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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The doctrine of estoppel cannot be invoked to attain eligibility for a retirement benefit if the individual does not qualify for the benefit claimed


The Doctrine of Estoppel cannot be invoked to attain eligibility for a retirement benefit if the individual does not qualify for the benefit claimed
2015 NY Slip Op 01222, Appellate Division, Third Department

A member [Retiree] of the New York State Employees Retirement System accepted an incentive for early retirement in 2010, with an effective date of retirement of May 31, 2010. More than one and one-half years later Retiree filed an application for disability retirement benefits, asserting that no one at his place of work or the Retirement System informed him about the possible availability of disability retirement benefits when he filed for "service retirement."

A Hearing Officer concluded that Retiree’s application for disability retirement benefits was not timely filed. The Comptroller adopted the findings and conclusions of the Hearing Officer and Retiree sued, contending that his application should be deemed timely — or the Retirement System should be estopped from finding it untimely — because the Retirement System failed to provide him with a summary plan description in accordance with Retirement and Social Security Law §153(3),

The Appellate Division affirmed the Comptroller’s decision, explaining:

1. The Comptroller has exclusive authority to determine all applications for retirement benefits which determination must be sustained “if it is not unreasonable" and "if the underlying factual findings are supported by substantial evidence."

2. An application for disability retirement benefits pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law [RSSL] Article 15 must be filed "within three months from the last date the member was being paid on the payroll."

3. It is undisputed that Retiree’s application for disability benefits was filed over 1½ years after his removal from the payroll on May 31, 2010’

Accordingly, said the court, “substantial evidence supports the determination that [Retiree’s] application was untimely.”

The Appellate Division also rejected Retiree’s argument that his application should be deemed timely — or the Retirement System should be estopped from finding it untimely — because the Retirement System failed to provide him with a summary plan description in accordance with RSSL §153(3) in view of the fact that the Comptroller determined that RSSL §155 “dictates that the failure to provide the plan did not ‘create, revive, extend, or otherwise affect the entitlement of a member, retired member, or a beneficiary to any retirement benefit.’"

Indeed, noted the court, even if the Retirement System provided Retiree with incomplete or inaccurate information, "[t]he doctrine of estoppel will not provide eligibility where, by statute, the individual does not qualify” for the retirement benefit claimed.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Monday, March 02, 2015

Terminating the services of a probationary employee


Terminating the services of a probationary employee
2015 NY Slip Op 01630, Appellate Division, Second Department

On September 10, prior to completion of the employee’s probationary period, the appointing authority voted to terminate the individual [PE] and on September 13 notified the PE of his termination by letter. The letter instructed PE “not to report for any further shifts” and stated that his “termination would be effective as of September 23....”

On January 22 of the year following, PE filed an Article 78 petition challenging his termination. The appointing authority moved to dismiss the proceeding as time-barred, Supreme Court granted the motion, concluding that the challenged determination became final and binding, thereby triggering the running of the statute of limitations, on September 13. PE appealed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The issue before the Appellate Division: when did the statute of limitations commenced to run: September 10? September 13? September 23?

The Appellate Division held that the statute of limitations commenced to run on September 23, explaining that where, as here, a governmental employee is not entitled to a hearing in connection with his or her discharge, the limitations period for commencing a CPLR Article 78 proceeding to challenge that discharge "runs from the notice of discharge or the effective date of discharge, if later."

The court said that although PM was notified of the termination of his probationary employment by letter dated September 13, 2013, and was told not to report for further shifts, the notice set the effective termination date of PM probationary employment as September 23, 2013. Thus, said the court, “the statute of limitations began to run on September 23” and contrary to the Supreme Court's conclusion, not PE’s "last day at work."

Suppose PM had been notified on September 13 that he was terminated effective September 13 for failure to satisfactorily complete his probationer period but that he would be continued on the payroll through close of business September 23, the end of the payroll period. Would such action result in PM’s attaining tenure by estoppel?* In a word, no!

As the Appellate Division held in Mendez v Valenti, 101 AD2d 612, as long as the termination of a probationer [in the classified service] is effected within a reasonable time, such as set to coincide with the end of the next payroll period, the courts will not deem the probationer to have obtained tenure by estoppel because of his or her continuation on the payroll following the last day of his or her probationary period.

