Friday, March 23, 2012

The New York Court of Appeals: Analyzing the Status of Workers’ Rights in New York

By Christina French
Christina French, a third year student at Albany Law School, is the Editor-in-Chief of Albany Law School's Journal of Science and Technology. She works at New York State United Teacher as a Law Clerk for the Office of General Counsel.
This paper was prepared for the Judicial Process Seminar, Fall 2011 semester. It is Ms. French's 2d publication for the Center. (See Holmes and Cardozo: Early Contributions to the Progression of the Law, Nov. 28, 2011.)

This paper will provide a brief summary of several judicial opinions issued by the New York State Court of Appeals regarding employee benefits awarded for accidental on the job injury. The intention of the exercise is to provide the practicing attorney and other legal scholars with some insight into the status of workers’ rights as represented in the decisions of the New York Court of Appeals.

Two pieces, written by Holmes and Cardozo, contribute to the study of the judicial process by articulating the theory of legal realism and its approach to understanding what it is that judges do when they make decisions, and how that contributes to the progression of law. Before delving into the decisions, it is important to explore the theory of legal realism and how it can be applied to the study of the law of the courts.

Justice Holmes has written about the way in which judges begin with a decision first, and only after that decision is made, do they come up with reasons to explain them. Similarly, Justice Cardozo’s explanation of the judicial process begins with the law, but ends in the same place where Holmes begins, and that is with judges deciding difficult cases on the basis of considerations that reach well beyond the black letter of the law.

Ultimately, the two justices offer early forms of judicial realism that intended to avoid a formulaic and logical approach to decision making. Holmes and Cardozo add to our more modern conversation of legal realism by offering theories that advocate for a judicial process where the law is necessarily (and properly) shaped by changing notions of justice and fairness.

There are many avenues of workers’ rights issues that could be reviewed in order to provide the most comprehensive overview of how the topic is treated by the New York Court of Appeals. This paper will focus on those worker’s rights issues as related to awarding worker benefits for on the job injuries. The research was further limited to three years to ensure that the same composition of judges decided all of the cases.*
* Citations to references in this introduction are available in the paper.
To read the entire paper, open HERE.