News & Updates

Leave to Appeal Granted for Employee Terminated Because of Residency June 15, 2012

New York’s highest court recently granted a teacher leave to appeal a Fourth Department decision that her employer was right to terminate her because of its residency requirements. The case, In the Matter of Roxanne Adrian v. Board of Education of City School District of City of Niagara Falls, highlights the standard that a court will use to review employer decisions on employee residency and the evidence used to dispute an employee’s claim regarding his or her domicile.

 

The City School District of City of Niagara Falls (the District) has a policy that requires employees of the District to be domiciliaries of the City of Niagara Falls. It is well established under New York law that a "domicile means living in [a] locality with intent to make it a fixed and permanent home" (Matter of Newcomb, 192 NY 238, 250; see Matter of Beck-Nichols v Bianco, 89 AD3d 1405). The essential part of that definition is that the employee has intent to make the residence a fixed and permanent home.

 

Based on evidence presented to it, the Board of Education found that Roxanne Adrian maintained her domicile in Williamsville, New York, NOT the City of Niagara Falls, and terminated her employment. Adrian then commenced an Article 78 Petition in New York State Supreme Court seeking to have her termination annulled. The Supreme Court, Niagara County, granted her petition, ordering the District to reinstate her to her tenured position. However, Adrian’s success was short-lived as, on appeal, the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously voted to reverse the order in Adrian’s favor and dismissed the petition.

 

After reviewing the evidence of domicile presented to the District, the Appellate Division concluded that although the record contained some support for Adrian’s contention that her domicile was in Niagara Falls, the court upheld the District’s termination of her employment, ruling that since the District’s decision that she was domiciled in Williamsville was not arbitrary and capricious. Among the evidence considered relevant by the court was the fact that:

 

  • Adrian maintains a phone line at the Williamsville residence, but not at the Niagara Falls residence;
  • Department of Motor Vehicle records indicate that Adrian lived at the Williamsville address;
  • A surveillance company that observed Adrian at different time periods over the course of six separate occasions found that she never went to the Niagara Falls residence, always leaving from and returning to the Williamsville residence.

 

The Appellate Division found that the evidence above is sufficient for the District to have concluded that Adrian’s domicile was in Williamsville, despite the fact that she produced a voter registration card, rent payment receipts, a driver’s license, and cable statements with her Niagara Falls address.

 

Adrian also argued to the Appellate Division that the District improperly failed to conduct a hearing before terminating her. This argument was rejected by the court, which observed that such a hearing was not required by law.

 

It appears that the Appellate Division found the surveillance evidence to be persuasive, leading to the reversal of the court below. This evidence provided a rational basis for the District to conclude that Adrian’s intent to make the Williamsville residence her fixed and permanent home. In most cases, a court will not disturb an administrative decision as long as there is a rational basis for the decision and there is no evidence that the administrative decision was “arbitrary and capricious.”

 

This will NOT be the end of the story. On June 5, 2012, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, granted Adrian’s motion for leave to appeal.

 

We will follow the progress of this case, and we will keep you informed of when the Court of Appeals rules on the appeal.

 

For more information on how this may impact your business, please contact: