Matter of Peter Peltonen v Nicholas Scoppetta, Fire Commissiner of the City of New York, the Fire Department of the City of New York and The City of New York

Petitioner commenced this Article 78 appeal to annul the determination of Respondents terminating Petitioner’s employment as an FDNY fire fighter due to cocaine usage. Commissioner Scoppetta reviewed and accepted the recommendation of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), terminating Petitioner’s employment after he tested positive for cocaine during a routine drug screening. Petitioner argued that his termination was arbitrary and capricious and that his case was not handled in accordance with FDNY regulations.

Petitioner asserted that his alcoholism and cocaine usage was a result of his service following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Petitioner worked as a fire fighter to help in the rescue and recovery efforts and said the trauma of the daily stressed caused him to seek out a stronger drug than alcohol. Dr. John McCann, a clinical and forensic psychologist, diagnosed Petitioner with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and felt that the alcohol abuse and cocaine usage were effects of the PTSD. Petitioner also asserted that he suffered from a “disability” and therefore should not be fired.

Respondents argued that Petitioner’s use of cocaine was occasional and voluntary. Since he was able to exert self-control in the frequency of his cocaine use, his usage was a voluntary act of misconduct. Dr. McCann did not diagnose Petitioner with alcohol or drug dependency. Additionally, Petitioner used alcohol as a teenager and his alcohol use became a problem 2 years prior to 9/11. He also first used cocaine prior to 9/11.

The Court agreed with Respondents assertions that Petitioner’s drug usage was voluntary and felt that Petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence to prove otherwise. Since the purpose of the Court in an Article 78 appeal is to determine whether the action of an administrative agency had a rational basis, the Court found that the ALJ had sufficient evidence of Petitioner’s misconduct and that the penalty of termination was not shocking to one’s conscious.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court denied the petition.

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