by Gene Doyle, LMSW
According to The Law Dictionary, featuring Black's Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed., the Latin term "stare decisis" means "To stand by decided cases; to uphold precedents; to maintain former adjudications. 1 Kent, Comm. 477."
Stare decisis applies not only to court decisions but also administrative decisions, such as Fair Hearing Decisions.
In Matter of Charles A. Field Delivery Serv. (Roberts), 66 N.Y.2d 516, 518 (1985), the New York Court of Appeals concluded that "absent an explanation by the agency, an administrative agency decision which, on essentially the same facts as underlaid a prior agency determination, reaches a conclusion contrary to the prior determination is arbitrary and capricious."
"Stare decisis is no more an inexorable command for administrative agencies than it is for courts (see, Wachtler, Stare Decisis and a Changing New York Court of Appeals, 59 St. John's L.Rev. 445, 452).(FN2) They are, therefore, free, like courts, to correct a prior erroneous interpretation of the law (Matter of Pascual v. State Bd. of Law Examiners, 79 A.D.2d 1054, 1055, lv. denied 54 N.Y.2d 601; Matter of Leap v. Levitt, 57 A.D.2d 1021, lv. denied 42 N.Y.2d 807) by modifying or overruling a past decision (see, Davis, Administrative Law Secs. 20:10-20:11 [2d ed]; Jaffe, Judicial Control of Administrative Action, at 587-588). They are, likewise, free, like courts, to determine how disputed facts are to be decided, judging credibility and drawing such inference as they find reasonable in order to resolve contested questions of fact (Matter of McSweeney v. Hammerlund Mfg. Co., 275 App.Div. 447, 450; see, Matter of Dresher [Lubin], 286 App.Div. 591; Gabrielli and Nonna, Judicial Review of Administrative Action in New York: An Overview and a Survey, 52 St. John's L.Rev. 361, 363; Jaffe, Judicial Review: Questions of Law, 69 Harv.L.Rev. 239, 241), and it is not within the power of the courts to impose factual consistency.
Field Delivery, 66 N.Y.2d at 518-520.
"It is well settled that '[a] decision of an administrative agency which neither adheres to its own prior precedent nor indicates its reason for reaching a different result on essentially the same facts is arbitrary and capricious' (Matter of Charles A. Filed Delivery Serv. [Roberts], 66 N.Y.2d 516, 517 )."
Matter of Lantry v State of New York, 6 N.Y.3d 49, 58 (2005).
"In Matter of Lincoln Stor. (Hartnett) (156 A.D.2d 832, supra), the Appellate Division concluded that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board's determination that Lincoln drivers were employees. In Matter of Lafayette Stor. & Moving Corp. (Hartnett) (156 A.D.2d 871, supra), however, in concluding that the drivers were independent contractors and not employees, the Board failed to comply with our decision in Matter of Field Delivery Serv. (Roberts) (66 N.Y.2d 516). Although there are distinctions between this case, Matter of Lincoln Stor., and Matter of Lafayette Stor. & Mov. of Niagara (Appeal Board Dec 335, 353, Sept. 20, 1982 [Lafayette (Niagara)]), there exist 'sufficient factual [similarities]' (Matter of Field Delivery Serv. [Roberts], supra, at 521) between the cases to require explanation by the Board as to why it determined that the drivers in Lincoln Stor. and Lafayette (Niagara) were employees but concluded that the drivers in Lafayette were independent contractors. As we noted in Field Delivery (supra, at 516-517), '[a] decision of an administrative agency which neither adheres to its own prior precedent nor indicates its reason for reaching a different result on essentially the same facts is arbitrary and capricious.' That the Appellate Division attempted to differentiate the drivers in Lafayette (Niagara), from those in the two cases here is unavailing for it is the Board, not the court, which must comply with Field Delivery if the facts in the cases are sufficiently similar. '[After]-the-fact rationalization [by the court] of the Board's determination does not satisfy the requirements of Field Delivery' (Matter of Martin [Troy Publ. Co. -- Roberts], 70 N.Y.2d 679, 681)."
Matter of Lafayette Stor. & Moving Corp. (Hartnett), 77 N.Y.2d 823, 826 (1991).
