May 05, 2017

Failure of the individual to timely execute his or her oath of office upon election to a public office results in the position becoming vacant by operation of law

Failure of the individual to timely execute his or her oath of office upon election to his or her  public office results in the position becoming vacant by operation of law
Appeal of Oscar Cohen, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 17,075

§30(1)(h) of the Public Officers Law provides that an incumbent’s office “shall be vacant upon ... [an incumbent’s] refusal or neglect to file his [or her] official oath ... before or within thirty days after the commencement of the term of office for which he [or she] is chosen, if an elective office ....”1

§2108 of the Education Law provides that a district clerk is obligated to inform a successful electoral candidate of his or her election in writing and further provides that  “[t]he presence of any such person at the meeting which elects him [or her] to office, shall be deemed a sufficient notice to him [or her] of his [or her] election.”

Sabrina Charles-Pierre ran for, as was elected to, membership on the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District [Board]. She was present at a Board meeting on May 17, 2016 at which the unofficial "election results" revealed that she had won election to the Board.

Ms. Charles-Pierre subsequently attended a June 7, 2016 Board meeting at which the final election results were certified and accepted by the Board. At the Board's reorganization meeting on July 14, 2016, the district clerk administered the oath of office to Ms. Charles-Pierre.  Shortly thereafter the Board determined that at the result of  "an administrative timing error,” Ms. Charles-Pierre’s oath of office had been administered to her more than 30 days after she had been elected to her position and, consequently, by operation of law her seat was deemed vacant.2

On July 26, 2016, the Board held a special meeting and appointed Ms. Charles-Pierre to the seat it had earlier declared vacant until the Board’s next annual meeting and election in May 2017.

Oscar Cohen appealed the Board's action contending that its determination that Ms. Charles-Pierre’s position became vacant was arbitrary and capricious. Mr. Cohen claimed that the 30-day time period for taking and filing the oath of office imposed by Public Officers Law §30(1)(h) did not commence “until Ms. Charles-Pierre receive[d] formal notice of the election results.”3 Mr. Cohen, "upon information and belief," argued that Ms. Charles-Pierre never received such written notice.  The remedy sought by Mr. Cohen: an order by the Commissioner "restoring" Ms. Charles-Pierre to her two-year elected term, which would run through June 30, 2018.

While the Board admitted that it failed to provide Ms. Charles-Pierre with written notice of her election, it pointed out that she was present at the May 17, 2016 and June 7, 2016 Board meetings “where the election results were announced and confirmed, respectively.”  Notwithstanding this defense, the Board had “joined” Mr. Cohen in his request to reinstate Ms. Charles-Pierre to her elected term.

However, the Commissioner dismissed Mr. Cohen's appeal as moot, taking "judicial notice"4 that Chapter 5 of the Laws of 2017, effective February 1, 2017, excused Ms. Charles-Pierre’s failure to file her official oath within the statutorily prescribed period, provided that she filed her oath of office within 30 calendar days of the effective date of that act. Ms. Charles-Pierre had, in fact, timely filed her oath of office on February 7, 2017, which is within the 30-day period specified in Chapter 5.

1 Section 30 excuses the failure to file the oath within the 30-day period if the individual “was on active duty in the armed forces of the United States and absent from the county of his [or her] residence at the time of his [or her] election or appointment....”

2 The failure to file a timely oath cannot be cured by subsequently filing the required oath, Informal Opinion of the Attorney General, 86-41.

3 "Where ... the individual was present at the board meeting at which he was appointed and thus had actual notice of his appointment, written notice thereof was not required to commence the 30-day period," McDonough v Murphy, 92 AD2d 1022, affirmed 59 NY2d 941.

4 Judicial notice is the recognition by a judicial body or an individual acting in a judicial capacity of a fact that is not reasonably disputable and without the introduction of supporting evidence.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

May 04, 2017

Determining when "actual notice," in contrast to "constructive notice," of an administrative action is required to trigger the running of the Statute of Limitations for filing an Article 78 action

Determining when "actual notice," in contrast to "constructive notice," of an administrative actionis required to trigger the running of the Statute of Limitations for filing an Article 78 action
Knave v West Seneca Cent. Such. Dist., 2017 NY Slip Op 03416, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The collective bargaining agreement between the West Seneca Central School District [District] and the employee organization representing certain employees provided that upon retirement employees in the collective bargaining unit "could enroll in the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance and Guardian dental insurance plans available to the District's then current employees, at their own expense."