Stated another way, the appointing authority has until the last day of the individual's probationary period to decide whether to retain the employee, extend the employee's probationary period, or to terminate the employee from his or her position. Although the effective date of the employee's removal from the payroll may occur after this date, the required notice of the termination must be delivered to the employee before close of business on the last day of his or her probationary period.

It should be noted that the general rule concerning the termination of an individual during his or her probationary period is that the probationer may be terminated at any time without “notice and hearing” after completing his or her minimum period of the probationary period and the end of his or her maximum period of probation.** As the Court of Appeals held in York v McGuire, 63 NY2d 760, "it is well settled that a probationary employee may be discharged without a hearing and without a statement of reasons" where the decision is made in good faith and not for a constitutionally impermissible purpose or reason.

However, in Scherbyn v Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, 77 NY2d 753, the Court of Appeals held that where the rules of a civil service commission specifically set out the reasons for which a probationary employee may be dismissed, the appointing authority's broad discretion with respect to terminating the services of probationers is subject to the limitations imposed by those standards. Further, a  department policy does not trump the probationary period established by law or by a rule or regulations having the force and effect of law [Yan Ping Xu v New York City Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene, 2014 NY Slip Op 07261, Appellate Division, First Department].

In addition, a collective bargaining agreement negotiated pursuant to the Taylor Law [Civil Service Law Article 14] may set out procedures to be followed by an appointing authority regarding the termination of probationary employees. For example, in Cohoes City School District v Cohoes Teachers Association, 40 NY2d 774, the Court of Appeals ruled that "contractual provisions between a teachers association and a school district can provide procedural safeguards concerning the tenure decision without offending public policy [see, also, Matter of Clarkstown Central School District, 163 AD2d 670].

* In the event a probationary employee is continued in the position beyond the maximum period of his or her probation and is not given timely notice that he or she has not satisfactorily completed the required probationary period, or that his or her probationary period has been extended as permitted by law, rule, or regulation, he or she is deemed to have attained tenure by estoppel, also referred to as “tenure by acquisition.”

** Should the appointing authority elected to terminate a probationary employee prior to his or her completing the minimum period of his or her probationary period, the individual is entitled to notice and hearing in accordance with the controlling disciplinary procedure.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Friday, February 27, 2015

A public employee’s speech as a citizen rather than as an employee protected by the First Amendment


A public employee’s speech as a citizen rather than as an employee protected by the First Amendment
Matthews v City of New York, USCA, 2nd Circuit, Civ. 13-2915

New York City Police Officer Craig Matthews sued the City of New York alleging that the City had retaliated against him for speaking to his commanding officers about an arrest quota policy at his precinct.*

A United States District Court judge granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, holding that Matthews had spoken as a public employee and not as a citizen and thus his speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

Citing Cox v Warwick Valley Central School District, 654 F3d 267, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said that the test it applied in cases in which a plaintiff asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim requires the plaintiff to establish that:

(1) his or her speech or conduct was protected by the First Amendment;

(2) the defendant took an adverse action against him or her; and

(3) there was a causal connection between this adverse action and the protected speech.

The Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the district court’s ruling, explaining that “because Matthews’s [sic] comments on precinct policy did not fall within his official duties and because he elected a channel with a civilian analogue to pursue his complaint, he spoke as a citizen.” The court then remanded the matter for further proceeding “consistent with this opinion.”

* Although not relevant to this appeal, which was limited to the narrow question of whether Matthews spoke as a citizen or as a public employee, the alleged acts of retaliation consisted of “punitive assignments, denial of overtime and leave, separation from his career-long partner, humiliating treatment by supervisors, and negative performance evaluations.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 26, 2015


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 26, 2015
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

On February 26, 2015 New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced that the following audits have been issued: 


Department of Health (DOH): Medicaid Program: Medicaid Claims Processing Activity April 1, 2013 Through September 30, 2013 (2013-S-12)
DOH’s eMedNY computer system processes Medicaid claims submitted by providers for services rendered to Medicaid-eligible recipients, and it generates payments to reimburse the providers for their claims. During the six-month period ended Sept. 30, 2013, auditors identified over $5.6 million in inappropriate or questionable Medicaid payments. By the end of the audit fieldwork, auditors recovered about $2.3 million of the overpayments identified.

