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Some recent public authorities court decisions

November 7, 2011

Authority operations

  • The plaintiffs in Janes v. Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority alleged that they were charged more than residents from other parts of the state to use the Verrazano, Marine, and Cross Bay bridges, in violation of the state and federal constitutions. The federal district court for the Southern District of New York granted class certification to the plaintiffs on their claims for injunctive and declaratory relief but postponed its decision regarding class certification on their unjust enrichment and damages claims. Janes v. Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Auth., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115831 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 5, 2011).
  • The New York Appellate Division, First Department, reversed a decision enjoining the MTA from closing subway token booths and customer assistant kiosks. The authority didn’t have to hold a new public hearing, the court said, when it decided to implement the closings via attrition instead of mass closings. Matter of Samuelsen v Walder, 2011 NY Slip Op 7487 (1st Dept. Oct. 25, 2011).
  • A lower court in New York found that it had no authority to require the state Department of Health and the Dormitory Authority to construct a Level 1 Trauma Center in Greenwich Village to replace the St. Vincent’s hospital. Although the Fulton Houses Tenants Association had standing to bring the challenge, the court found that the claims were unjusticiable because “New York is not required to meet every legitimate need of every needy person. Rather, the Legislature may determine how to allocate the public dollar according to its own discretion. … a close reading of the Public Health Law provisions cited by petitioners indicates a grant of discretionary authority, not a precise Command to act in a specified manner.” Fulton Housing Tenants Assn. v. Daines, 2011 NY Slip Op. 32810U (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., Oct. 24, 2011).

Employment

  • The federal district court for the Eastern District of New York denied a motion for reconsideration of its decision denying summary judgment for the New York City Transit Authority in a suit brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act alleging that the authority discriminated against employees who wear religious headwear. As the court explained, the authority merely sought to “relitigate issues already decided.” United States v. New York City Transit Auth., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115066 (E.D.N.Y. Sep. 30, 2011).
  • The NYC Transit Authority, the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority, and the Transport Workers Union of America entered into a collective bargaining agreement and created a consolidated seniority list for the purposes of selecting job assignments among the drivers. When staff reductions were required, it was revealed that the Transit Authority workers, as civil service employees under the Public Authorities Law, would be laid off in civil service seniority order, while the MABSTOA drivers, who were not considered civil service employees, would be laid off in order of seniority in title, with no regard for the consolidated seniority list. The union filed a grievance, but the Transit Authority sought a permanent stay on the grounds that the relief sought was prohibited by the statutory requirements in the Civil Service Law. The court found in favor of the Transit Authority, agreeing that the Civil Service Law “provides the sole manner by which an employer may lay off civil service employees in a competitive class” and “an arbitrator could not fashion a different remedy for this particular grievance that would not violate statutory requirements or public policy.” Matter of New York City Transit Auth. v Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100, 2011 NY Slip Op 7431 (2d Dept. Oct. 18, 2011).
  • In another grievance dispute between the Transit Authority, MABSTOA, and the Transportation Workers Union, the union claimed that the authorities violated the hiring ratio provision in their collective bargaining agreement and filed a grievance, but the Transit Authority sought a permanent stay of arbitration based on the grounds that that the relief sought was barred by the Public Authorities Law and the Civil Service Law. The court ruled in favor of the union and found that arbitration was appropriate, because “no statute or public policy prohibits, in an absolute sense, the [authorities] from agreeing that each [authority] would hire employees under a covered title at a specified ratio, including the provisions of the Civil Service Law governing appointments of civil service employees and the provisions of the Public Authorities Law establishing the civil service/non-civil service distinction between employees of the [authorities] and granting to each [authority] the general power ‘to manage, control and direct the maintenance and operation of transit facilities.’” Matter of New York City Transit Auth. v Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100, 2011 NY Slip Op 7432 (2d Dept. Oct. 18, 2011).
  • The Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association’s petition to vacate or modify a previous arbitration award was denied on the grounds that the arbitrator acted within her authority when she found that the collective bargaining agreement was not violated by a new schedule prepared by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Matter of Bridge & Tunnel Officers Benevolent Assn. v Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, 2011 NY Slip Op 32694U (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co. Oct. 13, 2011).

Damages and liability

  • A jury found the Port Authority liable for failing to provide sufficient security to prevent the 1993 terrorist bombing at the parking garage of the World Trade Center. The court, however, found that the authority was entitled to governmental immunity from tort liability because it was performing a government function by providing “security for the benefit of a greater populace involving the allocation of police resources.” Matter of Word Trade Ctr. Bombing Litig., 2011 NY Slip Op 6501 (Sep. 22, 2011).
  • Long Island Lighting Co. v. Granite Bldg. 2 involved a construction incident in which a buried, oil-insulated electrical cable owned by the Long Island Power Authority was damaged, resulting in an oil spill that required cleanup and “environmental remediation.” The construction site was owned by the Nassau County IDA and leased by Granite Building 2, LLC.  The court denied Granite’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability, aas well as those of the other defendants. Long Is. Light. Co. v Granite Bldg. 2, LLC, 2011 NY Slip Op 51781U (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co. Sep. 22, 2011).
  • A “46 year old allegedly mentally challenged woman” brought an action against the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road for negligence, assault and battery, false arrest and wrongful detention after she failed to produce a ticket for the train she was riding, despite being in possession of a valid monthly pass, and was subsequently held overnight at an MTA Police facility and charged with theft of service, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The court dismissed her tort claims for negligence, false arrest, wrongful detention, and assault and battery as time barred under Public Authority Law section 1276, which establishes a one year statute of limitations on tort actions against public authorities. The negligence claim was dismissed on the grounds that it was not mentioned in the original notice of claim, and the claim that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act was dismissed because “anxiety” does not fall within the scope of the Act’s protections. Townes v New York State Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 2011 NY Slip Op 32487U (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co. Sep. 19, 2011).
  • Public housing authorities have to enforce certain housing quality standards before they give out Section 8 status to property owners, and according to a federal district court case from Pennsylvania, authorities may be liable for “state-created danger” claims if they fail to do so. Henry v. City of Erie, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110562 (W.D.Pa. Sep. 28, 2011).

Eminent domain and property disposition

  • The petitioner in H.H. Warner v. Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority sought to block the condemnation of three of its parcels in downtown Rochester, currently parking lots, for use as a regional and intercity bus transit center. The court ruled in favor of the Transportation Authority, finding that it “made a reasoned elaboration of the basis for its determination” after identifying the relevant areas of environmental concern, as required by the Eminent Domain Procedure Law. The Transportation Authority’s determination was found not to be arbitrary, capricious, in error, or an abuse of discretion, and because the authority renewed and updated its environmental review documents as the project changed and considered alternative locations for the project, the court confirmed its determination. Matter of H.H. Warner, LLC v Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, 2011 NY Slip Op 6788 (4th Dept. Sep. 30, 2011).
  • In a long running dispute involving an industrial park’s claim of ownership to certain submerged parcels in the Henry Street Basin in South Brooklyn, the District Court for the Eastern District of New York explained that an action for adverse possession couldn’t be based on occupancy during the time period that the land was owned by the Port Authority. As the court explained, under the Act transferring the land to the authority, it was prohibited from alienating the land to any party except the state, and “land that cannot be alienated by its titleholder cannot be adversely possessed.” Gowanus Indus. Park v. Hess Corp., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120853 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 19, 2011).
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