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December 19, 2015

Selected Reports issued by the Office of the State Comptroller during the week ending December 19, 2015

Selected Reports issued by the Office of the State Comptroller during the week ending December 19, 2015
Click on text highlighted in color to access the full report

Bombay Clerk Charged in Theft of Justice Court Fees

A North Country court clerk is accused of pocketing more than $5,400 from the Bombay Justice Court while the other court clerk was absent, according to State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Eric Fleury, of Constable, was charged with grand larceny in the third degree, a D felony, in Dickinson Town Court. The alleged thefts were uncovered in an audit and investigation by DiNapoli’s office to review the court’s financial operations.

“The public relies on our justice court fines to support vital services including highway safety, not to line the pockets of a dishonest clerk,” DiNapoli said. “My office will continue to root out corruption at all levels. I thank the State Police for their work on this case.”

Fleury was in charge of collecting fine money and depositing it into the court bank account. Auditors and investigators found that Fleury logged the cash receipts, but failed to deposit more than $5,400. The alleged larceny occurred from April 2014 to May 2015. Most of the funds were taken when the other court clerk, Fleury’s mother, was on sick leave, investigators found.

Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at, or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.

The Bombay Justice Court report is posted on the Internet at:

Municipal Audits reported

Town of Covet - Financial Management and Justice Court
The board needs to adopt long-term financial plans to effectively manage the town’s finances. The board has adopted budgets that have relied heavily on appropriated fund balance that cannot be maintained in the future. In addition, town officials are unable ensure that all the court justice’s moneys received were deposited and recorded completely and accurately.
Town of Horseheads - Financial Management
The board has not developed multiyear financial plans to address the use of fund balance to finance operations, the continued reduction of sales tax revenues, establishing reserve funds, or purchasing and financing future capital assets.
Town of Niagara - Justice Court
Town justices did not ensure that all fines and fees were properly collected. Court reports indicate that unpaid fines and fees may total nearly $400,000 on tickets ranging from 1989 through 2015 and that more than 11,000 tickets dating as far back as 1985 appear to be pending.

Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District - Financial Operations
The board did not ensure that certain contract agreements were approved in a timely manner. In addition, board meeting minutes were not transparent, as motions were not always clearly stated or titled.
Yates County - County Clerk Cash Receipts
The clerk maintains accurate accounting records and deposits moneys intact and in a timely manner. However, the clerk has not established written policies and procedures for cash receipts and cash receipt duties are not adequately segregated.

School DistrictAudits Reported

Brookhaven-Comsewogue UFSD - Professional Services
District officials have established a comprehensive purchasing policy. As a result, the district procured professional services in an economical manner.
New Lebanon CSD - Financial Condition
District officials have overstated liabilities and accumulated excessive reserve funds. In addition, the board has repeatedly appropriated fund balance, which has gone unused. The effective percentage of the district’s unrestricted fund balance is 16 percent of appropriations, which exceeds the 4 percent statutory limit.
Southern Cayuga CSD - Financial Management
District officials have generally taken appropriate action to manage the district’s financial condition. However, the district’s multiyear financial plan does not address its debt share or declining enrollment.
Yonkers City School District - Fixed Assets
District officials and taxpayers have no assurance that all district property can be accounted for. Auditors found that 10 assets valued at $225,307 could not be located and 10 assets valued at $91,704 were either not tagged or the asset tag information on the tag did not agree with the accounting records.  

December 18, 2015

The aggrieved employee has the burden of proving that his or her employee organization’s action, or inaction, breached its “Duty of Fair Representation”

The aggrieved employee has the burden of proving that his or her employee organization’s action, or inaction, breached its “Duty of Fair Representation”
DeOliveira v New York State Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 2015 NY Slip Op 08228, Appellate Division, Third Department

Donna Scarpinati DeOliveira filed an improper employee organization practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board [PERB] alleging that the Cairo-Durham Teachers Association [Association], the employee organization representing her purposes of collective bargaining, violated its duty of fair representation.

