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Ornstein v. Regan

decided: April 4, 1978.

IRVING ORNSTEIN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES F. REGAN, CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF EDUCATION RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, BOARD OF EDUCATION RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, AND JOSEPH ANTIONETTE, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, BOARD OF EDUCATION, RETIREMENT SYSTEM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Honorable Mark A. Costantino, District Judge) granting motion by defendants for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint on the ground of res judicata.

Feinberg and Oakes, Circuit Judges, and Wyatt, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Wyatt

WYATT, District Judge:

This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Costantino, J.), granting a motion by defendants for summary judgment and dismissing the complaint as barred by the principle of res judicata.

The question here is whether appellant actually litigated in the state courts the issue that the time limitation on his claim for accident disability retirement is unconstitutional. The court below decided that he had and that the decision against him in the state courts barred his action in a federal District Court. We disagree. We reverse the decision below and remand for further proceedings which will include decision of issues which were not reached in the District Court.

1

Appellant Ornstein, beginning May 25, 1959, was employed as a machinist's helper by the Board of Education of the City of New York. As such, he was a member of the Board of Education Retirement System ("the System") and was required to contribute to it.

On February 17, 1969, as part of his work, Ornstein was required to go (with his box of tools) from one high school to another. While walking on the way, he fell on ice and was injured. He was unable thereafter to work and was given extensive medical treatment but he says he was told, and believed, that his injuries were temporary and would clear up. According to Ornstein, it was in June 1972 that he was first advised that he would be permanently disabled and unable again to walk. He promptly applied for retirement on account of accident disability. The System, by letter to him dated July 19, 1972, denied any retirement benefits, citing Section 17 of the rules of the System that claims for accident disability retirement must be made within two years of the date of the accident.

Ornstein on October 18, 1972 commenced an action (technically, an Article 78 proceeding) against the System in the New York Supreme Court, Kings County, asking for his retirement benefits and for return of his contributions to the System. The defense was that the claim for retirement benefits was filed more than two years after the accident happened. Ornstein argued that Section 17, the time limitation, should be interpreted so as to allow a claim to be filed within two years after the claimant becomes aware that he is permanently disabled. This argument was rejected and the New York Supreme Court, on June 19, 1973, entered a judgment dismissing the action. The Appellate Division, Second Department, unanimously affirmed, without opinion, on October 23, 1974 (46 A.D.2d 738; 361 N.Y.S.2d 329).

Leave to appeal was denied by the Appellate Division on December 4, 1974, and by the Court of Appeals on February 12, 1975.

On July 24, 1975, Ornstein commenced this action in the Eastern District of New York, asserting as jurisdictional grounds, among others, federal questions (28 U.S.C. § 1331) and civil rights claims (28 U.S.C. § 1343). The basic claim is that the Section 17 time limitation is unconstitutional as a denial of due process and the equal protection of the laws.

Both sides moved for summary judgment. The District Court, with a memorandum opinion, granted the motion of defendants on the ground that Ornstein in the state court had sufficiently raised his constitutional claims so that he was barred by res judicata principles from litigating such claims in the federal courts. A memorandum opinion and order was filed on May 24, 1977; a judgment was filed on May 25, 1977.

This appeal (from the May 25, 1977 ...


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