Appeals from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 41st Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Juniata County Branch, in case of Audrey Graybill, Dennis Spancake, Michael N. Wilson and Jane O. Zeigler v. Juniata County School District, No. 16 March Term, 1973.
Stephen W. Beik, with him Miller, Kistler, Campbell, Mitinger & Beik, for Juniata County School District.
Gerald E. Ruth, for Graybill, Spancake, Wilson and Zeigler.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Kramer and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by President Judge Bowman.
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This is an action in assumpsit to recover compensation allegedly due four professional employees under employment contracts with the Juniata County School District. They claim that for the years in question the school district paid salaries lower than mandated salaries under the Public School Code of 1949.*fn1 Upon the plaintiff's motion the court below granted summary judgment and awarded partial relief. Both the school district and the
[ 21 Pa. Commw. Page 632]
professional employees have appealed from the lower court's order.
The years here in question run from the school year when each of the professional employees, all teachers, first became employed with the school district through the 1972-1973 school year. Michael Wilson was first employed for the school year 1957-1958; Audrey Graybill for the school year 1960-1961; and both Dennis Spancake and Jane Zeigler for the year 1962-1963. Section 1142 of the Public School Code of 1949, 24 P.S. § 11-1142, sets forth the minimum salary schedules for professional employees for these years in question. The dispute arises over the proper construction (and application to the contracts of these employees) of the amendatory Act of December 9, 1965, P.L. 1057 (Act 405), which provided that minimum salaries beginning in the school year 1965-1966 would be based upon a system of steps which an employee attained either by agreement with the school district or by the years of service contributed within the school district, whichever was higher. The same concept was carried over by still another amendment in the Act of June 12, 1968, P.L. 192 (Act 96). Initially, however, the defendant school district has raised the defenses of laches and statute of limitations as a bar to the suit. We may readily dispose of these defenses.
President Judge Kugler ably discussed these issues below and properly concluded that neither of these defenses would apply in this case. First, laches is purely an equitable doctrine which cannot be asserted in an action at law. North East Borough Appeal, 191 Pa. Superior Ct. 532, 159 A.2d 528 (1960). The school district, however, calls our attention to Pa. R.C.P. No. 1030 which appears to provide that laches may be raised as a defense to actions in assumpsit. Rule 1030, however, merely enumerates the alternative defenses that may be raised in pleading new matter if available as a matter of substantive law to the cause of action asserted. The school district
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cites some of those types of actions as controlling here. These, however, were clearly distinguished by the court below as being mandamus suits which are actions at law and are uniquely governed by equitable principles. See Taggart v. Board of Directors of Cannon-McMillan Joint School System, 409 Pa. 33, 185 A.2d 332 (1962). Inasmuch as this is a suit in assumpsit governed by principles in law rather than by principles in equity, laches is not a proper defense to this suit. Bauer v. P.A. Cutri Company of Bradford, Inc., 434 Pa. 305, 253 A.2d 252 (1969).
The running of a statute of limitations is usually an available defense to an action in assumpsit, but in this action the court below having found that the contracts in question were executed under seal concluded that they were not subject to the six-year limitation usually applicable to such actions. Our review of the record leaves us with no doubt that the court below properly ruled upon this matter. In the first place the school district by failing to answer the plaintiffs' request for admissions conceded that the contracts executed by each of these employees was genuine. These contracts all contained the statement that "the parties above named have hereunto set their hands and seal" along with the word "seal" or "L.S." affixed next to or under the signatures. Clearly, unless adequately rebutted, the presence of these markings provides ample evidence that the contracts were executed under seal. Koleff's Estate, 340 Pa. 423, 16 A.2d 384 (1940); Swaney v. Georges ...