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In re Citizen Review Bord of City of Syracuse v. Syracuse Police Department

Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Department

March 24, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF CITIZEN REVIEW BOARD OF THE CITY OF SYRACUSE, PETITIONER-PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
SYRACUSE POLICE DEPARTMENT, FRANK L. FOWLER, AS CHIEF OF POLICE AND CITY OF SYRACUSE, RESPONDENTS-DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

          ROBERT P. STAMEY, CORPORATION COUNSEL, SYRACUSE (JOHN A. SICKINGER OF COUNSEL), FOR RESPONDENTS-DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.

          BOUSQUET HOLSTEIN PLLC, SYRACUSE (HARRISON V. WILLIAMS, JR., OF COUNSEL), FOR PETITIONER-PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT.

          PRESENT: WHALEN, P.J., SMITH, PERADOTTO, AND CURRAN, JJ.

         Appeal from an order of the Supreme Court, Onondaga County (Spencer J. Ludington, A.J.), entered April 29, 2016 in a CPLR article 78 proceeding and declaratory judgment action. The order denied the motion of respondents-defendants to dismiss the petition/complaint.

         It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from is unanimously affirmed without costs.

          OPINION

          CURRAN, J.

         Respondents-defendants (respondents) appeal from an order denying their motion to dismiss this hybrid CPLR article 78 proceeding and declaratory judgment action on the grounds of lack of capacity and standing. We conclude that the order should be affirmed.

         I. Background

         In 2011, the Common Council of the City of Syracuse (Common Council) amended Local Law 11 of 1993 (ordinance), which had previously established petitioner-plaintiff, Citizen Review Board of the City of Syracuse (CRB). The purpose of the ordinance was "[t]o establish an open citizen-controlled process for reviewing grievances involving members of the Syracuse Police Department and provide a non-exclusive alternative to civil litigation." The ordinance further states that, "[i]n order to insure public accountability over the powers exercised by members of the Syracuse Police Department while preserving the integrity of the agency that employs them, citizen complaints regarding members of the Syracuse Police Department shall be heard and reviewed fairly and impartially by the review board."

         The CRB consists of 11 members, who "shall be residents of the City of Syracuse and should aspire to reflect the City's diverse community with respect to age, disability, ethnicity, gender, geography, language, race, religion and sexual orientation, " and is independent of the Syracuse Police Department. The ordinance provides that the CRB "shall hear, investigate and review complaints and recommend action regarding police misconduct, " and also may make recommendations with respect to changes in police policies and procedures.

         Pursuant to the ordinance, "[w]ithin 60 days of the receipt of a complaint, the CRB shall complete its investigation, determine whether there is reasonable cause to proceed to a hearing, conduct a hearing, and issue its findings and recommendations to the Chief [of Police] and the Corporation Counsel." The ordinance further provides that, "[w]ithin thirty (30) days of the receipt of a recommendation from a hearing panel, the Chief of Police shall advise the [CRB] in writing as to what type of actions or sanctions were imposed, and the reasons if none were imposed." The CRB administrator also must regularly publish reports that document, among other things, the total number and type of complaints, the number of cases involving recommendation for sanctions, the number of cases where sanctions were imposed, the number of cases reviewed by the full CRB, the length of time each case was pending before the CRB, and the number of complainants who filed a notice of claim against the City of Syracuse while their complaints were being considered by the CRB.

         In furtherance of the CRB's duties, the ordinance provides that the CRB, "by majority vote of its members, may authorize the issuance of a subpoena" and that "[CRB] subpoenas are enforceable pursuant to relevant provisions of Article 23 of the [CPLR]." The CRB also is authorized, in the event of a conflict with the Corporation Counsel, to seek and retain independent legal counsel.

         On October 28, 2015, in response to four CRB findings sent to the Chief of Police, the Chief of Police notified the CRB administrator via a letter that, because he "did not receive findings from the [CRB] within the sixty (60) days allotted by Local Law 11, Section 7, Sub 3a, " the Syracuse Police Department "was forced to proceed without recommendations from the [CRB]" in those four matters. The Chief of Police also refused to "advise the board in writing as to what type of actions or sanctions were imposed, and the reasons if none were imposed, " as required by the ordinance.

         On February 5, 2016, the CRB commenced this hybrid CPLR article 78 proceeding/declaratory judgment action seeking, inter alia, a judgment directing the Chief of Police to comply with the ordinance by advising the CRB in writing as to what type of sanctions or ...


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