The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Elfvin S.U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff, Paul R. Hayden (Hayden), commenced this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 ("§1983 ") alleging that defendants, while acting under color of law, deprived him of his property interest in disability retirement benefits without due process of law. He seeks declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§2201 and 2202. Defendants, sued both individually and in their official capacity, are the Comptroller for the State of New York ("Hevesi"), the Sheriff for the County of Erie ("Gallivan") and the Superintendent of the Erie County Holding Center and Jail Management Division of the Erie County Sheriff's Department ("Gipson"). Where appropriate, Gallivan and Gipson shall hereinafter collectively referred to as "the County defendants". The County defendants have interposed an answer which contains a cross-claim for indemnification and contribution against Hevesi. In lieu of an answer, Hevesi has moved for dismissal of the complaint pursuant to F.R.Cv.P.12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #7) and has also moved for dismissal of the cross-claim pursuant to F.R.Cv.P.12(b)(6) (Dkt. #12).
Plaintiff's complaint alleges the following facts. He began his employment at the Erie County Holding Center (a division of the Erie County Sheriff's Office) as a Civil Service Deputy Sheriff Officer in December, 1985. Beginning at that time, and continuing at all times during his employment, he participated in the NYS Retirement System, contributing a percentage of his gross earnings in order to maintain membership in the Retirement System. On May 7, 1999 he was injured in an automobile accident. Although he attempted to return to work on one occasion, he was unable to do so and on or about May 21, 1999, he was placed on unpaid medical leave. On or about July 27, 2000, while still on medical leave, he received a letter from the Erie County Sheriff's office advising him that his employment was going to be terminated as of August 1, 2000 pursuant to New York State Civil Service Law Section 73 ("the original notice"). He further claims that, although the letter did inform him that he could be reinstated to his position within one year from his termination, it did not contain any of the attachments or enclosures to which it referred and, more specifically, did not provide him with any information concerning his eligibility, rights or limitations with respect to applying for disability retirement benefits, to wit - that he had twelve (12) months within which to make a timely application for such benefits (Accord New York Retirement and Social Security Law ("NYRSSL") Section 605(b)(2) ). Upon inquiry to the Sheriff's office, the letter was re-sent, again without any attachments or enclosures.
On or about September 3, 2000, plaintiff received what he described as a "final paycheck" from the Sheriff's Department indicating a pay period ending August 25, 2000, with an apparent contribution to the NYS Retirement System reflected therein, leading him to believe that his employment was not terminated on the date stated in the original notice.
Plaintiff claims that he did not learn of his right to apply for disability retirement benefits until August, 2001 when he met with a representative from Hevesi's office on another matter and, as result, he immediately thereafter applied for the benefits, on August 28, 2001. He claims that the County defendants provided incorrect information to Hevesi's office that resulted in a denial of benefits based on untimeliness, depriving him of approximately $15,000.00 per year in disability retirement benefits to which he is entitled.
He requested and was provided an administrative hearing on October 15, 2003 with respect to this denial of benefits. While a decision in the matter was pending, the original hearing officer retired and the officer who replaced her decided the matter upon review of transcript and exhibits which he did not understand. The decision, which was issued on September 18, 2004 and upheld by Hevesi on October 14, 2004, found that plaintiff's application for benefits was not timely. Plaintiff received a copy of this decision on October 18, 2004, more than a year after the hearing.
The gravamen of plaintiff's claim is that he had a "property interest", within the meaning of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in applying for and/or receiving disability retirement benefits and that defendants deprived him of that property interest without the process to which he is constitutionally due. Defendants deprived him of this property interest in failing to provide him with minimally reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful way relative to (1) the manner in which he was notified of his termination, (2) the information provided (or not provided) regarding application for disability retirement benefits and (3) the appeal process upon the denial of such benefits.
More particularly, plaintiff claims that the time limitation on his right to apply for disability retirement benefits was triggered by State action, to wit - the Sheriff's office's termination of his employment. He further claims that he should be entitled to receive notice of those time limitations and the defendants should be obligated to provide them. As such, the County defendants' failure to provide such notice resulted in plaintiff being unaware of the time limitation and ultimately deprived him of his rights to receive such benefits. Further, the state defendant, Hevesi, failed to provide a prompt hearing, timely decision, or neutral and informed hearing officer with respect to the appeal of the denial of such benefits.
Plaintiff also claims that New York State Civil Service Law Section 73, on its face and as applied, does not comport with due process because it does not require employers to provide employees with reasonable notification of their rights and time limits regarding possible disability retirement benefits.
Defendant Hevesi moves to dismiss the entire complaint on the ground that this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction because plaintiff had a state court action based on the same subject matter pending when he filed the instant action. In the alternative, he seeks to dismiss the First, Second and Third causes of action to the extent that they seek relief against Hevesi for alleged inadequacies in the termination notice as any claim based on that allegation is time barred and also because the First, Second and Third causes of action fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Hevesi seeks to dismiss the Sheriff's office's cross-claims on the grounds that claims brought pursuant to §1983 do not establish any rights for indemnification and/or contribution and that Hevesi is nevertheless entitled to immunity regarding his adjudicative responsibilities.