Officers Seek to Hold Department Liable for Damages After Terminating Their 207-c Benefits Without a Hearing

New York, New York September 26, 2002 - Two Rockland County Correction Officers who were injured while performing their duties, have filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, against the Rockland County Sheriff's Department and its legal counsel, Joseph Suarez, among others, for failing to afford them their constitutional right to a hearing before the department decided to terminate their 207-c benefits.

According to the complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Review Committee had originally granted both officers 207-c benefits for injuries incurred during the course of their public duties, but then the department rescinded those benefits without providing a reason and without providing the officers their federal right to a hearing prior to terminating their 207-c benefits. The purpose behind Section 207-c is to compensate specified municipal employees for injuries incurred in the performance of special work, related to the nature or heightened risks and duties.

On April 17, 2001, correction officer David Oliver, crushed his left hand in between two doors in the course of inspecting an area for contraband. Despite immense pain, Officer Oliver continued to report to work. When the pain grew worse, Officer Oliver consulted his family doctor, who referred him to an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon advised him to wear a splint and recuperate at home for four to five days. As his hand continued to be in pain, he requested benefits under General Municipal Law 207-c in July of 2001.

Four months later, in November of 2001, the Administrative Review Committee approved Officer Oliver’s request for 207-c status for the April 17, 2001 incident. The approval however, was only granted for 180 days beginning on April 17, 2001 and expiring on October 17, 2001. No reason was offered for the October 17, 2001 expiration date for Officer Oliver’s 207-c benefits. The county credited back to Officer Oliver a total of 52 hours of vacation accruals and 28 hours of sick time accruals which were taken from him since the incident.

Since Officer Oliver continued to be disabled as a result of the April 17, 2001 injury, he was forced to re-apply to the Administrative Review Committee for 207-c status. In March of 2001, the committee notified Officer Oliver to submit to a second independent medical examination, scheduled for April 7, 2002. Officer Oliver complied and the examination took place as scheduled.

The independent examiner concluded that, “It is my opinion that the examinee continues to demonstrate a mild partial disability. Some permanency is anticipated. He has not reached a medical end point.” One month later, in May of 2002, the review board extended Officer Oliver’s request to extend his 207-c status. However, the Review Board summarily terminated Oliver’s 207-c benefits on April 9, 2002. The committee gave no explanation for its decision to deny benefits after April 9, 2002, other than to say that it was based partly on the independent examiner’s most recent report. The county failed to afford Officer Oliver a hearing before terminating his 207-c benefits after April 9, 2002 and has ignored requests to cease their unlawful conduct.

On December 18, 1997, while working at the Rockland County Jail, correction officer Evan Washington hurt his back, his right wrist and his left pinky finger while restraining an inmate during a fight with another inmate. Six days later, Officer Washington requested 207-c benefits for his injuries sustained on December 18th. In addition, Officer Washington applied for and received workers’ compensation benefits. The workers’ compensation ’Notice of Decision’ confirmed that Officer Washington had work-related injuries to the back, right wrist and left 5th finger.

Approximately one year later, Officer Washington had surgery performed on his right wrist and submitted yet another request for 207-c benefits. Over a year later, the Administrative Review Committee finally notified Officer Washington that they approved his request. The award was made retroactive to the date of the December 18, 1997 incident.

On February 4, 2000 and again on January 30, 2002, Officer Washington submitted to two independent medical examinations. The January 30th examination concluded that Officer Washington’s “intermittent lost time” from work “was necessary.” However, on May 3, 2002, the Administrative Review Committee notified Officer Washington that it was revoking his 207-c status retroactive to January 30, 2002, the date on which he was last examined by the independent examiner. Like Officer Oliver before him, Officer Washington was provided neither an explanation for this decision, nor afforded a hearing before the decision was made. The attorney representing both correction officers, Mercedes M. Maldonado, of Koehler & Isaacs, has argued that the sheriff’s department’s administrative review committee decisions were arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.