Whether the Appellate Division was correct in applying the "totality of economic indicators test" to decide if Defendants violated the equal protection rights of the judges of the Erie County Court by paying them less than judges in the County Courts of Albany, Onondaga, and Sullivan counties.
No. Since Judiciary Law § 221-D does not implicate a fundamental right nor target a suspect class, it is subject to rational basis scrutiny under the Equal Protection clauses of the United States and New York Constitutions. The Court found a rational basis to support the disparate treatment based on home values and caseload volume and rejected the "totality of economic indicators test" as contrary to the governing rational basis test.
In October 1993, the judges of the Erie County Court filed a complaint claiming that their equal protection rights were violated because their counterpart judges in the Albany, Onondaga, and Sullivan County Courts were paid more. The lower courts awarded summary judgment to the judges on their cause of action relating to Albany County and found no rational basis for the pay disparity. The judges in Albany county are paid more than the judges in any of the other counties. After the case relating to the Albany county judges was dismissed, the lower courts held the causes of action relating to Onondaga and Sullivan counties moot. Defendants appealed pursuant to CPLR 5601(d) and 5601(b)(1). The Court of Appeals found that a rational basis for the pay disparity existed on the second cause of action relating to Albany County and dismissed the cause of action. The Court remitted the two remaining causes of action.
Judiciary Law § 221-D sets the pay for the judges of the County Court and allows variance based on geographical location. Since the statute neither implicates a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class, it is subject to rational basis scrutiny under the Equal Protection clauses of the United States. and New York Constitutions. The statute is presumed to be constitutional and will pass rational basis scrutiny if there is a rational relationship between the disparate treatment and any legitimate governmental purpose. Defendants submitted data showing that the median home values were nearly 50% higher in Albany County than in Erie County and that the judges of the Albany County Court have larger caseloads per judge than the judges of the Erie County Court. The Court found that this data supported the disparate treatment and provided a rational basis for the 4.6% pay disparity. The Court thus rejected the "totality of economic indicators test" applied by the Appellate Division and dismissed the cause of action relating to the Albany County Court Judges as a matter of law.
Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.