When the District sent an undated letter to its retired employees of under the age of 65 [Petitioners] advising them that it would discontinue its practice of offering "Under Age 65 retirees" the opportunity to enroll in the same plans that were available to its active employees, Petitioners challenged the District's action and sought a court order annulling the District's discontinuation of its "Under Age 65 retirees" practice.

The District moved to dismiss Petitioners' Article 78 action contending it was untimely. The District advanced the theory that the statute of limitations had began to run when it issued the undated letter addressed to the Petitioners, which action constituted "constructive notice" of the discontinuance of their participation in the District's health insurance plan.

The Appellate Division said that applying the date of mailing of the undated letter in a constructive notice test argument, as the District contended, requires a judicial determination, as a threshold matter, that the administrative determination at issue was "quasi-legislative" in nature.

A quasi-legislative-type administrative determination is one having an impact "far beyond the immediate parties at the administrative stage." The court explained that where a quasi-legislative determination is challenged, "actual notice of the challenged determination is not required in order to start the statute of limitations clock" ticking as the policy underlying the rule is that actual notice to the general public is not practicable. Thus, said the Appellate Division, the statute of limitations begins to run once the administrative agency's quasi-legislative determination concerning the matter at issue became "readily ascertainable" to the complaining party.

In contrast, where the public at large is not impacted by an administrative determination, actual notice, commonly in the form of the receipt of a letter or other writing containing the final and binding administrative determination is required to be delivered to the parties affected to commence the running of the statute of limitations.

The Appellate Division found that the only evidence in the record with respect to the determination to discontinue the practice affecting "Under Age 65 retirees" was the undated letter that was signed by the District's "Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources." The letter, however, made no mention of any meeting of, or resolution by, the West Seneca Central School District Board of Education at which the participation of "Under Age 65 retirees" in active employees' the health insurance plan was discussed or voted upon nor did the letter set out the authority, if any, upon which Assistant Superintendent relied upon in issuing the letter.

In the words of the Court, the District "wholly failed to submit any evidence establishing the process that resulted in the issuance of the undated letter, and the record is otherwise devoid of any evidence of the nature of the process giving rise to the determination. In our view, all of those facts and factual shortcomings are critical to the analysis."

Noting that the determination clearly had no impact upon the public at large, the court said that the District failed to establish that actual notice to the affected persons would be impracticable or unduly burdensome.

Thus, the Appellate Division concluded that the District [1]2 failed to meet its burden of establishing that  the challenged determination affecting the "Under Age 65 retirees" was "quasi-legislative" in nature and [2] failed to meet its burden of showing that the "readily ascertainable" constructive notice test should be applied here.

Concluding that Petitioners had filed a timely Article 78 action, the Appellate Division provided the District with 20 days "from service of the order of this Court with notice of entry" to serve and file an answer to the Article 78 petition and remanded the matter to Supreme Court.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

May 03, 2017

An unexcused procedural omission means the Commissioner of Education will not address the merits of an appeal

An unexcused procedural omission means the Commissioner of Education will not address the merits of an appeal
Appeal of Susan Sudano, Decisions of the Commissioner of Education, Decision #Decision 17,078

This decision demonstrates the importance complying with all of the necessary procedural steps when filing an appeal with the Commissioner of Education.

Susan Sudano was a tenured teacher employed in the district in the tenure area of remedial reading. As the result of a position in her tenure area being abolished, Sudano  was "excessed" and her name was placed on a preferred list. Sudano, contending that less senior teachers in her tenure area were retained or appointed from the preferred list, filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education  seeking reinstatement to her former position. However, the Commissioner never addressed the merits of her complaint as the result of her failing to satisfy a number of procedural requirements.

The first issue addressed by the Commissioner was  Sudano's satisfying the requirement that her appeal must be timely by filing it within 30 days of the date of the decision or the performance of the act complained of unless any delay in meeting this 30-day deadline is excused by the Commissioner "for good cause shown."