These principles of administrative stare decisis have specifically been held to be binding on the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services (DSS), who has been succeeded by the Commissioner of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA):
"Supreme Court granted the petition, stating
"'[DOH] clearly stated that it lacked any legal basis or authorization to direct a community or institutionalized spouse to purchase a particular type of investment. In this action, [DOH] has not explained its change of methodology in the calculation of the CSRA for the community spouse. When an agency alters its prior policy and interpretation of law, it must explain its reasons for doing so or its determination shall be reversed on the law as arbitrary [(see Matter of Charles A. Field Deliver Service, Inc., 66 NY2d 516 )].'"
Matter of Giaquinto v Commissioner of N.Y. State Dept. of Health, 11 N.Y.3d 179, 185 (2008), quoting Matter of Giaquinto v Commissioner of N.Y. State Dept. of Health, Index No. 7220-05, Decision and Judgment at p. 5 (Sup. Ct. Albany Co. April 27, 2006) Ferradino, J.
" Absent a reasoned explanation for abandonment of the State Social Services Department's expressed original reading of the regulation at the time of promulgation and adoption here of a diametrically opposite interpretation, the agency's change of position was arbitrary and capricious and cannot stand.
"'From the policy considerations embodied in administrative law, it follows that when an agency determines to alter its prior stated course it must set forth its reasons for doing so. Unless such an explanation is furnished, a reviewing court will be unable to determine whether the agency has changed its prior interpretation of the law for valid reasons, or has simply overlooked or ignored its prior decision .... Absent such an explanation, failure to conform to agency precedent will, therefore, require reversal on the law as arbitrary.' (Matter of Field Delivery Serv. v Roberts, 66 N.Y.2d 516, 520)."
Matter of Richardson v Commissioner of N.Y. City Dept. of Social Servs., 88 N.Y.2d 35, 39-40 (1996). Cf. Matter of Insurance Premium Fin. Assn. of N.Y. State v New York State Dept. of Ins., 88 N.Y.2d 337, 345 (1996) ["The Field decision, however, addressed actions of an administrative agency acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, not those which are quasi-legislative. Our decision imposes a stare decisis constraint on administrative agencies requiring them to explain inconsistent decisions. There is no similar rule applicable to quasi-legislative actions of an administrative agency adopting new rules (cf., Matter of Richardson v Commissioner of N. Y. City Dept. of Social Servs., 88 N.Y.2d 35)."].
"The DOH has in previous cases found that payments made in cash for home care are reimbursable if agency affidavits signed by the home care attendants are submitted as proof of payment (see Matter of App. of GS, DOH Dec. FH # 3864203J, Feb. 14, 2003; Matter of App. of MG, DOH Dec. FH # 3834019J, Dec. 27, 2002). Whether or not there is substantial evidence, "[a]bsent an explanation by the agency, an administrative agency decision which, on essentially the same facts as underlaid a prior agency determination, reaches a conclusion contrary to the prior determination is arbitrary and capricious" and must be annulled (Matter of Charles A. Field Delivery Serv. [Roberts], 66 N.Y.2d 516, 518; see Matter of Aliperti v Trotta, 35 A.D.3d 854). Here, the signed affidavits of the two home health care aides should be considered by HRA on the issue of reimbursement, in light of the DOH's prior acceptance of such evidence. Accordingly, so much of the determination dated August 30, 2006, as confirmed that part of the determination dated January 3, 2005, relating to those two home health care aids must be annulled, and the matter remitted to HRA for a recalculation of the reimbursement due to the petitioner. However, with respect to the attendant for whom the petitioner did not have a signed affidavit, there was substantial evidence to support the respondents' determination and that determination is consistent with prior determinations."
Matter of Muhlstein v New York City Human Resources Admin., 55 A.D.3d 736, 737 (2d Dept. 2008).
"[W]e agree with the Supreme Court that the State Commissioner violated the principles of administrative stare decisis when he failed to adhere to his previous determinations, which admittedly are in conflict with his present decision, and failed to provide an explanation therefor. It was proper to remit the matter to the State Commissioner for an explanation (see, Matter of Field Delivery Serv. [Roberts], 66 N.Y.2d 516; see also, Matter of Martin [Troy Publ. Co.-Roberts], 70 N.Y.2d 679)."
Matter of Long v Perales, 172 A.D.2d 667, 670 (2d Dept. 1991), lv. denied 78 N.Y.2d 854 (1991), affg. Matter of Long v Perales, Index No. 17986/88, Slip Op. at pp. 3-4 (Sup. Ct. Nassau Co. April 24, 1989) Murphy, J.
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