Department of Labor (DOL): Assessment and Collection of Selected Fees and Penalties (Follow-Up) (2014-F-19)
An initial report issued in May 2013, determined DOL had not collected about $3.8 million in fees and penalties for the Public Work Enforcement Fund, the boiler inspection program and the asbestos abatement program. Auditors also determined DOL does not have accurate records to show who is required to pay boiler inspection and asbestos-related project fees. In a follow-up, auditors found DOL has made substantial progress in addressing the issues identified in the initial report.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): Headquarters and Capital Construction Travel and Entertainment Expenses (2013-S-47)
Auditors found MTA Headquarters and MTA Capital Construction have opportunities to strengthen controls over travel and entertainment, which could help reduce certain costs. For example, MTAHQ and MTACC could utilize federal travel guidelines (established by the U.S. General Services Administration and the U.S. Department of State) pertaining to maximum allowable lodging rates. Auditors found certain travel transactions lacked proper prior approvals, statements of purpose, or other required supporting travel documentation. Business office staff did not consistently ensure that all required approvals and supporting documents were included with employees’ travel expense reports.

New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (NYC HPD): Housing Preferences for Veterans (2014-F-14)
An initial report issued in June 2012 found that although the state Legislature had extended the right of preference for housing to many more veterans, few actually benefited due to inaction or disregard by housing companies and lax enforcement by NYC HPD. Auditors found two housing companies in Manhattan (Hamilton House and Clinton Towers) filled vacant apartments with non-veterans even though veterans had been identified on their waiting lists. In a follow-up report, auditors found NYC HPD has made progress in addressing the issues identified in the initial report and has implemented all three prior recommendations.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS):  Security and Effectiveness of Division of Criminal Justice Services’ (DCJS) Core Systems (2014-S-24)
Auditors found that OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for user access management of DCJS systems and is not operating in compliance with state cyber security policies. OITS does not have established policies and procedures for backup of key DCJS systems. Also, ITS does not have an active regional backup site, and DCJS systems are at risk for total data loss in the event of a regional disaster. Auditors also found OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for software or operating systems and changes made to these systems.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS): Security and Effectiveness of the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance System (2014-S9)
Auditors found the Unemployment Insurance System data has not yet been classified as required by the current security policy, even though 80 of the 83 unemployment insurance applications in use by the Labor Department have been deemed mission critical. The security policy indicates that all agency information should be classified on an ongoing basis based on its confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Almost two years after the transition of services, OITS still does not have a service level agreement in place governing responsibilities and services provided to human services agencies. Auditors also found that although mainframe programming changes are logged, there is no indication of when these changes have been implemented, thereby reducing accountability.

Office of Information Technology Services (OITS): Security and Effectiveness of Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) Licensing and Registration Systems (2013-S-58)
Auditors found OITS and DMV are not in compliance with the payment card industry data security standards that govern the systems that process credit card transactions. Since January 2012, neither agency has completed and submitted a required self-assessment questionnaire or third-party compliance report, which are necessary to ensure that all risks have been properly identified and mitigated. Non-compliance also exposes the state to other risks ranging from extensive fines or penalties to business disruption due to cancelled accounts and the inability to accept credit card payments. OITS does not have an established monitoring and oversight process for user access management of DMV systems and is not operating in compliance with state cybersecurity policies.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuitʹs tests for sovereign immunity


The U.S. Court of Appeals Second Circuitʹs tests for sovereign immunity
Leitner v Westchester Community College, USCA, 2nd Circuit, 14-1042-cv

An adjunct professor employed by the Westchester Community College was terminated for allegedly making offensive comments in class. She sued, contending that the Community College violated her state and federal constitutional rights.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal district court’s denial of the Community College’s motion to dismiss the professor’s complaint on grounds that the college defendants were not entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

In a ruling that instructive in that it sets out the six factors considered, and the two-part test applied, by the Second Circuit when addressing a governmental entity’s claim of sovereign immunity, the court said that in this instance:

(1) a finding of sovereign immunity would not serve the twin aims of the Eleventh Amendment, as immunity would not further the states interest in preserving its treasury, nor would it protect the integrity of the state; and

(2) Westchester Community College is not an arm of the state entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 25, 2015


Selected reports and information published by New York State's Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli on February 25, 2015
Click on text highlighted in color  to access the full report

