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In re Application of O'Neill

Supreme Court, New York County

April 19, 2013

In the Matter of the Application of MARIA O'NEILL, Petitioner,
v.
THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION; PRESIDENT OF THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION; and THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION PERSONNEL REVIEW BOARD; CHAIR OP THE NEW YORK CITY HEALTH AND HOSPITALS CORPORATION PERSONNEL REVIEW BOARD, Respondents. For a Judgment Pursuant to CPLR 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, Index No. 102980/12

Unpublished Opinion

Peter H. Moulton, J.S.C.

In this Article 78 petition, petitioner Maria O'Neill, a former employee of respondents, seeks a judgment finding that respondents' failure to afford her a hearing before her request for a reinstatement to her job was denied, was in violation of the New York Civil Service law, and was arbitrary and capricious, and that she should be entitled to a full hearing to contest the denial of her reinstatement. She also seeks a judgment finding that respondents' alleged failure to promulgate rules and regulations entitling persons terminated from respondents' employ......... to a posttermination hearing is in violation of Civil Service Law, and arbitrary and capricious, and that respondents should be required by a judgment of this court to promulgate rules and regulations entitling a terminated employee to have a posttermination hearing. Respondents cross-move for a judgment dismissing the complaint.

I. Background

Petitioner was employed by respondent New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) in the title of Patient Care Associate, at the Bronx Healthcare Network, Jacobi Medical Center, at 1400 Pelham Parkway South, Bronx, New York, commencing her employment in March 2007. HHC provides an array of medical and mental health services throughout the City. Respondent New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Personnel Review Board (PRB) is the administrative agency created by HHC to review HHC personnel matters.

Petitioner was injured on the job on July 16, 2009, when she tripped on a cable. She suffered injuries to her right leg, knee, head and back.

Pursuant to HHC Personnel Rules and Regulations Rule 7.3.4, petitioner was entitled to a year's leave of absence, having sustained an on-the-job injury. Petitioner commenced her leave of absence in August 2009. By letter dated August 9, 2010, HHC informed petitioner that she would be terminated from her position as of September 9, 2010, pursuant to Section 7.3.4, "unless you submit medical documentation prior to that date stating that you are fit to return to full duty." Petition, Ex. B.

On August 12, 2010, petitioner filed a Notice of Appeal to PRB. Id., Ex C. On September 1, 2011, petitioner forwarded a medical record to PRB, which consisted of a letter from petitioner's physician, Dr. Paul Kubiak, recording an impression of "[l]ow back pain with right knee pain." Regardless, Dr. Kubiak stated in the letter that petitioner was "currently able to perform regular work duties based on exam, diagnostic testing and medical experience." Id., Ex. D.

Petitioner submitted more medical records on November 9, 2011, as requested by PRB. The submission consisted of Dr. Kubiak's records starting in March 2011. Following his initial examination, Dr. Kubiak remarked that petitioner was "currently unable to perform regular work duties based on exam, diagnostic testing and medical experience." Id., Ex. E. He recommended physical therapy. However, by a final, undated letter incorporated into the records, Dr. Kubiak reported, as above, that after a course of physical therapy, petitioner was able to return to work. Id.

In a letter dated December 14, 2011, PRB requested that petitioner be examined by a physician from PRB's panel. Id., Ex. F. Petitioner complied.

PRB provided a copy of its physician's report to petitioner in a letter dated February 10, 2012. In the report, PRB's physician, Dr. Benjamin A. Nachamie, described his examination of petitioner, and noted that, when asked to squat, petitioner "complained of severe pain in her back, " which was "inconsistent" with the rest of her examination, which had been largely normal. Dr. Nachamie concluded that petitioner, "despite a long period of therapy, has not resolved to the point where she could perform all the duties of her occupation and that is on the basis of the above findings which include severe back pain on a simple knee bend." Id.

In a decision dated February 14, 2012, PRB denied petitioner's appeal to be reinstated, based on petitioner's doctor's reports, and the report of Dr. Nachamie. Complaint, Ex. H. Petitioner responded with a letter dated February 27, 2012, demanding a hearing, pursuant to New York Unconsolidated Laws Chapter 214-A, § 9 (1) (HHC's enabling statute) and New York Civil Service Law § 71.[1] Complaint, Ex. I. In a letter dated June 1, 2012, PRB denied petitioner's request for a hearing, disagreeing with petitioner's claim that the Unconsolidated Laws, Civil Service Law, or HHC's Personnel Rules and .Regulations required a hearing in petitioner's case. Id., Ex. J.

II. Discussion

In reviewing an administrative agency determination, [courts] must ascertain whether there is a rational basis for the action in question or whether it is arbitrary and capricious. An action is arbitrary and capricious when it is taken without sound basis in reason or regard to the facts. If the court finds that the determination is supported by a rational basis, it must sustain the determination even if the court concludes that it would have reached a different result than the one reached by the agency. Further, courts must defer to an ...

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