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RAYMOND J. MURPHY v. TOWNSHIP LOWER MERION ET AL. (04/11/83)

decided: April 11, 1983.

RAYMOND J. MURPHY, APPELLANT
v.
TOWNSHIP OF LOWER MERION ET AL., APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County in the case of Raymond J. Murphy v. Township of Lower Merion, Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township Civil Service Commission, G. Andrew McLaughlin, Bruce W. Kauffman, and William F. Davis, III, No. 80-3049.

COUNSEL

Brian P. Sullivan, for appellant.

Larry J. Folmar, Henderson, Wetherill, O'Hey & Horsey, for appellees.

Judges Blatt, Williams, Jr. and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 377]

Raymond J. Murphy (appellant) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, which sustained the preliminary objections of the appellees,*fn1 and dismissed his complaint in equity. The appellant had sought, inter alia, to enjoin the Lower Merion Township Civil Service Commission (Commission) from holding a hearing on his demotion in rank and alleged that there were irregularities in the demotion procedure under Section 645 of The First Class Township Code (Code), Act of June 24, 1931, P.L. 1206, as amended, 53 P.S. § 55645.

[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 378]

The facts are not in dispute. On January 18, 1980, Murphy, who then held the rank of Sergeant, responded with two other officers to a complaint concerning a loud party. Upon arriving at the scene, they observed numerous youths walking away and found between 70 and 80 teenage youths inside the house where the party was being held. Approximately 15 minutes later, Murphy discovered that his camera, mace, and raincoat had been stolen from his police vehicle, apparently by one of the teenagers leaving the party.

As a result of this incident, a Statement of Charges was filed by the superintendent of police with the Commission on February 13, 1980. Sergeant Murphy was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to control the situation, failure to report underage drinking, failure to secure his vehicle and hindering the investigation of the theft involving items from his police vehicle. He was also notified that he would be demoted from the rank of Sergeant to the rank of Grade "A" Patrolman, effective midnight, February 21, 1980. The Board of Commissioners of Lower Merion Township subsequently approved the Statement of Charges and the demotion.

On February 19, 1980 Murphy requested a hearing on his demotion before the Commission pursuant to Section 645 of the Code. A hearing was scheduled for February 22, 1980, but was continued upon request of the Township. On February 22, 1980, Murphy filed a complaint in equity with the court of common pleas, alleging inter alia that 1) the Statement of Charges was vague and ambiguous, rendering him unable to answer; 2) the defendant acted improperly by not scheduling a hearing within ten days of the filing of the charges in violation of Section 645; 3) as the person charged, he was entitled to the names and addresses of all witnesses to be called and copies of statements

[ 73 Pa. Commw. Page 379]

    of all witnesses; and 4) the Lower Merion Police Department Code of Discipline was unconstitutionally void for vagueness. The court of common pleas found that Murphy "should have pursued his statutory remedies, and raised the alleged procedural inequities on appeal from a Commission hearing". ...


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