Decision No. 17,959
Appeal of KATRINA N. CRAWFORD from action of the Wyandanch Public Library; its Board of Trustees; Ghenya B. Grant as President; and Nancy Holliday, Norman Sellers, Judith Graham-Guerrier, and Katrina N. Crawford as Trustees regarding a resolution.
Decision No. 17,959
(January 11, 2021)
Shawn S. Cullinane, Esq., attorney for petitioner
Gilbert Law Group, attorneys for respondents, Howard E. Gilbert, Esq., of counsel
ROSA., Interim Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from action of the Wyandanch Public Library; its Board of Trustees (“respondent board”); Ghenya B. Grant as president of respondent board; and Nancy Holliday, Norman Sellers, and Judith Graham-Guerrier as trustees (collectively, “respondents”) with respect to a December 30, 2019 resolution of respondent board. The appeal must be sustained.
Prior to the events giving rise to this appeal, petitioner was a candidate in an April 2, 2019 election for a position on respondent board, seeking a five-year term commencing July 1, 2019. Following that election, respondent board determined that petitioner “was not qualified to hold the position of [t]rustee” and certified her opponent, Khristian M. Jones (“Jones”), as the winner of the five-year term commencing July 1, 2019. Petitioner then challenged respondent board’s determination in an appeal to the Commissioner pursuant to Education Law §310 (Appeal of Crawford, 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785).
In a decision dated November 7, 2019, the Commissioner sustained petitioner’s appeal and ordered, among other things, that respondent board “appoint petitioner to fill the seat on the board of trustees for which she was the successful candidate in the April 2, 2019 election” (Appeal of Crawford, 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785).
On December 30, 2019, respondent board passed a resolution (“the resolution”) appointing petitioner
to the vacant [t]rustee seat effective as of the date of this resolution until the next [l]ibrary election (on or about April 2020), at which time an election [would] be conducted for the remainder of the term for the aforesaid [t]rustee position.
This appeal ensued. Petitioner’s request for interim relief was granted on March 2, 2020.
Petitioner asserts that the resolution is arbitrary and capricious insofar as it appointed her to the position of trustee only until the April 2020 election. Petitioner argues that, pursuant to the Commissioner’s order in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785), she is entitled to be appointed for the full five-year term. For relief, petitioner seeks an order appointing her as trustee “for a term of five years, ending June 30, 2024.” Petitioner further requests that I “review, revise, and[/]or amend” the Commissioner’s decision in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785) “to clarify, and definitively declare, that the intention ... was that the term of office in question was for a full five years.”
Respondents assert, among other things, that petitioner failed to join a necessary party and that the appeal is in fact an “application to reopen.” On the merits, respondents contend that petitioner has failed to establish that the resolution was arbitrary, capricious, or in violation of law.
First, I must address the procedural issues. Respondents assert that petitioner’s appeal “should have been filed as an application to reopen instead of a new petition.” Specifically, respondents appear to argue that petitioner’s request that I “clarify” the prior decision amounts to a request to reopen such decision and, therefore, this appeal is improper because petitioner did not apply for reopening within 30 days of the date of the decision. Contrary to respondents’ contention, petitioner does not seek to reopen the Commissioner’s decision in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785). Instead, petitioner expressly appeals from respondent board’s December 30, 2019 resolution. Moreover, respondents’ attempt to frame this appeal as an application to reopen implicates the merits of petitioner’s claims, insofar as they aver that respondent board “only ha[d] ... authority to appoint [petitioner] until the next upcoming election.” Accordingly, I decline to dismiss the appeal on this basis.
Respondents also assert that the appeal should be dismissed because petitioner failed to join Jones as a necessary party. A party whose rights would be adversely affected by a determination of an appeal in favor of a petitioner is a necessary party and must be joined as such (Appeal of Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of Murray, 48 id. 517, Decision No. 15,934). Joinder requires that an individual be clearly named as a respondent in the caption and served with a copy of the notice of petition and petition to inform the individual that he or she should respond to the petition and enter a defense (Appeal of Sutton, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,331; Appeal of Murray, 48 id. 517, Decision No. 15,934).
