O'Neill v. Pfau

Decision Date07 January 2011
PartiesThomas P. O'NEILL, as President of the Suffolk County Employees Assoc., Inc., Anthony Cetta, Donald Curaba, Mario D'Amaro Carmine Lorenzo and Anthony Procida, Petitioners, For a Judgment pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice law and Rules, v. Hon. Ann PFAU, as Chief Administrative Judge of the Office of Court Administration, State of New York-Unified Court System, Respondent.
CourtNew York Supreme Court

David Schlachter, Esq., Uniondale, for Petitioners.

John W. McConnell, Esq., New York, for Respondent.


It is ORDERED that the second amended petition in this special proceeding, is granted in part and denied in part; and it is further

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the second amended petition in this special proceeding (# 001) by petitioners is granted to the extent that the matter is remanded 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; and it is further

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the second amended petition in this special proceeding on behalf of Donald Curaba, who is a NYS Court Officer Sergeant and those similarly situated members of the petitioner Association, is dismissed; and it is further

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that this constitutes the decision and judgment of the court and that petitioners shall recover from respondent such costs and disbursements as shall be taxed and allowed by the clerk upon submission of a bill of costs and petitioners shall have execution therefor.

This special proceeding, commenced by several individual members and on behalf of similarly situated members of the Suffolk County Court Employees Association, Inc.,1 challenges a portion of the respondent, Chief Administrative Judge's (CAJ) January 8, 2004 and the December 22, 2004 amendments to the Classification Plan with respect to the court security series.2

Historically, by virtue of the Unified Court Budget Act of 1976, the State assumed responsibility for local court costs andall locally paid court employees were transferred to the State payroll (L. 1978, ch. 966, as amended; codified as Judiciary Law § 39). By virtue of a constitutional amendment adopted in November 1977, the power to adopt a classification structure for employees was assumed by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals ( see N.Y. Const., art. VI, § 28[b] ) and he appoints a Chief Administrator, or, if a judicial officer, a Chief Administrative Judge, to supervise the operations of the court system ( see N.Y. Const., art. VI, § 28[a], [b] ). The first Classification Plan for nonjudicial employees was adopted by Administrative Order dated May 28, 1979. The title for each position sets forth duties andresponsibilities and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform those duties and responsibilities.

Prior to January 8, 2004, court security titles were classified into two parallel command lines. For purposes of this proceeding, Court Officers were designated as Judicial Grade 16 (JG-16) and Court Officer Sergeants were designated as Judicial Grade 17 (JG-17) ( see Exs. A and B, aff. of Lawrence K. Marks, dated June 8, 2009). On January 8, 2004, an Administrative Order was adopted by the then Chief Administrative Judge ( see Ex. I, aff. of Lawrence K. Marks, dated June 8, 2009) which amended the Classification Plan and combined the two command lines to form a unified command line. The Administrative Order adopted eight new title standards, only two of which are the subject of this proceeding. By virtue of that Order, Court Officers became New York State Court Officers (JG-17) and Court Officer Sergeants became New York State Court Officer Sergeants (JG-19) ( see Ex. I, aff. of Lawrence K. Marks, dated June 8, 2009).

The intent of the new security series was to eliminate the bifurcated approach to security by adopting titles that apply to all trial courts. The titles of Court Officer (JG-16) and Senior Court Officer (JG-18) were abolished. A new trainee title was established and classified as NYS Court Officer-Trainee (JG-14).

Thereafter, the then CAJ, by new Administrative Order dated December 22, 2004, amended the Classification Plan with regardto four new title standards ( see Ex. K, aff. of Lawrence K. Marks, dated June 8, 2009), which was made retroactive to January 8, 2004, the date of the initial Administrative Order and the new Classification Plan for the Security titles. However, the only material change of this new Order was the reallocation of the position of New York State Court Officer from JG-17 to JG-18. Petitioners repeatedly claim that the new Order also reallocated the position of New York State Court Officer Sergeant from JG-18 to JG-19 ( see second amended petition dated March 17, 2009, par, 10). However, this Court can find no support for that allegation in the various papers submitted in support and in opposition to this proceeding. All papers consistently show that the Sergeant grade went to JG-19 by virtue of the January 8, 2004 amendment to the Classification Plan and not the December 22, 2004 Administrative Order.

