Amutis v. Marks (In re William Dobbins, Court Emps. Ass'n, Inc.)

Decision Date11 January 2017
Docket NumberINDEX NO.: 1165/15
Citation2017 NY Slip Op 30144 (U)
PartiesIn the Matter of the Application of WILLIAM DOBBINS, as President of the SUFFOLK COUNTY COURT EMPLOYEES ASSOCIATION, INC., WILLIAM G. AMUTIS, DONALD J. BALDI, EILEEN A. CONRAD, JOHN R. EBERHARDT IV, CARLOS G. FIGUEROA, JANET D. GOCHMAN, MICHELLE L. KERNS-AZZONE, KATHRYN M. KOCUREK, MARINA A. LYNCH, DIANE E. MONTES, DIANE PARNES, MICHAEL A. PARISI, CONNIE F. RABER, DANIELE G. RICCARDELLA, RICHARD ROCCIO, NICHOLAS J. TABILE, VINCENT D. VALLARIO, EREC B. BURGESS, TARALEE FLEMING, DANIEL R. GENTILE, MARY L. MINGOIA, DONNA M. MYLETT, GLADYS ROSADO and ELIZABETH SEIBERT, Petitioners, For a Judgment pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules v. LAWRENCE K. MARKS, as Chief Administrative Judge of the Office of Court Administration, State of New York-Unified Court System, Respondent.
CourtNew York Supreme Court

Short Form Order

PRESENT: HON. PAUL J. BAISLEY, JR., J.S.C.

MOTION DATE: 6/30/2016

MOTION NO.: 001 CASEDISP

PETITIONERS' ATTORNEY:

LAW OFFICES OF

DAVID SCHLACHTER

626 RXR Plaza

Uniondale, New York 11556

RESPONDENT'S ATTORNEY:

JOHN W. McCONNELL

25 Beaver Street, 11th Floor

New York, New York 10004

Upon the following papers numbered 1 to 50 read on this Article 78 petition: Notice of Motion/ Order to Show Cause and supporting papers 1-44; Notice of Cross Motion and supporting papers___; Answering Affidavits and supporting papers 45-50; Replying Affidavits and supporting papers___; Other___; (and after hearing counsel in support and opposed to the motion) it is,

ORDERED that the petition is granted to the extent that the first cause of action on behalf of petitioners William G. Amutis, Donald J. Baldi, Eileen A. Conrad, John R. Eberhardt IV, Carlos G. Figueroa, Janet D. Gochman, Michelle L. Kerns-Azzone, Kathryn M. Kocurek, Marina A. Lynch, Diane E. Montes, Diane Parnes, Michael A. Parisi, Connie F. Raber, Daniele G. Ricardella, Richard Roccio, Nicholas J. Tabile and Vincent D. Vallario is remanded to the respondent Chief Administrative Judge for further consideration and action in accordance with the decision in O'Neill v. Pfau and the instant decision, order and judgment of this Court; and it is further ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the second cause of action on behalf of Erec B. Burgess, Taralee Fleming, Daniel R. Gentile, Mary L. Mingoia, Donna M. Mylett, Gladys Rosado, and Elizabeth Seibert is dismissed.

This Article 78 proceeding was commenced on January 22, 2015 by the then-President of the Suffolk County Court Employees Association ("SCCEA"), Christopher Manning, and 24 bargaining unit members employed by respondent in the titles of NYS Court Officer and Court Officer on December 22, 2004, against the then-Chief Administrative Judge of the Office of Court Administration, State of New York Unified Court System ("UCS"), Hon. A. Gail Prudenti. Pursuant to a stipulation of the parties, "so-ordered" by the undersigned on May 17, 2016, the current president of the SCCEA, William Dobbins, and current Chief Administrative Judge of the UCS, Hon. Lawrence K. Marks, were substituted in place and in stead of Christopher Manning and Justice Prudenti, respectively.

The underlying facts that are relevant to this proceeding are as follows:

By Administrative Order dated January 8, 2004 (AO/072/04), the Chief Administrative Judge reclassified the Court Security Title Series of UCS, abolishing the distinction between command lines assigned to courts of limited jurisdiction and those assigned to courts of general jurisdiction. Among other things, the Administrative Order eliminated the titles of Court Officer (JG-16) and Senior Court Officer (JG-18) and established the new titles of NYS Court Officer, which was then assigned a Judicial Grade of 17 (JG-17), and NYS Court Officer - Trainee (which was assigned a Judicial Grade of 14). Individuals holding the title of Court Officer (JG-16) who had two or more years of service were placed in the title of NYS Court Officer, and were advanced from salary grade JG-16 to JG-17. Court Officers who had not yet completed their mandatory two-year training retained their title and salary grade until they became eligible for promotion to NYS Court Officer.