In response to the School District's argument that Sudano's appeal was untimely, the Commissioner said that although an appeal must be commenced within the 30-day deadline, earlier Commissioner decisions indicated that "where the alleged wrong is that another teacher has been appointed to a position in violation of the petitioner’s preferred eligibility rights, the petitioner does not become aggrieved until the date that another person commences service in the position at issue." Here the Commissioner said that to the extent that Sudano contends that the School District violated Education Law §3013(3) "by failing to recall her from the preferred eligibility list to vacant positions that were filled by other teachers, her appeal was timely,"  the Commissioner explained that although she agreed with the School District that Sudano was required file her appeal within 30 days of the effective date the position was abolished, there was a "conflict in past Commissioner's decisions" that was resolved in Appeal of Gordon, 53 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,582. 

In Gordon the Commissioner excused a delay in commencing an appeal within 30 days after the effective date of the abolition of the position and indicated that delays in commencing similar appeals pending on the date of that decision also would be excused where service was made within 30 days of the date on which another teacher commenced service in a position to which the petitioner claimed an entitlement. As Sudano's appeal was pending on the date the Gordon was decided, the Commissioner excuse Sudano's delay in bringing her claim that she was not the least senior teacher in the tenure area of the position abolished, "for the reasons stated in Appeal of Gordon."

However, there were other procedural requirements that had to be satisfied such as personal service of the petition upon each named respondent and, if a school district is named as a respondent, "service upon the school district" was required to be made "personally by delivering a copy of the petition to the district clerk, to any trustee or any member of the board of education, to the superintendent of schools, or to a person in the office of the superintendent who has been designated by the board of education to accept service."

Further, a party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such as a "necessary party." In addition, the Commissioner said that "Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption [of the petition] and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense."

Sudano, however, had "initially failed to properly serve two respondents, Hanwright and Paniccia," said the Commissioner. She then attempted to effect service upon Hanwright and Paniccia, by serving papers upon a “person of suitable age and discretion.”  The affidavits of service, however, did not demonstrate that Sudano made "any diligent attempt" to serve Hanwright and Paniccia personally before resorting to "substitute service."

Although Sudano did effect personal service upon both individuals later, such service was effected more than 30 days after Hanwright and Paniccia began to serve in the positions which Sudano claimed she was entitled by reason of her seniority.  As Sudano "offered no excuse for the delay in effecting personal service and in the absence of evidence of diligent efforts to effect timely personal service," on Hanwright and Panicca, the Commissioner said that she declined to excuse the delay. As a result, neither Hanwright and Panicca had been properly joined as parties in Sudano's appeal.

As to another respondent, D’Esposito, the Commissioner said that Sudano "attempted to effect service by affixing a copy of the petition to the door at a residence presumed to be that of ... D’Esposito." The Commissioner then noted that "The record indicates that there was one prior attempt to serve respondent D’Esposito several hours earlier on that same day" but said that she could not conclude "that two attempts at service, both within hours of each other on the same day, constitute a diligent effort."

Sudano also attempted to serve D'Esposito by mail. However the Commissioner said that "absent evidence of diligent efforts to effect service upon respondent D’Esposito, service by posting or by mail is ineffectual." The Commissioner explained that while the regulation permits service of a petition on a person "of suitable age and discretion" at the respondent’s residence where the respondent cannot be found, "there is no authority for alternative service by mail or by posting, absent express authorization from the Commissioner."

As the Commissioner did not authorize alternative service by mail, and no personal service was made upon D’Esposito, the Commissioner ruled that Sudano's appeal must be dismissed with respect to D’Esposito for improper service.

Turning to another issue, joining necessary parties, the Commissioner said that were she to accept Sudano's argument that four other teachers less senior than she were serving in positions is her tenure area, the employment rights of these four other teachers would be adversely affected were Sudano to prevail in her appeal.  Under these circumstances, theses other teachers were necessary parties and should have been joined and served as such.

Dismissing Sudano's appeal "for failure to join necessary parties,"  and for failing to properly serve other respondents, the Commissioner never reached the merits of her appeal.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Layoff, Preferred Lists and Reinstatement - A 658 page electronic publication [e-book] focusing on the laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions, concerning the rights of public employees in New York State in the event of a layoff. More information is available on the Internet at:

May 02, 2017

Hearsay testimony may be admitted in evidence in an administrative hearing

Hearsay testimony may be admitted in evidence in an administrative hearing
Demas v City of New York, 2017 NY Slip Op 03267, Appellate Division, First Department

A coach [Coach] of a school basketball team filed an Article 78 petition challenging the unsatisfactory performance rating (U-Rating) he received for the 2012-2013 school year. Supreme Court dismissed Coach's petition and Coach appealed. 