While the affidavit from Lawrence K. Marks, the Administrative Director for the Unified Court System, fails to offer a reason for the retroactive change of the position of New York State Court Officer from JG-17 to JG-18, the Reply Memorandum, submitted on behalf of the Chief Administrative Judge, offers the following acknowledgment (p. 8):

After initially allocating the NYS Court Officer title to the JG-17 salary grade, the Chief Administrative Judge determined that the JG-18 salary grade was more appropriate, because the NYS Court Officer title is roughly comparable to the former Senior Court Officer title.

On April 6, 2005, the respondents issued pay checks for the pay period ending March 23, 2005, reflecting the salary adjustments that occurred by virtue of the new Administrative Order of December 22, 2004 ( see Ex. E, aff. of Anthony Cetta, March 19, 2009). This proceeding was commenced on July 22, 2005, within four months of issuance of the adjusted pay checks.

Petitioners contend that each of the new titles, that is, NYS Court Officer and NYS Sergeant, perform the same duties of the position in the security title series that formerly existed and they seek a salaryincrement that reflects continuous service in titles that they held prior thereto ( see Judiciary Law § 37[3] ). Petitioners also contest the retroactivity of the December 22, 2010 Administrative Order and contend that the retroactive allocation of the titles denied them the salary increases they were entitled to pursuant to Judiciary Law § 37(11). The Chief Administrative Judge contends that the duties are substantially different from the prior titles and thatthe court officers are not entitled to a continuous service credit. The current Chief Administrative Judge also contends that she has broad discretionary authority to deem the subsequent modification to be part of the original reclassification and that a rational basis exists for making that determination.

The first issue to be decided is whether the change in the Court Security Title Series, with regard to the two positions in question, constituted a reallocation of the positions, as contended by the petitioners, or a reclassification of the positions, as claimed by the Chief Administrative Judge. The Court will first examine the Court Officer position.

Both parties agree that a reallocation of a title occurs when a position is allocated to a new salary grade without a change in the duties of the position and that, in such an event, Judiciary Law § 37(11) sets forth the procedure for the calculation of salary upon reallocation. It is also understood that a reclassification of a title occurs when a position is reclassified to a new title or salary grade based upon a substantial change in the duties of the position and that Judiciary Law § 37(5) is used to recalculate the salary upon reclassification. It is also agreed that the predecessor respondent implemented the January 8, 2004 Order as if it created new positions and reclassified the positions pursuant to Judiciary Law § 37(5). Furthermore, Judiciary Law § 37(3)(c) provides that when a position is reclassified to a title with a higher salary grade, with no substantial change in duties from the former title, the employee receives credit for time worked in the lower title for purposes of additional increments.

Petitioner Anthony Cetta submitted an affidavit which states that as a NYS Court Officer he is performing the same work that he performed in his former title as a Court Officer. The second amended verified petition supports the claim. At oral argument, the Court offered to hold a hearing on the issue of whether the titles perform the same duties and have the same responsibilities as the titles that existed prior to the January 8, 1994 reclassification. However, the respondent, who contends that the reclassified titles are substantially different from the duties and responsibilities performed by the prior titles, also asserts that the even if the daily duties of the court officers before and after reclassification have not changed, that their legal job duties and responsibilities have. "Classification and reallocations are based upon changes in titles, as reflected in the title standards, and not upon particular duties of a given individual in any given title at any particular point in time" ( see par. 22, aff. of Lawrence K.Marks, dated June 8, 2009) Both parties agree that the legal duties are established by the title standards for each position ( see Matter of Gavigan v. McCoy, 37 N.Y.2d 548, 551, 375 N.Y.S.2d 858, 338 N.E.2d 517 [1975], see also Judiciary Law § 39[8][a] ).

The Court therefore undertook a detailed review of the titles in question and finds that...

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