Article 78 action held the appropriate vehicle to test a public employer's administrative determination, or failure to act

Article 78 action held the appropriate vehicle to test a public employer's administrative determination, or failure to actAdams v The City of New York, 271 AD2d 341 Typically, challenges to action or inaction by a governmental agency are brought pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules. There appears, however, to be a flurry of breach of contract cases filed against the City of New York in contrast to filing Article 78 petitions.* For example, in the Adams case the Appellate Division, First Department ruled that while Adams' complaint was pleaded as an action sounding in breach of contract and sought a court order requiring the City to adjust the salaries of certain of its employees, the relief actually being sought is to compel [the City] to discharge a duty in conformity with its personnel policies and procedures. As this action was in the nature of mandamus, the court held that Adams' lawsuit was subject to the procedural requirements of Article 78, i.e., a four-month statute of limitations for bringing such actions. The critical element for bringing a timely Article 78 action is the date on which the administrative determination or action is deemed final. The court pointed out that in Adams' case there were two additional factors to consider: whether the action sounds in mandamus [an action seeking to compel the performance of an official act] or in the nature of certiorari [an action seeking to review an administrative decision, i.e., an appeal]. According to the Appellate Division, in order to file an Article 78 action for mandamus relief, it is necessary to make a demand and await a refusal. The limitations period does not commence until the date of the refusal i.e., the Statute of Limitations begins to run from the date of the refusal. In certiorari cases, the Statute of Limitations begins running on the date on which the final administrative determination is made.** In any event, if the governmental agency being sued wishes to plea the affirmative defense that the plaintiff's action is untimely, it must plea and prove that the Article 78 action was not commenced until after the Statute of Limitations had expired. Commenting that here the City failed to prove the date when agency action was final, the Appellate Division held that the finality necessary to commence the limitations period has not been established and thus Adams' petition remains viable. The Appellate Division, after converting the case into an Article 78 proceeding, remanded it to Supreme Court for its determination as to whether or not it was a timely Article 78 action. * It may be that the breach of contract actions may have been filed in an effort to avoid the relatively short Statute of Limitations applicable in bringing an Article 78 action. ** In addition to mandamus and certiorari, Article 78 is the modern version of two other ancient writs: the writ of quo warranto [by what authority] and the writ of prohibition [a superior court barring the consideration of a matter by a lower court].

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