The Cairo-Durham Central School District [District] had appointed DeOliveira a position in the elementary education tenure area subject to her satisfactory completion of a three-year probationary period. She subsequently absented herself for a “period of unpaid maternity leave.”

After DeOliveira returned to teaching full time the District abolished four positions in the elementary education tenure area and she was notified that she would be terminated at the end of the school year because her period of unpaid maternity leave that she took had the affected her seniority status. As a result she became one of the four least senior teachers in her tenure area.

DeOliveira asked the Association to file grievances on her behalf challenging the District's calculation of her seniority for the purposes of layoff but the Association decided that she had no viable claims and declined to file the grievance. DeOliveira later learned that, prior to the layoffs, the Association had agreed with the District's decision to exclude at least two sixth grade teachers from the elementary education tenure area — Peter Goodwin and Erin Murphy, both of whom were appointed by District after DeOliveira’s effective date of appointment.

In her improper practice charge filed with PERB, DeOliveira alleged, among other things, that the Association did not fairly represent her interests because it:

1. willfully failed to investigate her concerns regarding the impact of her unpaid maternity leave on her seniority status;

2. falsely represented to her that it had consulted with an attorney concerning the matter on her behalf; and

3. intentionally withheld from her the so-called "clandestine agreement" it made with the District to protect Goodwin and Murphy from being laid off.

Following a hearing, a PERB Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] dismissed the charge. PERB affirmed the ALJ’s ruling and ultimately DeOliveira commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding seeking review of PERB's decision. Supreme Court transferred the matter to the Appellate Division.

Citing Chenango Forks Central School District v PERB, 21 NY3d 255, the Appellate Division said that its review of a PERB determination is limited to whether it is supported by substantial evidence, that is, whether there is a basis in the record allowing for the conclusion that "PERB's decision was legally permissible, rational and thus not arbitrary and capricious.” The court said that in its view there was substantial evidence in the record supporting PERB's determination that the Association did not breach its duty of fair representation it owed to DeOliveira.

To establish a claim that the employee organization breached its duty of fair representation the Appellate Division explained that "there must be a showing that the activity, or lack thereof, which formed the basis of the charges … was deliberately invidious, arbitrary or founded in bad faith." DeOliveira, said the court, failed to made this showing regarding any of her specific allegations.

As to DeOliveira’s claim that the Association willfully failed to adequately investigate the District's exclusion of the time that she was on unpaid maternity leave from its calculation of her seniority, she had admitted that she met with Association representatives on multiple occasions regarding her concerns and the Association's president testified that a substantial investigation followed. Further, said the Association, DeOliveira was also advised in writing of its rationale and ultimate decision not to process her grievance.

As to DeOliveira’s allegation that the Association’s president told her that he would consult with a New York State United Teachers [NYSUT] attorney regarding her grievance, the Association president admitted that he did not consult with an attorney but said that he did consult with a NYSUT  Labor Relations Specialist. DeOliveira, said the court, did not offer any proof that the president’s misrepresentation was intentional or that he relied on the Labor Relations Specialist’s advice in bad faith.*

Turning to DeOliveira’s argument that the Association represented her in bad faith by making a "clandestine agreement" with the District to wrongly exclude Goodwin and Murphy from the elementary education tenure area at her expense, the court said there was nothing in the record to support such a claim.

Noting that the Commissioner of Education, in his ruling in an appeal** filed with Commissioner by DeOliveira, determined that Goodwin and Murphy should have been included in the elementary education tenure area for the purpose of layoffs, the Appellate Division said that “there is no evidence that the decision not to do so was motivated by animus toward petitioner or favoritism toward Goodwin and Murphy.” At worst, said the court, the Association's agreement with the District regarding the treatment of Goodwin and Murphy, and its attendant failure to pursue DeOliveira 's grievance about it, was an honest mistake, and "the fact that a union is guilty of mistake, negligence or lack of competence does not suffice [to prove] a[n unfair representation] claim."

The Appellate Division confirmed PERB’s determination and dismissed DeOliveira’s Article 78 petition.

