Klaes v. Jamestown Board of Public Utilities et al
DECISION AND ORDER denying 4 Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Signed by Hon. Richard J. Arcara on 9/23/2011. (JMB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
W ESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
DECISION AND ORDER
JAMESTOW N BOARD OF PUBLIC
UTILITIES et al.,
On September 23, 2011, the Court held oral argument that it had
scheduled for plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction (Dkt. No. 4) and
defendants’ motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 10, updated at Dkt. No. 25).
During the argument, which plaintiff attended, the Court expressed concern
that the parties were at a stalemate. Plaintiff’s termination hearing 1 originally was
scheduled for March 29, 2011. The hearing never occurred, though, because
plaintiff has given defendants several doctors’ notes to justify what has been
turning into an indefinite adjournment of the hearing. One note, dated April 29,
2011, stated generally that plaintiff could not return to a work environment for at
least two months. A note dated May 18, 2011 stated that plaintiff would not be
On March 14, 2011, defendants suspended plaintiff without pay, pending
a termination hearing pursuant to N.Y. Civil Service Law § 75.
able to attend a hearing for “a minimum of two months.” (Dkt. No. 4-1 at 6.) A
note dated July 21, 2011 stated that plaintiff “should not be expected to attend a
hearing for a minimum of 8 more weeks.” (Id. at 8.) The last note in plaintiff’s
motion papers, dated July 21, 2011, stated without any time frame that plaintiff
should not attend a hearing. (Id. at 9.) The doctor who wrote that note went as
far as to comment that “it is not possible for me to predict when he will be able to
attend such hearings in the future.” (Id.) In contrast, defendants have made
repeated attempts to schedule the termination hearing and have sent plaintiff
letters warning him that his suspension without pay would continue because he
was responsible for the delay. A letter dated April 5, 2011 warned plaintiff that
defendants would ask to have the hearing proceed without him if he attempted to
adjourn the hearing for medical reasons. (Dkt. No. 4-2 at 2.) At oral argument,
defendants represented to the Court that they indeed have tried to complete the
termination hearing but that the hearing officer was unwilling to proceed in
After a recess, the Court solicited comments from the parties about
defendants’ authority to conduct a termination hearing in plaintiff’s absence,
pursuant to Rao v. Gunn, 532 N.E.2d 1275, 1276 (N.Y. 1988).2 Defendants
See Rao, 532 N.E.2d at 1277 (condoning a termination hearing held in
the employee’s absence in part because “the Transit Authority had a legitimate
and strong interest in resolving petitioner’s employment status promptly. By the
time the hearing was held, petitioner had been in the custody of the Department
of Mental Hygiene and unable to carry out his duties for more than 22 months.
responded by informing the Court for the first time in the argument that they have,
in fact, scheduled the termination hearing for October 17, 2011. The Court
consequently decided to postpone any further oral argument until after the
hearing concludes. The Court scheduled a status conference with the parties on
December 2, 2011.
Given Rao and defendants’ decision to proceed with the hearing, judicial
economy warrants waiting for the outcome of the hearing. In making this
decision, the Court is not making any assessment about the medical conditions
described in plaintiff’s doctor notes. Plaintiff might well have medical and
psychological conditions that leave him completely unable to participate in a
termination hearing despite his attendance at oral argument. The problem is that
plaintiff cannot use long-term medical and psychological conditions to postpone
his termination hearing forever. At some point, the growing delay in concluding
Further delay would have imposed an unreasonable burden on the Transit
Authority.”) (citation omitted); see also Prue v. Hunt, 581 N.E.2d 1052, 1055 (N.Y.
1991) (holding that when post-termination remedies are available, due process
“demands no more than that the employees be given an explanation of the
charges against them and an opportunity to present their side of the story either
in writing or in person”) (citation omitted).
the termination hearing becomes enough of a burden on defendants to outweigh
any rights that plaintiff has to physical presence at the hearing. So long as
plaintiff minimally has an opportunity to respond to defendants’ charges and to
present favorable evidence in writing, pursuant to Prue, his right to due process
will not require indefinite delay for conditions that may never improve.
The only decision that the Court will make at this time is procedural. Since
the Court will not decide the issue of a preliminary injunction for now, plaintiff’s
motion (Dkt. No. 4) is denied without prejudice.
s/ Richard J. Arcara
HONORABLE RICHARD J. ARCARA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
DATED:September 23, 2011
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