the Appellate Division denied the Respondents' request that the Appellate Division dismiss Plaintiff's appeal as academic. It then held Supreme Court had properly denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, explaining "An appointing authority has wide discretion in determining the fitness of candidates, and this discretion is particularly broad in the hiring of law enforcement officers, to whom high standards may be applied," citing Matter of Coyle v Kampe, 185 AD3d 1028, and other decisions.

In the words of the Appellate Division, "So long as the administrative determination is not irrational or arbitrary and capricious, this Court will not disturb it". Further, opined the court, in determining whether a candidate is medically qualified to serve as a police officer, "the appointing agency is 'entitled to rely upon the findings of its own medical personnel, even if those findings are contrary to those of professionals retained by the candidate'" and it is not for the courts to choose between the diverse professional opinions."

In response to Plaintiff's request for copies of the underlying psychological reports for review and challenge by his own expert, the Appellate Division ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to such documents and opined that Supreme Court had been provided with sufficient material to be able to determine that the Commission's determination was neither irrational nor arbitrary and capricious.

The Appellate Division, in affirming Supreme Court's ruling, and awarded the Respondents one bill of costs.

The Appellate Division noted "no appeal lies from an order denying reargument"

** See, also, Cash v Bates, 301 NY 258, in which the Court of Appeals held that an appointment to a civil service title from an expired civil service eligible list is a "legal impossibility."

Click HERE to access the text of the Appellate Division's decision.

 

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