Town of Croghan – Financial Management (Lewis County)
The board adopted budgets that relied too heavily on fund balance as a financing source and appropriated more fund balance than it had available. The board has not developed a multiyear financial plan to address long-term priorities or a policy to determine the amount of fund balance to maintain.
Town of Dickinson – Fiscal Oversight (Franklin County)
The board did not effectively oversee the town’s financial operations. The supervisor did not provide the board with adequate monthly financial reports. In addition, the town’s procedures for auditing claims were not in compliance with town law.
Johnstown Public Library – Cash Receipts (Fulton County)
Auditors were unable to determine if all collections were recorded and deposited in a timely manner and intact. This was because library officials have not established formal policies or procedures for handling and recording cash receipts.
Town of Kiantone – Town Clerk (Chautauqua County)
The town clerk did not deposit all money collected. As of June 23, 2014, the clerk had a shortage totaling $3,147. In addition, the clerk did not record, deposit or remit money collected in an accurate and timely manner. Auditors also found the board did not provide adequate oversight of the clerk’s operations.
Town of Lewisboro – Financial Condition (Westchester County)
The town’s general, sewer and water funds all had a deficit fund balance at some point from 2009 through 2013. While officials were able to eliminate accumulated deficits in these funds by the end of 2013, they have not developed a multiyear financial plan to help monitor operations and guard against future operating deficits.
Village of Mill Neck – Financial Management (Nassau County)  The board has not established adequate policies and procedures or provided guidance on maintaining a reasonable level of fund balance. As a result, the village has accumulated excessive fund balance in its general fund that resulted, at least in part, from unrealistic budget estimates.
Saratoga Springs Public Library – Claims Processing (Saratoga County)
Internal controls over the claims audit process were not designed appropriately. For example, not all claims included signatures from the director or department heads to indicate that goods and services were actually received. In addition, the board assigned the responsibility to audit and approve all claims for payment to the president.
Town of Sweden – Justice Court (Monroe County)
The justices do not provide adequate oversight of court operations to ensure the accurate and complete collection, deposit, recording and reporting of court moneys in a timely manner. The justices have not adequately segregated the duties of the clerks and do not regularly review accounting records, bank statements, or monthly reconciliations and accountability analyses.
Town of Tyrone – Financial Management (Schuyler County)
Town officials have not developed multiyear financial plans, policies, or procedures to govern budgeting practices or the level of unexpended surplus funds to maintain. The board adopted budgets that were not based on sound and realistic estimates of revenues and expenditures. Poor budgeting, along with overspending in the highway fund, has caused cash flow problems, which required inter-fund transfers and advances from the general fund to pay bills over the last several years.
Town of West Union – Board Oversight and Cash Receipts and Disbursements (Steuben County)
The board has not provided adequate oversight to safeguard town assets. Specifically, the board did not adopt structurally balanced budgets. For fiscal years 2011 through 2013, the town had excessive fund balances in both the general fund and highway fund. In addition, the board did not audit the books and records of any of the town officers and employees that handled cash.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Refusing to answer work-related questions in the course of an investigation


Refusing to answer work-related questions in the course of an investigation
2015 NY Slip Op 01573, Appellate Division, First Department

The question of compelling a public officer or employee to testify or risk termination was considered by the Court of Appeals in Matt v LaRocca, 71 NY2d 154, cert denied 486 US 1007. In the Matt case the Court of Appeals held that when a public employee is threatened with termination if he or she refuses to testify under oath, the testimony given by the individual is "cloaked with use immunity," noting that "when a public employee is compelled to answer questions or face removal upon refusing to do so, the responses are cloaked with immunity automatically, and neither the compelled statements nor their fruits may thereafter be used against the employee in a subsequent criminal prosecution."

An attorney serving with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) was terminated from his position. The administrative law judge, after a disciplinary hearing, had found the attorney guilty of misconduct and recommended the individual be terminated from employment. The appointing authority adopted the findings and recommendation of the administrative law judge and dismissed the attorney.

The attorney appealed but the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the appointing authority’s determination. The penalty imposed, said the court, “does not shock our sense of fairness” given, among other things, the attorney’s refusal to appear for duly scheduled investigatory interviews even after receiving use immunity.

The court explained that substantial evidence supported the determination that attorney had engaged in misconduct by representing a tenant in litigation against the New York City Housing Authority while employed as an attorney for HPD, by “using [HPD’s] resources in the course of that representation, and by refusing to comply with directives to appear for investigatory interviews.

