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JAMES GRUVER AND RUSSELL BANTA v. GLENN M. HOWELL (01/21/77)

decided: January 21, 1977.

JAMES GRUVER AND RUSSELL BANTA
v.
GLENN M. HOWELL, PHILIP WALTER AND FRANK LANGE, DULY ELECTED SUPERVISORS OF THE TOWNSHIP OF DALLAS. JAMES GRUVER AND RUSSELL BANTA, APPELLANTS. (2 CASES)



Appeal from the Orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County in cases of James Gruver and Russell Banta v. Glenn M. Howell, Philip Walter and Frank Lange, duly elected Supervisors of the Township of Dallas, No. 2 of 1975 and No. 71 of 1975.

COUNSEL

John B. Mancke, with him Mancke & Lightman, for appellants.

Frank Townend, with him Hugh J. O'Connell, and Silverblatt & Townend, for appellees.

Judges Mencer, Rogers and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 28 Pa. Commw. Page 298]

James Gruver and Russell Banta (appellants) were employed as permanent full-time police officers in the Dallas Township Police Department (Department) for periods in excess of three years and two years respectively. On December 31, 1974, both were informed that for reasons of economy the Dallas Township Board of Supervisors (Board) had decided to reduce the number of police officers of the Department from eight to five and that they and another officer were being furloughed immediately. On January 6, 1975, they brought actions in equity and mandamus against the Dallas Township Supervisors in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County contending that their employment had been illegally terminated and requesting reinstatement and damages. The two actions were consolidated for trial after which the lower court dismissed both complaints. The appeals from the dismissal of the two complaints are herein consolidated.

Our scope of review in equity matters is a narrow one. The findings of fact of the chancellor will be reversed only where there has been manifest or clear error or abuse of discretion. The chancellor's decision will stand if there exists sufficient evidence to justify the findings and the reasonable inferences and conclusions derived therefrom. Groff v. Borough of Sellersville, 12 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 315, 314 A.2d 328 (1974). The appellants argue here: (1) that their termination was not for reasons of economy but rather in retaliation for prior arbitration of a wage dispute with the police department, and (2) that the procedure used to effect the reduction in the force was improper.

The Act of June 15, 1951, P.L. 586, as amended, 53 P.S. § 811 et seq., (commonly known as the Police

[ 28 Pa. Commw. Page 299]

Tenure Act) provides in Section 3, 53 P.S. § 813, as follows:

If, for reasons of economy or other reasons, it shall be deemed necessary by any township of the second class . . . to reduce the number of paid employes of the police department, then such political subdivision shall apply the following procedure: . . . (b) . . . reduction shall be effected by furloughing the man or men . . . last appointed to said police force. Such removal shall be accomplished by furloughing in numerical order, commencing with the man last appointed, until such reduction shall have been accomplished.

The appellants here were admittedly the officers last appointed to the Department. They argue, however, that the termination of their services was required not for reasons of economy but rather to penalize them and their police officer colleagues for forcing the township to enter into arbitration over a wage dispute. They attempted to support this argument by contending that the financial condition of the ...


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