Court nullifies Valley View transfer

Supreme Court says the legislature did not have the votes needed to transfer Valley View to a local development corporation

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  • Attorney Michael Sussman speaks at a recent pro-Valley View rally in Goshen (Photo by Edie Johnson)

Highlights of the decision

The petitioners have standing — The court agreed that the petitioners “will suffer a particularized and concrete harm." The ruling states that "if Valley View is transferred to a private operator, they will lose their civil service status.” In addition, the ruling says, the Valley View residents in the suit “are, of course, directly affected by a change in ownership of their home and, similarly, will no longer be residents of a facility operated by the County government.”
Legislature did not intend an exception — The county argued that the super-majority provision may be overridden if the legislature follows the Not-For-Profit Corporations Law. The petitioners argued that the legislature did not mean to include an exception to the statute under which the vote was taken. The court said, “A change in long-established rules of law is not deemed to have been intended by the Legislature in the absence of a clear manifestation of such intention.”
Ulster County's precedent — The county argued that Ulster County voted by simple majority to sell its nursing home to an LDC. But the court countered that “no evidence is submitted in this regard either, but, again, the fact that Ulster County did so, if true, is not determinative of the issue of law before the court either.”

By Pamela Chergotis

— Supreme court on Tuesday nullified the Orange County Legislature's controversial decision to transfer its nursing home to a private local development corporation (LDC).

The legislature did not have enough votes to approve the sale of county-owned property, Justice Elaine Slobod said in her ruling, which went for the 36 residents and employees of Valley View that petitioned the court. To do the transfer in accordance with county law, the legislature in its April 9 vote would have needed a two-thirds super-majority vote but had only a simple majority of 9-12.

Last month the county moved to dismiss the case, calling the suit brought by attorney Michael Sussman "untimely" because union negotiations at Valley View had not yet been exhausted. The court on Tuesday denied the county's motion to dismiss.

"The limitations period for a challenge of a legislative resolution is four months," the ruling states. "Were petitioners to wait until the LDC is transferred to a private operator as respondents appear to argue, respondents would no doubt then argue, and successfully, that the challenge would be time barred."

Dain Pascocello, spokesperson for County Executive Steve Neuhaus, said in a statement Tuesday that the county "will be immediately moving on an appeal.”

The court made it plain that it was ruling only on whether the April 9 resolution was validly adopted, and not weighing in on whether Orange County should sell or keep its nursing home.

"The court expresses no opinion in this regard either way," the ruling stated. "The issue is one for the legislative branch, not the judicial branch."

The court also did not directly rule on the petitioners' claim that since Valley View is a county department, it can by county law be abolished only by a local law and not a resolution. But it did say it "observes" the 2013 court decision that restrained the former county executive, Edward Diana, from "unilaterally closing Valley View" because it would "effectively abolish" the Department of Residential Health Care Services.

Local officials applaud decision

Tuesday's decision was welcomed by Valley View's many supporters throughout the county. Among county officials, Michael Anagnostakis, chair of the legislature's Health and Mental Health Committee, which oversees Valley View, has been the most vocal proponent of keeping Valley View in county hands, and the most vocal critic of the county's rush to transfer. At a recent rally in Goshen supporting Valley View, he said the county's LDC committee didn't understand how the nursing home worked, and was ignoring the fact that in the past 18 months Valley View has saved more money than any other department in the county.

“I urge all my colleagues, once and for all, to stop these illegal actions on Valley View and join us in furthering the dramatic cost savings we are achieving at the facility so that we can keep it forever for the people of Orange County," Anagnostakis said Wednesday.

Orange County Legislator Shannon Wong, who represents Towns of Blooming Grove, Goshen, Wawayanda and the Village of Goshen, said that while she was pleased with the ruling, "I’m sad for the people at Valley View. For them, this has been an ongoing emotional roller coaster.”

She added: “I always said the quality of care at Valley View is very good, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that care."

NYS Assemblyman James Skoufis also welcomed the decision.

“Today’s ruling will ensure that Valley View will continue to provide high-quality care for our seniors, veterans and most vulnerable," he said in a statement. "The county leadership’s attempt to circumvent law was clearly determined to be illegal and I urge them to work toward improving the efficiencies at the facility instead of selling it off to the highest bidder.”

The CSEA, which represents Valley View's workers, said the court decision was in "the best interest of Valley View nursing facility residents and the Orange County community."

The statement by CSEA President Danny Donohue continued, "CSEA has long argued that the transfer of public nursing facilities to the control of Local Development Corporations, which have no accountability to the public, represents an abandonment of responsibility by public officials....The trend to transfer public health care facilities to Local Development Corporations is a quick fix that lets elected officials wash their hands of responsibility for addressing the long term well being of the most vulnerable people in our communities. This court ruling recognizes that important decisions affecting the well-being of people and communities should not have shortcuts.”

Geri Corey and Edie Johnson contributed to the reporting of this article.

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