New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

MRUCZEK v. THE STATE OF NEW YORK, #2003-015-339, Claim No. 105770, Motion No. M-66619


Synopsis


Claimant's brought claim seeking damages in constitutional tort for the manner in which their individual disability pension benefits applications were denied. Court found no tort claim existed and that claimant's sole remedy to challenge the Comptroller's determination was an article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court. Defendant's motion to dismiss claim granted.

Case Information

UID:
2003-015-339
Claimant(s):
PATRICK MRUCZEK, WAYNE CARPENTER, RONALD MCCLURE, THOMAS EDENHOFER, JOHN E. PASCALL, JOHN G. EGLOFF, GEORGE R. TUTUSKA, JAMES COX, DIANE MADLOCK, ESTATE OF THOMAS J. KALIS (JANE KALIS, EXECUTRIX), FRANCIS KAZMIERCZAK, GLORIA PEARSON, VIRGENMINA ORTIZ, GAYE O. COSTON and DAVID E. HARMS EXECUTOR OF ESTATE OF KAREN MANGEL The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to delete the addresses of the claimants. The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Claimant short name:
MRUCZEK
Footnote (claimant name) :
The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to delete the addresses of the claimants.
Defendant(s):
THE STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :
The caption of this claim has been amended sua sponte to reflect the only properly named defendant.
Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
105770
Motion number(s):
M-66619
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant's attorney:
Flaherty & SheaBy: James P. Shea, Esquire
Defendant's attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Michael C. Rizzo, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant's attorney:

Signature date:
July 17, 2003
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

The claim filed with the Court on March 18, 2002 and served upon the Attorney General on April 17, 2002 asserts constitutional tort causes of action on behalf of 15 individual claimants. Each named claimant is a member of the New York State and Local Retirement System and a former employee of either the State of New York or one of its constituent municipalities. It is alleged that the claimants were injured during the course of their employment and applied for and were denied disability pension benefits. Specifically, the claim alleges constitutional tort causes of action for deprivation of the claimants' due process and equal protection rights in that their applications for disability retirement benefits were not accorded a prompt and fair hearing and that other applications which received favorable determinations were processed more expeditiously and were not subjected to the same scrutiny as the applications submitted by the claimants herein. The defendant asserts on its motion for summary judgment that the claim is untimely and that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction in that Retirement and Social Security Law § § 74 and 374 vest exclusive authority to determine applications for retirement allowances or benefits in the State Comptroller. The defendant further argues that sections 74 (d) and 374 (d) of such law provide that a proceeding in Supreme Court pursuant to article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules is the exclusive forum for actions challenging the Comptroller's final determination of an application for retirement benefits. It is defendant's position that this Court lacks jurisdiction over claims challenging final determinations with regard to retirement benefit eligibility and that the availability of article 78 relief with regard to such determinations negates the assertion of a valid constitutional tort claim.

In response, the claimants allege that the claim does not seek to annul determinations of the Comptroller but rather challenges the manner in which applications for disability pension benefits under the New York State and Local Retirement System are processed or administered. In this regard claimants allege that benefit applications are addressed in a manner which is unduly delayed, disparate and biased. In support of this position claimants have attached to their papers in opposition to defendant's motion a report entitled Disability Determination/Hearing Process, a Critical Review dated November 28, 2000. Claimants further argue that the claim was timely in that "the unconstitutionality and illegality of the pension benefits system's administration did not accrue and become evident until a pattern of disparate and biased administration of applications had developed." Retirement and Social Security Law § 74 provides in paragraph (b) that: "[t]he comptroller shall have exclusive authority to determine all applications for any form of retirement or benefit" provided under Article 2 of such law governing the New York State and Local Employees' Retirement System. Applications for a retirement allowance or other benefit are required to be filed with the Comptroller (§74 (a)). The Comptroller notifies the applicant in writing of his determination with regard to any application and if dissatisfied an applicant may demand a hearing and redetermination (§ 74 (c), (d)). Upon demand the Comptroller must hold a hearing after which he or she issues a final determination concerning the application. The final sentence of Retirement and Social Security Law § 74 (d) provides that the Comptroller's final determination "shall be subject to review only as provided in article seventy-eight of the civil practice law and rules." A substantially identical procedure is provided for determination of retirement or benefit applications by members of the New York State Policemen's and Firemen's Retirement System pursuant to Retirement and Social Security Law § 374, including the direction in paragraph (d) that a final determination of the Comptroller may only be reviewed by way of a proceeding pursuant to article 78 of the CPLR.

