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WATSON APPEAL (05/24/54)

May 24, 1954

WATSON APPEAL


Appeal, No. 172, March T., 1952, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1951, No. 1492, in Appeal of Catherine L. Watson. Order affirmed; reargument refused June 19, 1954.

COUNSEL

John A. Metz, Jr., with him Maurice L. Kessler and Metz & Metz, for appellant.

Elder W. Marshall, with him Noel A. Calhoun and Reed, Smith, Shaw & McClay, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Stearne, Jones, Bell, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 377 Pa. Page 496]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES

Catherine L. Watson, the appellant, was employed for a number of years by the School District of the City of McKeesport as a teacher under a statutorily prescribed written contract. The employment endured until August, 1949, when the local School Superintendent notified her that she was suspended indefinitely. When Miss Watson applied for reinstatement, the School Board charged that she was suffering mental derangement and assigned the condition as a basis for her dismissal as a teacher. The Board held several hearings on the alleged incompetency at which Miss Watson asserted that the Public School Code of 1949, P.L. 30, unconstitutionally deprived her of a jury trial on the issue of her mental condition. The Board sustained the charge of mental derangement and, in March 1950, dismissed her.

Upon appeal by Miss Watson, the Superintendent of Public Instruction sustained the action of the

[ 377 Pa. Page 497]

Board. She then appealed to the court below where a hearing de novo was held. The court found from the evidence that the appellant suffered from olfactory hallucinations coupled with paranoid delusions and concluded that the appellant was mentally deranged within the intendment of Section 1122 of the Public School Code of 1949, P.L. 30, 24 PS § 11-1122. Section 1122 specifies, inter alia, that "mental derangement" on the part of a teacher is a valid basis for terminating a contract of professional employment. The court accordingly entered an order sustaining the decision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction that the appellant's contract of employment as a school teacher was validly terminated by the Board of Directors of the School District.

The appellant cannot successfully maintain that the evidence adduced in the court below was insufficient to support the findings of the learned hearing judge. His detailed and pertinent findings from substantial evidence leave no doubt that the appellant was, in fact, mentally deranged. It is unnecessary, therefore, to consider at length the first question posed by the appellant as to whether the facts, as found by the court below, establish a case of mental derangement within the meaning of Section 1122 of the Public School Code of 1949. In interpreting the term "mental derangement", which the Code does not define, the words are to be accorded their common and ordinary meaning: Section 33 of the Statutory Construction Act of 1937, P.L. 1019, 46 PS § 533. "Deranged", from which the cognate noun derives, is authoritatively defined as "Disordered; esp. disordered in mind; crazy, insane": Webster's New International Dictionary (2nd Ed.). And, such is the meaning the learned court below properly ascribed to "mental derangement", as used in the Code, when it said that the term "means a

[ 377 Pa. Page 498]

(mental derangement being one of them); it directed that, prior to dismissal, a teacher should be presented with a detailed written copy of the charges against him and given a hearing thereon; it provided for an appeal from an adverse decision of the board to the court of common pleas with a hearing de novo ; and it authorized the court to "make whatever order it considers just." This procedure was carried forward substantially by the Public School Code of 1949 (Section 1122 et seq., 24 PS § 11-1122 et seq.), but the Code added (Section 1131, 24 PS § 11-1131) a right of intermediate appeal by a discharged teacher to the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Neither statute, however, required that an appeal to the court be tried to a jury. Nor is it constitutionally essential that either Act should have done so, for, by both, the rights of teachers were enlarged and not diminished; in short, the statutes conferred upon teachers rights which the common law had not accorded them. The failure to include a provision for a further right (viz., trial by jury of an issue of mental derangement) does not render the procedure unconstitutional: see Premier Cereal & Beverage Co. v. Pennsylvania Alcohol Permit Board, 292 Pa. 127, 132-133, 140 ...


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