* The president testified that he considered the Labor Relations Specialist to be the Association's "counsel" when it came to assessing teacher grievances.

** Appeal of Donna Scarpinati De Oliveira, from action of the Cairo-Durham Central School District, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision 16,411. The Commissioner ruled that even had Goodwin and Murphy been in retained in the elementary tenure area and DeOliveira seniority determined in consideration of their “seniority” in such tenure area, DeOliveira was still the least senior teacher in the elementary tenure area.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant New York State laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions involving layoff and related matters. For more information click on

Governor Cuomo signs Executive Order 8-149 providing for expediting the Freedom of Information Law appeals process

Governor Cuomo signs Executive Order 8-149 providing for expediting the Freedom of Information Law appeals process
Source: Office of the Governor

Executive Order 8-149 “fast-tracks” the Freedom of Information Law [FOIL] appeals process by requiring that all state agencies and departments to “file notice of an appeal, settle the record on appeal, and file a brief within 60 days, absent extraordinary circumstances outside agency control.”

In addition, the Governor said that legislation will be introduced in the upcoming session that encompasses the order, “while also correcting the serious flaws of Assembly Bill 114 and Assembly Bill 1438-B.”

The Executive Order is set out below:

Executive Order 8-149,

WHEREAS, we seek to further transparency and openness in
New York State government; and

WHEREAS, the purpose of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) is, and has always been, to foster an open and transparent government that all New Yorkers can hold proud; and

WHEREAS, I received two bills pertaining to FOIL from the Legislature; and

WHEREAS, while their goals were well-intended, these bills are seriously flawed and would radically transform the litigation process, are myopic in their scope and focus only on one branch of government, and would only serve to perpetuate a fractured system of transparency and data production by intentionally excluding other branches of government; and

WHEREAS, Assembly Bill 114 has significant technical issues in that it: would substantially alter the balance of appellate rights between state agencies and non-state agency requestors, in that the condensed timeframe would only apply when a state agency appeals an adverse decision, which is necessarily an inequitable outcome, conversely, a non-state agency party would continue to have the longer time periods for appeal that are currently allowed by law; would eliminate judicial discretion regarding the time available to perfect an appeal as permitted by Civil Procedure Law and Rules § 5530(c), which allows each department of the appellate divisions to set their own rules governing the time to perfect an appeal, and/or when an appeal is subject to dismissal for failure to prosecute and/or deemed abandoned; fails to provide for an extension of the 60-day timeframe, even on consent; puts a substantial burden on state agencies to perfect their appeals and may make it difficult for agencies to serve and file appellate records and briefs, possibly compromising a state agency’s due process rights; and

WHEREAS, Assembly Bill 1438-B also has significant technical issues in that it: would allow for attorney’s fees to be assessed solely against a state agency, rather than uniformly against both parties; would also allow for attorney’s fees to be assessed against a state agency, even if the state agency ultimately prevails; would require a trial court to assess attorney’s fees against an agency when an agency denies access to FOIL requests in “material violation” of FOIL and with no reasonable basis for denying such access; fails to define what a “material violation” is, allowing each court to define the scope of the term, and leaving litigants without any clarity; and

WHEREAS, these bills fail to include the legislature in any meaningful FOIL reform; and

WHEREAS, I vetoed Assembly Bill 114 and Assembly Bill 1438-B for the reasons set forth above; and

WHEREAS, the Executive has and will continue to lead by example in advancing transparency and efficiency in government and, consistent with that principle, will immediately direct state agencies to fast track FOIL appeals, and will introduce legislation that will encompass these issues, address the described flaws, and execute more comprehensive FOIL reform that will cover all branches of state government.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, ANDREW M. CUOMO, Governor of the State of
New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the Laws of the State of New York, do hereby find that, in light of recent events, we must do more to immediately advance transparency in government. Therefore, pursuant to the authority vested in me by the Constitution of the State of New York and Section 28 of Article 2-B of the Executive Law, I hereby direct all state agencies to adhere to the spirit of Assembly Bill 114, and move post-haste in filing a notice of appeal, settling the record on appeal, and filing a brief, within 60 days, absent extremely complex matters or extraordinary circumstances outside agency control; and

FURTHER, this Order shall take effect immediately and shall remain in effect until further notice.