The Appellate Division said that although the attorney “is correct that a violation of New York City Charter §2604(b)(7) was not established given the absence of any evidence that he received any compensation for representing the tenant ... there was substantial evidence that [the attorney] violated other laws and orders in connection with that representation, including New York City Charter 2604(b)(2) and HPD Commissioner Order 2009-1(4)(a).”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Deputy Chief Investment Officer named to the New York State Common Retirement Fund


New Deputy Chief Investment Officer named to the New York State Common Retirement Fund
Source: Office of the State Comptroller

On February 24, 2015 New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the appointment of Anastasia Titarchuk to the position of Deputy Chief Investment Officer for the $181.7 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund. Ms. Titarchuk previously served the Fund as Director of Absolute Return Strategies.


Ms. Titarchuk has 17 years of experience across diverse sectors of the financial services industry, including traditional equity and fixed income markets, as well as derivatives and alternatives. Prior to joining the Fund in 2011, she served as Director of International Derivatives Sales at Bank of America and has held important roles with Lehman Brothers/Barclays Capital and JPMorgan. Titarchuk graduated Summa Cum Laude from Yale University with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics.


Letter sent to Acting State Commissioner of Education Berlin concerning teacher evaluation


Letter sent to Acting State Commissioner of Education Berlin concerning teacher evaluation
Source: Office of the Governor

On February 23, 2015 Director of State Operations Jim Malatras sent a letter to State Education Department Acting Commissioner Elizabeth R. Berlin regarding the teacher evaluation process.

The letter can be viewed on the Internet at:



Monday, February 23, 2015

Determining seniority of probationary employees in the event of a layoff


Determining seniority of probationary employees in the event of a layoff
Kenny v Rockland County Supt. of Highways, 2015 NY Slip Op 01453, Appellate Division, Second Department

Kevin J. Kenny was appointed to the position of Engineer II [Field] by the Rockland County Highway Department in April 2001. In August 2005, after serving a 26-week probationary period, he obtained tenure in that title as Engineer II [Field].

In December 2011 Kenny’s position was reclassified to an Engineer III position and in January 2012, Kenny filed an application for the Engineer III position and was nominated for a noncompetitive promotion* to the title of Engineer III. Kenny received a salary increase commensurate with his promotion to Engineer III and his appointment was described as "permanent, but serving probationary period."

In late June 2012, Kenny was told that a number of positions had been abolished by the County Legislature and that, although his position was not among those abolished, another employee with permanent status had greater rights to the Engineer III position than he had. On July 27, 2012, Kenny was terminated from his employment.

Contending that his appointment to the Engineer III position was a reclassification of his job title, not a promotion, thereby not requiring any new probationary period, Kenny challenged the Department’s determination. The Department, on the other hand, argued that Kenny’s appointment to the Engineer III position “constituted both a reclassification and a promotion” and that Kenny’s termination complied with applicable law.** After conducting a hearing, the Supreme Court granted Kenny’s petition, annulled the Department's determination, and reinstated the him to the position of Engineer II (Field) with back pay and benefits.

On appeal the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling, on the law, and dismissed Kenny’s petition on the merits.

The Appellate Division explained that “Where, as here, an existing civil service position is reclassified, such reclassification is governed by Civil Service Law §22”*** and, contrary to the Supreme Court's determination, the evidence at the hearing established that the procedural requirements for reclassifying the [Kenny’s] position from Engineer II (Field) to Engineer III were properly met.

Further, said the court, “contrary to [Kenny’s] contention, the reclassification also constituted a promotion, as it encompassed certain out-of-title duties which he had begun to perform after having received his engineering license in 2009 ... and resulted in a salary increase from a field position (Engineer II) to a management position (Engineer III), and a change in union representation to the Rockland Association of Management.”

The Appellate Division’s conclusion: the determination terminating Kenny’s employment had a rational basis, complied with due process requirements, and was not arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion.

* See Civil Service Law §52.7.

** N.B. §80.1 of the Civil Service Law that provides “Notwithstanding the provisions of this subdivision, however, upon the abolition or reduction of positions in the competitive class, incumbents holding the same or similar positions who have not completed their probationary service shall be suspended or demoted, as the case may be, before any permanent incumbents, and among such probationary employees the order of suspension or demotion shall be determined as if such employees were permanent incumbents [emphasis supplied]..

*** §22 of the Civil Service Law, in pertinent part, provides: “Any such new position shall be created or any such existing position reclassified only with the title approved and certified by the commission.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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