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In re Bolt

New York Court of Appeals

January 9, 2018

In the Matter of Ericka Bolt, Respondent,
v.
New York City Department of Education, Appellant. In the Matter of Almira Beatty, Respondent,
v.
City of New York, et al., Appellants. In the Matter of Terrell Williams, Respondent,
v.
City of New York, et al., Appellants.

         Case No. 51

          Submitted by Melanie T. West, for appellant.

          Submitted by Richard J. Washington, for respondent.

         Case No. 52

          Submitted by Kathy Chang Park, for appellants.

          Submitted by Bryan D. Glass, for respondent.

         Case No. 53

          Submitted by Kathy Chang Park, for appellants.

          Submitted by Bryan D. Glass, for respondent.

          MEMORANDUM

         In Matter of Bolt v New York City Dept. of Education and Matter of Beatty v City of New York, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, with costs, respondents' cross motion to dismiss the petition granted, and the certified question answered in the negative; in Matter of Williams v City of New York, the arbitral award appealed from and the Appellate Division order brought up for review should be reversed, with costs, and the judgment of Supreme Court, New York County, dismissing the proceeding reinstated.

         "That reasonable minds might disagree over what the proper penalty should have been does not provide a basis for vacating the arbitral award or refashioning the penalty" (City School Dist. of the City of N.Y. v McGraham, 17 N.Y.3d 917, 920 [2011]). Here, the penalties imposed are not irrational and do not shock the conscience (see Matter of Russo v New York City Dept. of Educ., 25 N.Y.3d 946, 948 [2015], cert denied ___ U.S. ___, 136 S.Ct. 416');">136 S.Ct. 416 [2015]; Matter of Kelly v Safir, 96 N.Y.2d 32, 38 [2001]; Matter of Featherstone v Franco, 95 N.Y.2d 550, 554 [2000]; Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 N.Y.2d 222, 233 [1974]). The Appellate Division exceeded its authority by reweighing the evidence and substituting its judgment for that of the hearing officer.

          RIVERA, J. (concurring):

         I agree with my colleagues that the Appellate Division orders should be reversed because in all three appeals the court exceeded its authority and substituted its own judgment for that of the hearing officer (majority op at 2). There is no dispute that these appeals require the application of settled law to the facts of each case. There is no doctrinal complexity or novel issue presented in these appeals that cannot be resolved by reference to existing precedent. The Court is unanimous in its conclusion that under our well- established standards, the administrative sanctions are not irrational and do not "shock the conscience, " and therefore the court may not disturb the penalties imposed (see Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 N.Y.2d 222, 240 [1974]).

         Under other circumstances I would have no cause to write separately. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that brevity of analysis coupled with a solid reversal is sufficient comment on an obvious misapplication of the law. Nevertheless, because the Appellate Division analyses in these appeals are so clearly at odds with uncontroversial, established legal standards, and because respondent Department of Education compellingly argues this Court should clarify the scope of review to avoid judicial overreach in school disciplinary cases, it appears that full articulation of applicable standards is in order. Rearticulating our jurisprudence should eliminate any possible misunderstanding as to the Appellate Division's review of administrative sanctions, and reaffirm the high degree of impropriety and affront to our sense of fairness required to "shock the conscience.

         I. JUDICIAL REVIEW OF ADMINISTRATIVE SANCTIONS

         Judicial review of an administrative disciplinary determination is statutorily and constitutionally defined (see CPLR 7803; CPLR 7511; NY Const, art VI, § 3). We have repeatedly explained in article 78 proceedings that contrary to the Appellate Division's general broad jurisdiction, its review of administrative sanctions is circumscribed and no greater than our own. Thus, "the Appellate Division lacks any discretionary authority or interest of justice jurisdiction in reviewing the penalty imposed" by an administrative entity (Matter of Featherstone v Franco, 95 N.Y.2d 550, 554 [2000]). Instead, like this Court, the Appellate Division's "review of an administrative penalty is limited to whether the measure or mode of penalty or discipline imposed constitutes an abuse of discretion as a matter of law" (Matter of Kelly v Safir, 96 N.Y.2d 32, 38 [2001]; Featherstone, 95 N.Y.2d at 554; CPLR 7803 [3]). Further, "Education Law § 3020-a (5) limits judicial review of a hearing officer's determination to the grounds set forth in CPLR 7511, " and "[w]here, as here, parties are subject to compulsory arbitration, the award... must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious'" (City Sch. Dist. of City of New York v McGraham, 17 N.Y.3d 917, 920 [2011] [internal citation omitted]). ...


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