G I V E N under my hand and the Privy Seal of the State in the City of
Albany this twelfth day of December in the year two thousand fifteen.


Secretary to the Governor

December 17, 2015

Although a contract may provide for the resolution of disputes by arbitration, litigation-related conduct by a party may constitute a waiver of its right to demand arbitration

Although a contract may provide for the resolution of disputes by arbitration, litigation-related conduct by a party may constitute a waiver of its right to demand arbitration
Cusimano v Schnurr, 2015 NY Slip Op 09232, Court of Appeals

The issues presented by this appeal are whether the Federal Arbitration Act [FAA] is applicable to disputes arising under the several agreements at issue in this action and, if so, whether the plaintiffs, Rita and Dominic Cusimano waived their right to arbitrate the dispute by pursuit of this litigation in court. The Court of Appeals held that although the FAA does apply in this instance, the Cusimanos, by their actions in initiating litigation concerning the matter in Supreme Court, waived their right to arbitrate their complaint.

Citing 9 USC §2, the Court of Appeals said that the FAA provides that "[a] written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract."

In this instance the court found that the ultimate purpose of the agreements was to authorize participation in the business of commercial real estate and that was, in fact, what the entities did. In determining whether the FAA applies, the emphasis is meant to be on whether the particular economic activity at issue affects interstate commerce — and, concluded the Court of Appeals, here it does.

In Stark v Molod Spitz DiSantis & Stark, PC, 9 NY3d 59, it was held that “like contract rights generally, a right to arbitration may be modified, waived or abandoned.”  Thus, said the court, a litigant may not compel arbitration when its use of the courts is “clearly inconsistent with [its] later claim that the parties were obligated to settle their differences by arbitration.”

Although not every attempt to litigate an issue in court “effects a waiver of the right to arbitrate," in this instance the Court of Appeals was satisfied that the totality of the Cusimanos' conduct here establishes its waiver of its right to arbitrate the matter, explaining that although federal policy expresses a preference in favor of arbitration, when addressing waiver, courts should consider the amount of litigation that has occurred, the length of time between the start of the litigation and the arbitration request, and whether prejudice has been established.

In the words of the Court of Appeals, “[a]fter vigorously pursuing their litigation strategy for approximately one year, the Cusimanos moved to compel arbitration. Even more telling, said the court, the Cusimanos' desire for arbitration only arose after Supreme Court made plain its view that the Cusimanos' claims were vexatious and largely time-barred. Indeed, in the court of its litigation before the Supreme Court, the Cusimanos had expressly represented to the court that they did not want to go to arbitration.”

Deeming the Cusimanos' behavior in this regard suggests “forum-shopping,” the Court of Appeals concluded that under these circumstances, prejudice against Schnurr has clearly been established. Finding that the Cusimanos actions had constituted a waiver their right to arbitration, the Court of Appeals said that the issue of timeliness should be determined by the court. Further, the court noted that although in previous cases it had, in dicta,* indicated that waiver is generally one of the issues that should be decided by the arbitrator, courts have held that whether a party has waived arbitration by litigation-related conduct is an issue for the courts,

* Dicta – a statement or observation in a judicial ruling or interpretation that was not part of the legal basis for judgment.

The decision has been posted on the Internet at:

Removing a public officer holding an office for specific term pursuant to a “municipal cooperative agreement” before his or her term of office expires for other than cause

Removing a public officer holding an office for specific term pursuant to a “municipal cooperative agreement” before his or her term of office expires for other than cause
Rubeor v Town of Wright, 2015 NY Slip Op 08895, Appellate Division, Third Department

Steven Rubeor was appointed to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor as Assessor of the Town of Wright [Wright], the Town of Esperance and the Town of Schoharie, each town having entered into a municipal cooperative agreement establishing a coordinated assessment program [CAP]. Under a CAP, "a single assessor [is] appointed to hold the office of assessor in all the participating assessing units."

In December 2012, prior to the expiration of Rubeor 's term, Wright’s Town Board [Board] resolved to withdraw from the CAP and appointed Susan Crosby as the Town's interim Assessor. Rubeor initiated a combined CPLR Article 78 proceeding and action pursuant to 42 USC §1983, a federal civil rights law,* asserting that the Board improperly removed him from office, depriving him of a vested property right. Supreme Court granted Rubeor’s petition to the extent of annulling the Board's determination to remove him as Wright’s assessor, concluding that he was entitled to complete his term, which ended on September 30, 2013. Wright appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Noting that “This dispute raises an issue of first impression as to whether a town's withdrawal from a CAP truncates an assessor's term of office,” the court said that: 

[1] there is no dispute here that Wright is required to appoint an assessor, whose term of office shall be six years; and 

[2] an assessor is a public officer who ordinarily may only be removed from office for cause under Public Officers Law §36. 

The question presented here, said the Appellate Division “is whether a CAP changes this structure.”

While the statute provides that an assessor's term shall be for six years, it further provides that a member of a CAP may withdraw from a CAP at any time, provided that it does so at least 45 days before the next taxable status date. However, the said the court, “The statute is otherwise silent as to what happens to an assessor's term when, as here, a CAP member opts to withdraw prior to the expiration of the [assessor’s] term.”

In construing a statute the Appellate Division said the court must:

1. Determine the Legislature's intention, giving due effect to the plain meaning of unambiguous statutory language; and

2. Where the statute has “competing provisions,” the statute must be construed “as a whole and that its various sections must be considered with reference to one another."

Noting that an amendment to the Real Property Tax Law §579 in 2009, among other things, clarified that an assessor appointed in a CAP receives a six-year term and shortened the notice period for a CAP member to withdraw from the CAP, the Appellate Division concluded that the adoption of these companion provisions demonstrated that the Legislature intended to keep an assessor's six-year term intact even where a CAP member elects to withdraw from the CAP. Accordingly, insofar as the assessor is concerned, the effect of withdrawal from the CAP “is merely delayed until the assessor's term expires, at which time the assessing unit is free to choose a new assessor, without approval from any other assessing unit” in the CAP.**

Although in an 1997 the Department of Taxation and Finance's counsel  opined that the adoption of a CAP "may truncate the term of office of an incumbent appointed assessor,"*** the Appellate Division observed “that is not the situation presented here,” and, more significantly, commented “nor is that letter opinion binding, particularly in view of the 2009 amendment to RPTL 579.”

The bottom line: the court held that Rubeor’s term of office did not end when the Town Board adopted a resolution to withdraw from the CAP and that Rubeor held a right to continued employment until the expiration of his term of office.

* Wright removed the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York but that court abstained from exercising jurisdiction pending the resolution of the underlying statutory dispute in state court, staying Rubeor's claims pursuant to 42 USC §1983.

**As Rubeor's term of office had since ended, Supreme Court had declined to reinstate him to the position as Town Assessor for Wright. The Appellate Division said that “Given that [Rubeor] did not appeal from the determination and expressly seeks to affirm the judgment in his brief, we do not address the corollary issue of back pay.”

*** 10 Opinions of Counsel SBRPS 35 - Posted on the Internet at:

The Rujbeor decision is posted on the Internet at:


Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or changes to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.
New York Public Personnel Law Blog Editor Harvey Randall served as Principal Attorney, New York State Department of Civil Service; Director of Personnel, SUNY Central Administration; Director of Research, Governor’s Office of Employee Relations; and Staff Judge Advocate General, New York Guard. Consistent with the Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations, the material posted to this blog is presented with the understanding that neither the publisher nor members of the NYPPL staff are providing legal advice to the reader and in the event legal or other expert assistance is needed, the reader is urged to seek such advice from a knowledgeable professional.
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