New York State Court of Claims

New York State Court of Claims

SCHROM v. STATE OF NEW YORK, #2007-039-040, Claim No. 112733, Motion No. M-72408


Synopsis


Defendant’s motion to dismiss claim granted. Claimant sought an award of damages, including back pay, as a result of the alleged intentional conduct of Deputy Superintendent William Hopkins and others in failing to reinstate her to the position of Secretary I at Elmira Correctional Facility from the New York State Civil Service Preferred List. The Court concluded that any pecuniary recovery by claimant was incidental to claimant’s challenge to the propriety of Deputy Superintendent Hopkins’ decision to deny reinstatement, a matter in the nature of an Article 78 proceeding. Accordingly, the Court held that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction of the claim.

Case Information

UID:
2007-039-040
Claimant(s):
THERESA L. SCHROM
Claimant short name:
SCHROM
Footnote (claimant name) :

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

Third-party claimant(s):

Third-party defendant(s):

Claim number(s):
112733
Motion number(s):
M-72408
Cross-motion number(s):

Judge:
JAMES H. FERREIRA
Claimant’s attorney:
Rappaport & RappaportBy: Mark L. Rappaport, Esq.
Defendant’s attorney:
Hon. Andrew M. Cuomo
Attorney General of the State of New York
By: Mary A. WalshAssistant Attorney General
Third-party defendant’s attorney:

Signature date:
September 28, 2007
City:
Albany
Comments:

Official citation:

Appellate results:

See also (multicaptioned case)



Decision

Claimant Theresa L. Schrom seeks an award of damages, including back pay, as a result of the alleged intentional conduct of Deputy Superintendent William Hopkins and others in failing to reinstate her to the position of Secretary I at Elmira Correctional Facility from the New York State Civil Service Preferred List. The claim was filed and served during September 2006. Defendant now moves the Court, in lieu of an answer, to dismiss the claim on, among others, the ground that the lawfulness of claimant’s reinstatement must first be reviewed within the context of a CPLR article 78 proceeding, and that the Court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The Court agrees.

It is well settled that “the State retains its sovereign immunity with respect to officials’ discretionary or quasi-judicial actions” (Safety Group No. 194 v State of New York, 2001 WL 939747 [NY Ct Cl], 2001 NY Slip Op 40099[U] *20). “Jurisdiction reposes in the Court of Claims where ‘the essential nature of the claim [against defendant] is to recover money’, [it does not lie] where ‘monetary relief is incidental to the primary claim’” (Guy v State of New York, 18 AD3d 936, 937 [2005], quoting Harvard Fin. Servs. v State of New York, 266 AD2d 685, 685 [1999]). “ ‘The Court of Claims lacks subject matter jurisdiction of a cause of action where the primary relief sought is obtainable in an article 78 proceeding, regardless of how a claimant characterizes his [or her] claim’ ” (Guy v State of New York, supra, quoting Young v State of New York, 179 Misc 2d 879, 882 [1999]). “Thus, attempts to characterize a claim that falls within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as some other type of action so as to bring it within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims will not succeed . . . and the opposite is true as well” (Safety Group No. 194 v State of New York, supra at *9).

Here, “any pecuniary recovery by claimant is incidental given that the claim is essentially a challenge to [Deputy Superintendent Hopkins’] determination[s] denying claimant [reinstatement], . . . determinations claimant should have challenged by commencement of a CPLR article 78 proceeding which ‘Supreme Court unquestionably has . . . jurisdiction’ over” (Harvard Fin. Servs. v State of New York, supra at 685-686, quoting Matter of Gross v Perales, 72 NY2d 231, 236 [1988]). Defendant does not concede that claimant was entitled to reinstatement on any alleged occasion (compare Piro v Bowen, 76 AD2d 392, 397-398 [1980], appeal denied 52 NY2d 702 [1980]). Therefore, in order to determine whether claimant is entitled to damages, the Court would necessarily have to determine whether defendant’s decisions not to reinstate claimant were “made in violation of lawful procedure, [were] affected by an error of law or [were] arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion” (CPLR 7803 [3]). “This type of inquiry is indisputably one that is appropriate for an Article 78 proceeding” (Safety Group No. 194 v State of New York, supra at *22). In fact, courts have recognized that “a successful CPLR article 78 proceeding for reinstatement is a prerequisite to a discharged public employee’s claim for damages” (Adebambo v State of New York, 181 Misc 2d 181, 185 [1999]; see Clancy v State of New York, 126 Misc 2d 292, 293 [1984]). Accordingly, it would stand to reason that a successful article 78 proceeding is also a prerequisite to a public employee’s claim for damages for the alleged failure to reinstate from a preferred list, the common thread being that the employee must first establish his or her right to reinstatement (see Piro v Bowen, supra at 397).

Claimant’s attempt to characterize the claim as one for breach of contract, violation of a statutory duty, or otherwise so as to bring the claim within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims does not change the essential nature of her claim - the alleged unlawful conduct of defendant in failing to reinstate her to the position of Secretary I. In this regard, the Court notes that “a breach of contract action for lost wages may not be maintained [in any event] since claimant has not obtained reinstatement to her former position via a CPLR article 78 proceeding, a condition precedent to such an action against a public employer” (Clancy v State of New York, supra at 293; see also Austin v Board of Higher Educ., 5 NY2d 430, 443-444 [1959]).

The Court has considered defendant’s remaining arguments and declines to address them as moot. Accordingly, it is hereby ordered that M-72408 is granted and the claim is dismissed.


September 28, 2007
Albany, New York

HON. JAMES H. FERREIRA
Judge of the Court of Claims


Papers Considered
:

  1. Notice of Motion dated October 13, 2006;
  1. Affirmation in Support of Motion to Dismiss affirmed on October 13, 2006; and
  1. Reply Correspondence dated June 14, 2007.