As to the causes of action asserted in the claim, it is well settled that no cause of action lies against the State for the alleged violation of rights secured by the United States Constitution (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172; Thomas, Matter of, v New York Temporary State Comm. on Regulation of Lobbying, 83 AD2d 723). It is equally clear to this Court that the precise and unambiguous language of Retirement and Social Security Law § § 74 (d) and 374 (d) preclude the bringing of an action in the Court of Claims to challenge a determination of the Comptroller concerning entitlement to retirement or other benefits. Such an action is cognizable only in Supreme Court pursuant to article 78 of the CPLR (Heslop v NYS Teachers' Retirement Sys, 195 AD2d 851; Lade v Levitt, 33 AD2d 956; Young v State of New York, 179 Misc 2d 879).

Despite the exclusivity of article 78 as a vehicle for challenging a final determination as to retirement and benefits the claimants argue that they assert a viable constitutional tort cause of action, challenging the allegedly delayed and disparate manner in which retirement applications are administered on due process and equal protection grounds. Claimants argue that because they are challenging the process by which retirement applications are determined and not the outcome of individual determinations the relief available in an article 78 proceeding is inadequate and a constitutional tort cause of action should be implied.

The arguments advanced by the claimants are unpersuasive. Patrick Mruczek, the lead claimant herein, raised the same due process claims asserted in the instant matter in an article 78 proceeding challenging the Comptroller's final determination denying his application on the ground that the processing of his application was unreasonably delayed. The Appellate Division, Third Department confirmed the determination (Mruczek, Matter of, v McCall, 299 AD2d 638, 639-640) holding, inter alia, as follows:
Finally, we find petitioner's procedural due process argument to be without merit. There is no statutorily-prescribed time period within which a determination must be issued (see Matter of Graham v Regan, 187 AD2d 866-867). The record fails to show that the approximately two-year delay between the close of the administrative hearing and the determination was 'willful or unreasonable as a matter of law, nor has petitioner shown prejudice' (Matter of Staley v New York State & Local Retirement Sys., 290 AD2d 721, 722; Matter of Graham v Regan, supra at 866-867.)
A constitutional tort action is available in a narrow class of cases where implication of a damage remedy is appropriate and necessary to ensure the full realization of constitutional rights and protections (Brown v State of New York, 89 NY2d 172; Martinez v City of Schenectady, 97 NY2d 78).

Implying a damage remedy under the facts of this case is unnecessary. All of the claimants herein were fully able to redress any constitutional issues within the context of an article 78 proceeding, the remedy provided in Retirement and Social Security Law § 74 (d) and § 374 (d). Unlike the claimants in Brown for whom damages was the only available remedy, the claimants could have raised and remedied any constitutional claims in the context of an article 78 proceeding challenging their individual determinations as did claimant Mruczek (Slayton, Matter of, v New York State & Local Retirement Sys., 288 AD2d 509; McDermott, Matter of, v Forsythe, 188 AD2d 173; Graham, Matter of, v Regan, 187 AD2d 866). Given the availability of full relief under article 78 a constitutional tort cause of action may not be implied and the claimants have failed to state a cognizable cause of action (Martinez v City of Schenectady, supra; Augat v State of New York, 244 AD2d 835; Lyles v State of New York, 194 Misc 2d 32).

The determination that the claim fails to state a cause of action over which this Court has jurisdiction renders it unnecessary to address the defendant's remaining ground of timeliness. Nor is it necessary or appropriate to consider the claimants' mention of Court of Claims Act § 10 (6) in the concluding paragraph of their "Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment." The claimants did not cross-move for late claim relief, addressed none of the six factors considered on such an application and have not asserted any meritorious causes of action.

The defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted and the claim is dismissed.


July 17, 2003
Saratoga Springs, New York

HON. FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Judge of the Court of Claims


The Court considered the following papers:
  1. Notice of motion dated March 27, 2003;
  2. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo sworn to March 27, 2003 with exhibits;
  3. Affidavit of James P. Shea sworn to April 28, 2003 with exhibit;
  4. Affidavit of Michael C. Rizzo sworn to May 5, 2003.