IN RE: Aaron TYK, Petitioner, v. NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT, Respondent.
The New York State Department of Education, maintains a system wherein parents who are unhappy with decisions about the placement of their handicapped children may ask that the dispute be resolved by an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) who is assigned from a list on a rotation basis (Education Law Sec. 4404).
The procedure for revoking an IHO's authority is contained in 8 NYCRR 200.21(b) and generally provides that the authority may be revoked by giving the IHO a written statement of the charges and an opportunity to submit a response. That process was followed here. The Commissioner charged the IHO with using inflammatory language in decisions, not writing decisions on time, failing to grant adjournments and failing to follow the sign in security rules when he arrived at schools to conduct hearings.
This Article 78 challenge to the Commissioner's decision is that the Petitioner's authority should not have been revoked solely on the written record without giving the IHO an opportunity for some form of hearing to controvert the charges.
Under our system almost everyone against whom the State takes an adverse action is entitled to a hearing. People facing parking tickets get hearings, (VT Section 240); revocation of hack driver's license (Matter of Hecht v. Monaghan, 307 N.Y. 461, 121 N.E.2d 421), revocation of pistol permit, (Wrona v. Donovan, 88 A.D.2d 998, 451 N.Y.S.2d 834), revocation of poultry slaughter license (Jack Mintz Poultry, Inc. v. Walkley, 41 A.D.2d 865, 342 N.Y.S.2d 519), revocation of social security benefits (Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18); reduction of benefits to welfare recipients (Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254, 90 S.Ct. 1011, 25 L.Ed.2d 287), revocation of driver's licenses, (Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 91 S.Ct. 1586, 29 L.Ed.2d 90) and even felons serving time in penitentiaries when they face disciplinary action get hearings (Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935).
New York Jurisprudence 2nd reduces this practice to basic Hornbook Law when it says:
“Where the State confers a license to engage in a profession, trade, or occupation not inherently inimical to the public welfare such license becomes a valuable personal right which cannot be denied or abridged in any manner except after due notice and a fair and impartial hearing before unbiased tribunal. (14 New York Jurisprudence 2nd, Sec. 79.)”
Every action by government does not require a hearing. The requirement of a hearing is grounded in the Constitutional prohibition against taking “liberty” or “property” without due process of law. The Supreme Court has created a broad definition of “liberty” and “property” when concepts are considered in the context of State action against citizens. This analysis is best revealed in, Board of Regents of State Colleges v. David Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972) and then in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). In Board of Regents, supra at 570, 92 S.Ct. 2701 the Court concluded that a non-tenured college professor had no “liberty” or “property” interest which was offended when his contract was not renewed. Though the Court found no “liberty” or “ property” interest implicated in that case, it sets forth a clear explanation of what constitutes a “liberty” and “property” interests. After a long historical discussion about how those concepts have been evolved throughout our law in the context of when a person is entitled to a hearing the Court reached the conclusion that ․ ․ where a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and any opportunity to be heard or essential (p. 574, 92 S.Ct. 2701).
In denying the college professor's application for a hearing the Court concluded that the non-renewal of his contract did not damage his reputation and obviously the denial of disability benefits did not damage a person's reputation and thus no hearing was required. But here we are faced with a wholly different circumstance. This is not the failure to renew. This authority was “revoked.” That procedure clearly impacts the Petitioner's reputation and honor since the clear implication of a revocation is that the effected party did something wrong.
In the real world there is some prestige associated with being an IHO. It is an impressive title, a source of pride to his friends and family. When it is taken away, he is subjected to some public humiliation and thus the revocation of this certification falls clearly within the concepts Board of Regents of State Colleges and it is this constitutional requirement that is the basis for all of the hearings that are regularly provided in our law and regularly recognized by the Appellate Division (Wrona v. Donovan, 88 A.D.2d 998, 451 N.Y.S.2d 834, Honey Dippers Septic Tank Services, Inc. v. Landi, 198 A.D.2d 402, 604 N.Y.S.2d 128).
Respondent cites language in Board of Regents of State Colleges “This same conclusion (that Petitioner is not entitled to a hearing) applies to the discharge of a public employee whose position is terminable at the will of the employer when there is no public disclosure for the reasons for the discharge.” But Petitioner is not a terminable employee “at will” and the reference to public disclosure must apply to situations where licenses are not renewed or as in Board of Regents of State Colleges where tenure is not granted. Here, in support of the revocation there is a long public record of Petitioner's alleged shortcomings. As Petitioner acknowledges the Supreme Court have regularly recognized that where revocation affects the opportunity to earn a living, a hearing is required Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners, 353 U.S. 232, 77 S.Ct. 752, 1 L.Ed.2d 796 (1957) Dippers Septic Tank Ser. v. Landi, 198 A.D.2d 402, 604 N.Y.S.2d 128 (1993). Admittedly, Petitioner may pursue other opportunities within the legal profession but the reality is that the existence of a record of his alleged wrongdoing when he served as a Hearing Officer would have a significant impact on his future employment opportunities. It is for that reason he is entitled to a hearing to challenge the accuracy of that record.
Respondent also cites Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers, Union v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961) where a cook's security pass was revoked without a hearing. That case however, confirms the basic point that where government provides some authority or some license which is more substantial than “at will” employment as was involved in that case, revocation can only take place by following various procedures which include some opportunity for the effected party to challenge the accuracy at some form at a hearing.
I do not suggest in this decision that any particular form of hearing be held, what procedure's to be applied or before whom the hearing is to be held. That is the Commissioner's responsibility. But the law is clear that the Petitioner is entitled to some forum where he can be heard on the validity of the charges.
This Court is not unmindful in the sensitive nature of the Petitioner's work, i.e., determination about the education of handicapped children. For this reason it would be inappropriate for this Court to order immediate reinstatement, but in view of the clear Constitutional mandate and the regularity which our Appellate Courts have required hearings where license are revoked before their expiration, there is no alternative but to find that this revocation was arbitrary and capricious and, therefore, grant the Petitioner's application. Rather than ordering immediate reinstatement, I order that the Commissioner conducts a hearing within 60 days from the date of this decision or within such time as that date may be extended on application to this Court and upon failure to conduct some form of hearing within 60 days or within such time when as may be extended by this Court, Petitioner's application is granted in full and reinstatement is ordered.
This constitutes the decision and order of the court.
LEWIS L. DOUGLASS, J.