The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling, explaining that the determination that Coach's performance was unsatisfactory has a rational basis in the record.

The court said that the record indicated that while under his coaching and supervision, Coach's players "engaged in a pattern of profane and uncontrollable conduct, on and off the court, which included yelling profanities, making offensive hand gestures and aggressively interacting with the crowd during basketball games."

The Appellate Division also noted that on at least one occasion, "security agents had to escort the opposing team from the premises."

One of the issues raised by Coach in his petition was that the hearing officer had relied on "hearsay testimony" in sustaining the U-Rating he was given.

Hearsay testimony is testimony given by an individual who testifies under oath about what he or she has heard from others rather than testifying about that which he or she had personally witnessed. Although typically barred in a criminal trial, hearsay testimony is permitted in an administrative hearing and, if sufficiently relevant and probative, may constitute substantial evidence.*

Citing Paul v NYC Department of Education, 146 AD3d 705, the Appellate Division, rejecting Coach's contention that hearsay testimony should not have been admitted at the hearing, holding that the hearing officer "was entitled to rely on hearsay" in sustaining the U-Rating give Coach.

* In Gray v Adduci, 73 NY2d 741, the Court of Appeals said that it was well established that "hearsay evidence can be the basis of an administrative determination."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

May 01, 2017

A Tweet may constitutes an assault and other electronic triggers resulting in litigation

A Tweet may constitutes an assault and other electronic triggers resulting in litigation

In this age of voice mail and e-mail, it is relatively easy for an unhappy employee to leave a message for a supervisor and avoid a direct confrontation. As the Tracy decision  [Tracy v Comm. of Labor, App. Div., 256 AD2d 800] indicates,* leaving a “vulgar and threatening message” on a superior’s voice mail will be treated as though the employee had made the offending statements in the supervisor’s presence. Tracy was denied unemployment insurance benefits following her termination after threatening her supervisor.

Nicole Black, Esq., writing in her LawBlog Sui Generis, reports a "tweeting event" that resulted in an individual being arrested and charged with committing a hate crime as the result of the tweeting. Ms. Black reports:

"Sometimes a tweet is just a tweet in the online world, and other times it can amount to an assault in the 'real' world. At least, that’s the difficult lesson learned by John Rayne Rivello, a Maryland man who was indicted in Texas and charged with the hate crime, Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, in violation of PC 22.02(a)(2)."** The Grand Jury’s indictment alleged that on December 16, 2016, Rivello “intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly caused bodily injury to Kurt Eichenwald, a disabled person…by inducing a seizure with an animated strobe image, knowing that the complainant was susceptible to seizures and that such animations are capable of causing seizures, and said defendant did use and exhibit a deadly weapon, to wit: a Tweet and a Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), and an Electronic Device and Hands, during the commission of the assault…And further that the Defendant did intentionally select said Kurt Eichnewald primarily because of the said Defendant’s prejudice or bias against a group identified by race, ancestry, or religion, namely: persons of Jewish faith or descent.”

Employers have been sued for alleged defamation of an employee founded on postings made on the employer's web site as the decision in Firth v State of New York, 98 NY2d 365, demonstrates.***

The Office of the State Inspector General distributed a report entitled The Best Bang for Their Buck, in which Firth's management style was criticized at a press conference.  On the same day, the State Education Department posted an executive summary of the report with links to the full text of the report on its Government Locator Internet site.

As characterized by the Court of Appeals, the central issue in Firth's appeal concerned how "defamation jurisprudence, developed in New York courts in connection with traditional, i.e., printed, mass media communications, applies to communications in a new medium -- cyberspace -- in the modern Information Age" insofar as the statute of limitations for bringing such a law suit is concerned.

Other examples of such types of litigation include Murphy v Herfort140 A.D.2d 415, litigation resulting from communications between administrators, while Missek-Falkoff v Keller, 153 A.D.2d 841, is an example of a case in which one employee sued another employee claiming that the contents of a memorandum from the second employee to a superior concerning a "problem" with the coworker constituted libel. 

Allegations of defamation may also arise following an employee's former employer supplying information to a prospective employer concerning the individual in response to a request for "references." Buxton v Plant City, 57 LW 2649, provides an example of this type of complaint.

** Ms. Black's article 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 NYPPL and, or, its staff and contributors 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.
Copyright 2009-2023 - Public Employment Law Press. Email: