Justice Lucy Billings
Tenured teacher Moreno-Lieberman moved to vacate an arbitration award sustaining one of four specifications brought against her by New York City’s Department of Education, and imposed a $7,000 fine. The specifications, including one for negligent record-keeping, arose from her role in handling a student’s threats of suicide. The hearing officer found the teacher negligently permitted the student’s handwritten suicide note on a napkin to be removed from the school by the student’s father without preserving a copy. The hearing officer stated this “serious negligence…impeded the investigation.” The court ruled the hearing officer failed to explain why documentation of the note’s undisputed contents were “central” to the investigation’s conclusion, or how its absence hindered the city in its investigation. Further, the court found the fine was excessive “to the point of shocking the conscience,” finding the offense akin to obstructing governmental administration under the Penal Law, authorizing a maximum fine of $1,000. The court granted dismissal of the petition seeking to vacate the decision sustaining the fourth specification, but granted vacatur of the fine imposed, remanding the issue to Department of Education.