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February 23, 2022

Municipal Employees Need Not Be Named in Notice of Claim

New York State’s General Municipal Law requires service of a notice of claim as a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit against a municipal defendant.i Until recently, there was a conflict among the appellate courts in the state as to whether individual municipal employees who are later named in the suit need to be named in the notice of claim. The Second, Third, and Fourth Departments interpret the notice requirement satisfied so long as it named the government entity. In contrast, the First Department previously held that the failure to name each employee in the notice was grounds for dismissal of the complaint subsequently filed against those individuals.

In a recent unanimous decision, the First Department overruled its own precedent and held that naming individual municipal employees was not required under the statute. In Wiggins v. City of New York,ii the plaintiff sued the City of New York together with named and unnamed employees of the New York Police Department (NYPD) in connection with his arrest and imprisonment at Rikers Island. At 16 years old, Wiggins was arrested for his alleged involvement in a shooting. After six years of incarceration awaiting trial, three of which were spent in solitary confinement, he pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree. His conviction was later overturned by the New York Court of Appeals on the grounds that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated.

After his release, Wiggins timely served a notice of claim against the city alleging various causes of action, including false arrest. Thereafter, he commenced the civil action against the city and individual members of the NYPD. The named NYPD defendants successfully moved to dismiss the complaint against them because they were not named in the notice of claim. The trial court, constrained by precedent, held that the failure to name the NYPD defendants in the notice of claim required dismissal of the case against them.

On appeal, the First Department re-examined its prior decisions and recognized that they imposed a heightened standard beyond the statutory requirements. The plain language of the General Municipal Law does not require that the claimant name individual municipal employees. Instead, a claimant need only provide the municipal defendant with the nature of the claim; the time, place, and manner in which the claim arose; and the alleged injury.

Appellate practice undoubtedly plays a consequential role in shifting case law throughout the state. As this case demonstrates, even where an issue appears to be settled, it may nevertheless be worthwhile to seek appellate review and challenge existing precedent. This is especially true where there is conflicting case law amongst the appellate courts.

If you have questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Julie Cahill, associate, at jcahill@barclaydamon.com; Matthew Larkin, Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area chair, at mlarkin@barclaydamon.com; or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

                                                                        

i See New York General Municipal Law Section 50-e.

ii 201 A.D.3d 22 (1st Dept. 2021).

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