On December 22, 2004, the Chief Administrative Judge issued a second Administrative Order (AO/534/04) that reallocated the NYS Court Officer title from the JG-17 salary grade to the JG-18 salary grade. The Administrative Order also made the grade change retroactive to January 8, 2004. The effect of making the reallocation retroactive was that all individuals formerly holding the Court Officer (JG-16) title who were reclassified as NYS Court Officers (JG-17) on January 8, 2004 and then reallocated to JG-18 on December 22, 2004 received their salary increase from the JG-16 salary grade to the JG-18 salary grade in a single increment rather than in two increments, which resulted in their receiving less money.

As a result of this and other perceived inequities not relevant in the instant proceeding, the then-president of the SCCEA commenced an Article 78 proceeding in this Court under Index No. 15871/05, Matter of O'Neill v Pfau (hereinafter, "O'Neill"). By decision, order and judgment dated January 7, 2011, this Court (WHELAN, J.) determined, as relevant herein, that so much of the December 22, 2004 Administrative Order as made the reallocation retroactive to January 8, 2004 was arbitrary, and without support in the record or in the Judiciary Law, and accordinglyremanded the matter to the respondent Chief Administrative Judge "for further consideration consistent with the decision of the court, on behalf of the petitioners who are NYS Court Officers and those similarly situated members of the petitioner Association."1

The O'Neill judgment was thereafter appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department, which affirmed Justice Whelan's determination that the retroactive application of the salary adjustment was without rational basis in the record, and that petitioners were financially harmed by it and were entitled to the relief sought as to that order (i.e., a determination that the application of the December 22, 2004 order was prospective only) (Matter of O'Neill v Pfau, 101 AD2d 731 [2d Dept 2012]).

On June 12, 2014, the Court of Appeals, inter alia, affirmed so much of the Appellate Division's order as found that because the record contains no explanation or rationale for the retroactive application of the December 2004 order, petitioners demonstrated their entitlement to the relief sought as to that order (Matter of O'Neill v Pfau, 23 NY3d 993 [2014]).

In September and October of 2014, purportedly in accordance with the decision and judgment of the Suffolk County Supreme Court in O'Neill v Pfau, as modified and affirmed by the Appellate Division, Second Department, and affirmed by the Court of Appeals, UCS made retroactive wage and interest payments to 127 individuals who "were counted as participating in the O'Neill litigation" - i.e., those individuals "serving in the NYS Court Officer title, and assigned to Suffolk County, on December 22, 2004" (Affidavit of Lawrence K. Marks, sworn to May 29, 2015, ¶13).

On January 22, 2015, the then-president of the SCCEA commenced this Article 78 proceeding on behalf of 17 individuals who were serving in the NYS Court Officer title on December 22, 2004 but were transferred to Suffolk County after that date (the "transferees"), as well as on behalf of seven individuals hired in the title of Court Officer (JG-16) who had completed less than two years of service as of January 8, 2004 and did not get promoted to the NYS Court Officer title (JG-18) until after December 22, 2004. None of the 24 petitioners received retroactive payments or salary adjustments in September/October 2014 when 127 other Suffolk County NYS Court Officers received theirs.

Petitioners allege that the transferees are within the class of people included as petitioners in O'Neill and that the determination of respondent to exclude them from the class was arbitrary and capricious. Petitioners' first cause of action seeks an order directing respondent to recalculate the salaries of the transferees to reflect that the reallocation was effective on December 22, 2004, and to make retroactive salary payments to them with interest. Petitioners' second cause of action seeks an order directing that respondent include the seven petitioners who were designated as Court Officer (JG-16) on January 8, 2004 in the reallocation and make retroactive salary payments to them with interest.

Respondent disputes that the 24 petitioners herein are within the class of persons entitled to benefit from the holding of O'Neill, because they were not NYS Court Officers in Suffolk County when O'Neill was commenced, they did not participate in the O'Neill matter, and they didnot separately bring suit to challenge the Administrative Order. Respondent argues that petitioners' claims have been time-barred for nine years and should be dismissed.

With respect to the transferees, this Court is constrained to agree with petitioners. As pleaded in paragraph 1 of the Second Amended Petition, dated October 21, 2010, the O'Neill proceeding was brought on behalf of Thomas P. O'Neill himself, as President of SCCEA, "and on behalf of bargaining unit members employed by the Respondent [UCS] as NYS Court Officers...on January 42, 2004 and/or December 22, 2004" [emphasis...

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