Jones’s intention to run for petitioner’s seat in a future election is inherently speculative and does not secure an actual, existing right in such seat (see Appeal of Kennelly, 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,137; Appeal of Berheide, 35 id. 412, Decision No. 13,588). Accordingly, I reject respondents’ assertion that Jones is a necessary party to this appeal.
To the extent that respondents raise various additional defenses not addressed herein, respondents bear the burden of proof to establish any affirmative defenses (8 NYCRR §275.12[a]; see Appeal of Kenton, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,649; Application of Simmons, 53 id., Decision No. 16,596; Appeal of Mogel, 41 id. 127, Decision No. 14,636). Respondents assert – in conclusory fashion – a total of 19 defenses in their answer; however, with the exception of the defenses discussed above, respondents have not submitted any proof in support of their numerous defenses or explained, in any way, how such defenses are applicable to this appeal. Accordingly, I find that respondents have not carried their burden of proof with respect to their remaining defenses, and I decline to dismiss the petition on the basis thereof (see Appeal of Kenton, 54 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 16,649; Application of Simmons, 53 id., Decision No. 16,596).
Turning to the merits, in an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and the burden of establishing the facts upon which petitioner seeks relief (8 NYCRR §275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884).
On this record, petitioner has established that respondents’ resolution is arbitrary and capricious and that she is entitled to the relief requested. The Commissioner’s decision in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785) unambiguously concluded that petitioner was eligible to serve on respondent board and had been the successful candidate for a five-year term in the April 2, 2019 election. Based on the plain language of that decision, there is no basis to conclude that petitioner is entitled to anything less than the full five-year term to which she was elected, which expires on June 30, 2024.
Respondents assert that, despite the Commissioner’s decision, respondent board “had no authority to appoint [petitioner] to a term beyond the next election” pursuant to Education Law §§226(4) and 1709(7). These provisions prescribe that a vacancy arises on a board where a member is removed from office and that a board may appoint a person to fill such vacancy only until the next election. Contrary to respondents’ contentions, however, these provisions are not implicated in this appeal. Although respondents assert that the Commissioner’s decision in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785) created a “vacancy,” implicating sections 226 and 1709, the Commissioner’s decision did not in fact remove Jones from office within the meaning of these statutes. Instead, the decision determined that respondent board had erroneously certified Jones as the winner of the April 2, 2019 election and that petitioner – not Jones – was entitled to the five-year term at issue.
Respondents seize upon a portion of the prior decision in which the Commissioner declared that Jones’s position was “vacant”; however, the Commissioner expressly declared the position vacant “for the reasons set forth” in the decision – namely, that petitioner had won the April 2, 2019 election. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s reference to the seat as “vacant” – a pragmatic measure to ensure that Jones would relinquish the seat to which petitioner was entitled – did not, in and of itself, implicate Education Law §§226(4) and 1709(7).
Thus, consistent with the prior decision of the Commissioner in Appeal of Crawford (59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,785), I find that petitioner is entitled to a five-year term on respondent board, ending June 30, 2024. I advise respondents that any future noncompliance with this decision or the prior decision may constitute a neglect of duty or a refusal to carry into effect the educational purposes of the Wyandanch Public Library (see Education Law §226).
THE APPEAL IS SUSTAINED.
IT IS ORDERED that the December 30, 2019 resolution of respondent Board of Trustees of the Wyandanch Public Library, as appealed from herein, is hereby annulled, and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that petitioner Katrina N. Crawford is entitled to serve the five-year term to which she was elected on the Board of Trustees of the Wyandanch Public Library, concluding June 30, 2024, subject to any legitimate grounds for removal set forth in the Education Law.
END OF FILE
 Petitioner included herself as a respondent in the caption of the appeal, presumably to reflect her membership on the Board of Trustees of the Wyandanch Public Library. Because petitioner cannot properly commence an appeal against herself, she is not a respondent in this proceeding.
 In the version of the resolution in the record, the word “as” appears as a handwritten notation, inserted over the printed text of the resolution.