The statutory right to a safe workplace may not be enforced by means of a remedy at law which would require the judiciary to preempt the exercise of discretion by the executive branch of government.
In 1982, the Long Island Correctional Facility (LICF), situated on the grounds of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center, was opened as part of a plan to meet the immediate and long-term needs of the State correction system. The decision partially to convert the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center to a medium security correctional facility was made by former Governor Carey, and was met with early opposition. (See Cohalan v Carey, 88 A.D.2d 77, app dsmd 57 N.Y.2d 672.) In January 1984, in his annual message to the Legislature, Governor Cuomo announced that the LICF would be closed as a part of the over-all capital expansion plan of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). In a subsequent press release, the Governor stated that the LICF would be closed on October 1, 1984, in view of the availability of 3,500 new prison spaces over the next year under the State's prison expansion program and an analysis of prison population growth projections.
Thereupon, petitioners commenced this article 78 proceeding, seeking to enjoin the scheduled closing of the LICF. The proceeding was brought on behalf of two classes of correctional personnel: correction officers, sergeants, lieutenants and civilian employees of DOCS currently employed at LICF (Class I); and, individuals employed in similar capacities at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility and other facilities maintained and operated by DOCS (Class II). The gravamen of this proceeding is that
Two motions were submitted to Special Term: petitioners' motion for a preliminary injunction and respondents' motion to dismiss the petition. Special Term granted petitioners' motion for a preliminary injunction on June 5, 1984, thus enjoining the scheduled closing of the LICF pending a determination on the merits. Respondents moved to dismiss the petition pursuant to CPLR 7804 (subd [f]) and CPLR 3211 (subd [a], pars 2, 7) upon the ground, inter alia, that the decision to close the LICF involves the exercise of executive discretion and therefore presents a nonjusticiable controversy. By order dated July 9, 1984, Special Term denied respondents' motion to dismiss, finding that the claim advanced by petitioners under section 27-a of the Labor Law was justiciable by reason of this court's recent decisions in Klostermann v Cuomo and Joanne S. v Carey (61 N.Y.2d 525). Upon motion by respondents, the Appellate Division, Second Department, granted permission to appeal. In a decision dated September 21, 1984, the Appellate Division reversed both orders of Special Term, on the law, and entered an order dismissing the petition and vacating the preliminary injunction. We affirm for the following reasons.
The doctrine of justiciability, developed to identify appropriate occasions for the exercise of judicial authority, represents perhaps the most significant and least comprehended limitation upon the judicial power. (See Jackson, The Supreme Court in the American System of Government, p 11.) Justiciability is the generic term of art which encompasses discrete, subsidiary concepts including, inter alia, political questions, ripeness and advisory opinions. At the heart of the justification for the doctrine of justiciability lies the jurisprudential canon that the power of the judicial branch may only be exercised in a manner consistent with the "judicial function" (Matter of State Ind. Comm., 224 N.Y. 13, 16 [Cardozo, J.]), upon the proper presentation of matters of a "Judiciary Nature" (2 Farrand, Records of Federal Convention of 1787 , p 430). Recognizing that we have no more right to usurp the authority conferred upon a
As a reflection of the pattern of government adopted by the State of New York, which includes by implication the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers (Matter of LaGuardia v Smith, 288 N.Y. 1, 5-6; Matter of Guden, 171 N.Y. 529, 531), it is a fundamental principle of the organic law that each department of government should be free from interference, in the lawful discharge of duties expressly conferred, by either of the other branches (People ex rel. Burby v Howland, 155 N.Y. 270, 282). With respect to the distribution of powers within our system of government, it has been said that no concept has been "more universally received and cherished as a vital principle of freedom". (Dash v Van Kleeck, 7 Johns 477, 509 [Kent, Ch. J.].) Within our tripartite governmental framework, the Governor, as chief executive officer, has the responsibility to manage the operations of the divisions of the executive branch, including the Department of Correctional Services. (Saxton v Carey, 44 N.Y.2d 545, 549.) The lawful acts of executive branch officials, performed in satisfaction of responsibilities conferred by law, involve questions of judgment, allocation of resources and ordering of priorities, which are generally not subject to judicial review. (Matter of Lorie C., 49 N.Y.2d 161, 171; Matter of Abrams v New York City Tr. Auth., 39 N.Y.2d 990, 992; Jones v Beame, 45 N.Y.2d 402, 408; James v Board of Educ., 42 N.Y.2d 357, 368; Matter of Smiley, 36 N.Y.2d 433, 441.) This judicial deference to a coordinate, coequal branch of government includes one issue of justiciability generally denominated as the "political question" doctrine. (Jones v Beame, 45 N.Y.2d 402, 408, supra; Benson Realty Corp. v Beame, 50 N.Y.2d 994, 996, app dsmd 449 U.S. 1119; Klostermann v Cuomo, 61 N.Y.2d 525, 535, supra.)
By seeking to vindicate their legally protected interest in a safe workplace, petitioners call for a remedy which would embroil the judiciary in the management and operation of the State correction system. The primary responsibility for administering the system is vested in the Commissioner of Correctional Services (Correction Law, § 112), who is appointed by and holds office at the pleasure of the Governor. The responsibility for maintaining, establishing and closing any correctional facility operated by DOCS is expressly conferred upon the Commissioner of Correctional Services. (Correction Law, § 70, subd 3, par [a].) While it is within the power of the judiciary to declare
Even if the relief sought by petitioners were not rendered nonjusticiable by reason of the controversy being a political question, consideration of the matter would, nevertheless, be barred by the doctrine of ripeness. On the facts presented, and in absence of the tender of evidence indicating the intended destination of the current inmate population of the LICF, it cannot be said that a realistic danger confronts the petitioners of either Class I or Class II. Under petitioners' theory of the case, Class I, the current employees of the LICF, could only be exposed to an increased hazard if transferred to the same facilities to which the current inmates are to be sent. There has been no showing that the destinations of petitioners of Class I will parallel those of the current inmate population of the LICF. The risk to petitioners of Class II is similarly conditional. Class II would not be subjected to an increased risk of hazard if the process of attrition as applied to the LICF proved effective, if the creation of new prison spaces as the result of the over-all capital expansion plan was achieved, or if an adequate number of vacancies occurred at DOCS facilities other than the LICF. The claims set forth by petitioners are only supportable upon a theory of contingent justiciability — a standard which is contrary to the requirement of the Labor Law that a condition or practice may be enjoined only where "a danger exists which could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the abatement procedures otherwise provided for" (Labor Law, § 27-a, subd 7 [emphasis added]). Where the harm sought to be enjoined is contingent upon events which may not come to pass, the claim to enjoin the purported hazard is nonjusticiable as wholly speculative and abstract.
Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed, with costs.
Order affirmed, with costs.