The New York Appellate Division, Second Department (“New York Appellate Court”) held in its decision dated November 25, 2020 in a case filed against a hospital for alleged physical abuse of a vulnerable 19-year-old special needs high school student during a multiple-day psychiatric stay in the hospital that “there is not a private right action for alleged violation of article 11 of the Social Services Law.”
The infant plaintiff, by his mother, and his mother, individually, commenced the lawsuit to recover damages for personal injuries allegedly sustained by the infant plaintiff, a special needs individual, at a hospital. They asserted eight causes of action: assault, battery, false imprisonment, negligent hiring, supervision, and retention, violation of a section of Social Services Law Article 11, violation of Civil Rights Law § 79-n, and negligence. The two causes of action alleging violation of Social Services Law article 11 were the fifth and sixth causes of action. In those causes of action, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants committed physical abuse and deliberate inappropriate use of physical restraints as defined in Social Services Law § 493(4)(b).
The New York Appellate Court stated that in the absence of an express private right of action, plaintiffs can seek civil relief in a plenary action based on a violation of the statute only if a legislative intent to create such a right of action is fairly implied in the statutory provisions and their legislative history. There are three “essential factors” to be considered in determining whether a private right of action can be fairly implied from the statutory text and legislative history: (1) whether the plaintiff is one of the class for whose particular benefit the statute was enacted; (2) whether recognition of a private right of action would promote the legislative purpose; and (3) whether creation of such a right would be consistent with the legislative scheme.
The New York Appellate Court stated that Article 11 of the Social Services Law was enacted as part of the “protection of people with special needs act” (L 2012, ch 501, § 1; see L 2012, ch 501, Part B). The Protection of People with Special Needs Act (“Act”) amended various state laws, including the executive law, the correction law, the criminal procedure law, the mental hygiene law, the public health law, and the social services law (see L 2012, ch 501). It “enact[ed] into law major components of legislation which are necessary for the protection of persons who are vulnerable because of their reliance on professional caregivers to help them overcome physical, cognitive and other challenges” (L 2012, ch 501, § 2).
The New York Court of Appeals has explained that the Protection of People with Special Needs Act was enacted to create a set of uniform safeguards to bolster the protection of people with special needs in New York (L 2012, ch 501, § 2, part A, § 1). To implement those safeguards, the Act created the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, an agency empowered to receive, investigate, and respond to allegations of abuse, neglect, or other reportable incidents involving disabled residents receiving services in licensed facilities or provider agencies.
The New York Appellate Court stated in the present case that a “legislative intent to create a private right of action for alleged violation of article 11 of the Social Services Law is not fairly implied in these statutory provisions and their legislative history. Finding such a private right of action would be inconsistent with the legislative scheme. The Protection of People with Special Needs Act, generally, and article 11 of the Social Services Law, specifically, “already contain[ ] substantial enforcement mechanisms” (Cruz v TD Bank, N.A., 22 NY3d at 71). These mechanisms in the Act include the creation of the Justice Center, the “central agency responsible for managing and overseeing the incident reporting system, and for imposing or delegating corrective action.””
The New York Appellate Court held: “Since creating a private right of action for alleged violation of article 11 would be inconsistent with the legislative scheme, a private right of action for alleged violation of that article may not be fairly implied regardless of whether the plaintiffs are of the class for whose particular benefit the statute was enacted, and regardless of whether recognition of a private right of action would promote the legislative purpose. We hold that there is not a private right action for alleged violation of article 11 of the Social Services Law.”
Source Joseph v Nyack Hosp., 2020 NY Slip Op 07042.
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