New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

HOFFMAN v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2006-015-078, Claim No. 109024, Motion Nos. M-71129, CM-71171


Synopsis


Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claim seeking specific performance of parties' stipulation of settlement and over proceeding challenging the comptroller's office of settlement amount by amount of unemployment benefits received by claimant following her suspension from union-represented job in Stated owned Elmira Psychiatric Center.

Case Information

UID:
2006-015-078
Claimant(s):
VICTORIA HOFFMAN
Claimant short name:
HOFFMAN
Footnote (claimant name) :

Defendant(s):
STATE OF NEW YORK
Footnote (defendant name) :

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
109024
Motion number(s):
M-71129
Cross-motion number(s):
CM-71171
Judge:
FRANCIS T. COLLINS
Claimant’s attorney:
William P. Seamon, EsquireBy: Steven M. Klein, Esquire
Defendant’s attorney:
Honorable Eliot Spitzer, Attorney General
By: Joseph F. Romani, EsquireAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
March 29, 2006
City:
Saratoga Springs
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:
AFFIRMED 42 AD3D 641 3D DEPT 6/5/07
See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant's motion for summary judgment and defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment are denied and the claim is dismissed sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The facts in this case are not in dispute. On December 17, 2002 claimant was suspended from her job as an Intensive Case Manager at the New York State Office of Mental Health Elmira Psychiatric Center. By notice of discipline dated December 17, 2002 the State sought to terminate claimant's employment. Claimant, through her union, Public Employees Federation (PEF), filed a grievance and a demand for arbitration contesting the charges. Although the matter was scheduled for arbitration on March 4 and 5 the parties entered into a stipulation of settlement resolving the issues raised by the grievance and the underlying notice of discipline. Pursuant to the stipulation claimant was to be reinstated to her position effective on the close of business on March 5, 2003 and "made whole for all back pay, leave and other benefits for the entire period of her suspension from December 17, 2002 through and including March 5, 2003" (see claimant's Exhibit B).

By check dated April 3, 2003 claimant was compensated for back pay for the period beginning December 17, 2002 and ending March 5, 2003. Defendant, however, withheld $2,632.50 which represented the total amount of unemployment insurance benefits received by claimant during her suspension.

Claimant alleges that the parties' stipulation did not authorize the State to offset the value of unemployment benefits received and that the State was not permitted to do so. Claimant alludes to language in article 33.5 (f) (5) of the collective bargaining agreement between PEF and the State as supporting its position. That language provides: "the amount of back pay, if any, and any offset thereto shall be determined by the parties as part of the settlement" (claimant's Exhibit A, p.112). Claimant further relies upon article 33.6 of the same collective bargaining agreement which states at p. 114:
33.6 Settlements

A disciplinary matter may be settled at any time following the service of the notice of discipline. The terms of the settlement shall be agreed to in writing. Before executing such settlement, an employee shall be advised of the right to have a PEF representative or an attorney present and, if such representation is requested, shall be afforded a reasonable period of time to obtain representation. A settlement entered into by an employee, the PEF representative or an attorney, on behalf of the employee, shall be final and binding on all parties. Within five (5) calendar days of any settlement, the President of PEF or the President's designee shall be sent a notice advising him/her, in writing, of the settlement. Such notice shall be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Claimant's counsel argues in his memorandum of law that the State's failure and refusal to pay all monies due and owing pursuant to the parties' stipulation of settlement constitutes a breach of contract under section 9 (4) of the Court of Claims Act entitling the claimant to recover the offset amount of $2,632.50 plus interest, costs and disbursements[1].

Claimant, alleging that there are no facts in dispute, has moved for summary judgment seeking a determination of liability as a matter of law and the awarding of damages. Defendant opposed the claimant's motion and cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the claim. Defendant argues that pursuant to Labor Law § 597 the Comptroller is entitled to offset claimant's back pay by the amount of unemployment benefits received by her in order to avoid overcompensation or a gift of State monies in violation of article VII, § 8 of the New York State Constitution.

"Jurisdiction reposes in the Court of Claims where 'the essential nature of the claim [against the State] is to recover money', but not where 'monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim' (Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236; see, Ozanam Hall v State of New York, 241 AD2d 670, 671; see also, Court of Claims Act § 9 [2])" (Harvard Fin. Servs. Inc., v State of New York, 266 AD2d 685). "Whether the instant action constitutes one for money damages is not determined by how claimant characterizes it in [her] pleadings, but on the actual issues presented (Schaffer v Evans, 86 AD2d 708, 709, affd 57 NY2d 992)" (Sidoti v State of New York, 115 AD2d 202, 203). This Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction of claims seeking specific performance of a settlement agreement between the State and a public employee (Amberge v State of New York, 186 AD2d 962). Furthermore, to the extent the claimant seeks to challenge the Comptroller's determination to offset claimant's stipulated recovery of back wages by the amount of unemployment benefits received during her period of suspension and the refusal of the State to pay over the amount withheld "[t]his is 'a quintessential example of a dispute governed under CPLR article 78' (Madura v State of New York, [12 AD3d 759, lv denied 4 NY3d 704], supra at 761)" (Guy v State of New York, 18 AD3d 936, 937; see also Matter of Schwartfigure v Hartnett, 83 NY2d 296; Walker v Roach, 195 AD2d 563). Here, the recovery of money damages depends upon a determination that in offsetting claimant's recovery under the stipulation the Comptroller acted in excess of his legal authority. Such a determination must be made within the context of an article 78 proceeding in Supreme Court.
For the reasons stated above this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear and decide the claim and it must, therefore, be dismissed, even where dismissal is ordered ex mero motu based on the Court's own motion (Matter of Fry v Village of Tarrytown, 89 NY2d 714; Lublin v State of New York, 135 Misc 2d 419, affd 135 AD2d 1155, lv denied 71 NY2d 802; Adebambo v State of New York, 181 Misc 2d 181).

The claim is hereby dismissed and the trial scheduled for April 12, 2006 is cancelled.


March 29, 2006
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 January 6, 2006;
  1. Affidavit of Steven M. Klein sworn to January 6, 2006 with exhibits;
  2. Notice of cross-motion dated January 12, 2006;
  3. Affirmation of Joseph F. Romani, dated January 12, 2006;
  4. Affirmation of Steven M. Klein dated January 15, 2006.


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[1]
.See Court of Claims Act § 27 which prohibits the taxing of costs and disbursements except as provided in section 701 of the Eminent Domain Procedure Law.