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AMBRIDGE BOROUGH WATER AUTHORITY v. COLUMBIA (11/20/74)

decided: November 20, 1974.

AMBRIDGE BOROUGH WATER AUTHORITY, APPELLANT,
v.
COLUMBIA



Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, No. 1813 of 1972, in case of Borough of Ambridge Water Authority v. J. Z. Columbia.

COUNSEL

Joseph M. Stanichak, for appellant.

Francis H. Patrono, with him Eugene A. Caputo, Patrono, Ceisler, Edwards & Pettit, and Caputo and Walko, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Nix.

Author: Nix

[ 458 Pa. Page 547]

The single question to be decided in this appeal is whether the dispute which has presently arisen between the parties to an employment contract should be resolved through arbitration pursuant to paragraph 17 of that employment agreement. After full consideration, we are of the view that the controversy should be resolved as provided by the parties in paragraph 17 of their agreement and therefore affirm the decision of the trial court.

The Borough of Ambridge Water Authority commenced an action in equity requesting that the court declare an employment contract between it and the appellee, J. Z. Columbia, null and void and that the appellee be enjoined from seeking arbitration. In response Columbia, through his counsel, filed preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. The trial court sustained the objections and dismissed appellant's complaint granting leave to raise the matters asserted therein in the proceedings before the arbitrator. It is that decree which is presently before us.

The complaint alleged that Columbia had been employed for a number of years by the Authority as its Plant Manager. On December 14, 1967, a new contract of employment was entered into between the parties for a period of five years wherein it was provided: "17. That any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement or the breach thereof shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association in existence at the time of the said controversy or claim, and judgment upon the award rendered may be entered in any court having jurisdiction thereof, or, by agreement both of

[ 458 Pa. Page 548]

    the Authority and Employee, said controversy or claim may be referred to a board of three disinterested arbitrators, the one to be selected by the Authority, the second by the Employee and the third by the two arbitrators so selected. The decision of the said association or of the said board of arbitrators shall be final. The cost of obtaining a decision by either of these methods shall be borne by the Authority."*fn1

The Authority, after establishing mandatory retirement policies at age sixty-five, did on June 30, 1971, involuntarily retire appellee and relieved him of further duties as Plant Manager. Appellee did not challenge the legality of his termination nor is he claiming damages for the balance of the term, the claim raised was as to his right to payment under paragraph 10(b)(ii)*fn2 under the agreement and compensation due under paragraph 13 for accrued vacation time.

Fundamental in our law of contracts is the axiom that parties may write their own contracts, and that it is the function of the courts to interpret those contracts and to enforce them as made. It is now recognized in this Commonwealth that the enforcement of agreements by the parties to submit future disputes, that may arise under their agreement, to a tribunal other than ...


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