decided: May 17, 1983.
THOMAS R. ROTH, APPELLANT
BOROUGH OF VERONA ET AL., APPELLEES
Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Thomas R. Roth v. Borough of Verona, et al., No. SA 368 of 1980.
Bruce D. Campbell, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, for appellant.
Nicholas R. Stone, for appellees.
Judges Rogers, Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 353]
Thomas R. Roth (Appellant) has appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which dismissed both his action in mandamus and his appeal under the Local Agency Law*fn1 from the action of the Borough Council (Council) of the Borough of Verona (Borough) terminating his employment as a police officer.
A stipulation of facts filed by the parties with the court of common pleas reflects that Appellant was appointed as a probationary police officer on or about September 12, 1978. The probationary period was to last for one year in accordance with applicable law,*fn2 during which time Appellant completed his basic training and then served as a regularly scheduled police officer. On September 11, 1979, Appellant was asked to attend a private Council meeting. At that meeting Appellant was informed that the Mayor and Borough Police Chief were recommending that Council
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 354]
not vote to appoint Appellant to a permanent position with the police force and that Council intended to follow that recommendation.*fn3 After further discussion, Appellant was given the option to accept a six month extension of his probationary period rather than be fired. Appellant agreed to the extension and subsequently signed a written document to that effect which was also signed by the Mayor, Borough Secretary and a witness.*fn4 Although no Council vote was ever taken formally approving the agreement, the Council members voiced no objections to the extension
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 355]
at the meeting. We are in accord with the court of common pleas that the extension agreement represented the will of the Council.*fn5
At the end of the additional six month probationary period, the Mayor and the Chief of Police again recommended, by letter dated March 6, 1980, that Appellant not be granted permanent status. On March 11, 1980, Appellant received a letter of termination signed only by the Council President. Appellant subsequently instituted a mandamus action seeking reinstatement as a permanent police officer. The court of common pleas entered a preliminary order reinstating Appellant pending the outcome of a formal Council vote regarding his retention. Pursuant to that order, the Council voted on April 8, 1980 to terminate Appellant's employment. Appellant appealed from that order under the Local Agency Law. The court of common pleas consolidated the mandamus
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 356]
action and the local agency appeal for disposition.
Appellant argued before the common pleas court, as he does here, that the extension agreement which he executed in September, 1979 was ineffective and that he became a permanent police officer when Council failed at the end of his one year probationary period to notify him in writing that he would not receive a permanent appointment. Appellant, accordingly, argues that he is entitled to the civil service protections afforded permanent Borough police officers.
The applicable statutory provision with regard to probationary appointees is Section 1186 of The Borough Code (Code), 53 P.S. § 46186, which reads, in relevant part, as follows:
All original appointments to any position in the police force . . . shall be for a probationary period of not less than six months, and not more than one year. . . . If at the close of a probationary period the conduct of*fn6 fitness of the probationer has not been satisfactory to the council, the probationer shall be notified in writing that he will not receive a permanent appointment. Thereupon, his appointment shall cease; otherwise his retention shall be equivalent to a permanent appointment. (Emphasis added.)
Appellant contends that this provision must be strictly construed and that the Borough's retention of Appellant beyond the original one year probationary
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 357]
period, absent a written notification that he was not to receive a permanent appointment, automatically converted his appointment to a permanent one notwithstanding the extension agreement. We cannot accept this argument and agree with the court of common pleas that the case of Smith, Jr. v. Keim, 8 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 610, 303 A.2d 869 (1973) is controlling on this issue.
In Smith the police officer involved brought a mandamus action claiming entitlement to a civil service commission hearing to challenge his dismissal. The facts presented were very similar to those in the instant case except that the officer in Smith was first notified in writing that his appointment would not be made permanent and was subsequently granted an extension of his probationary period. In the instant case, of course, Appellant was only notified orally (at the September 11, 1979 meeting) that his appointment was not to be made permanent. Appellant contends that the lack of written notice distinguishes this case from Smith and requires that we reverse the court of common pleas. We disagree.
Although the Council in this case did not notify Appellant in writing that it did not intend to make his police appointment permanent, the facts as stipulated demonstrate that Council was in agreement that the permanent appointment should be denied. It was only when Appellant agreed to an extension of his probationary period that the Council apparently decided not to formalize its immediate rejection of his permanent appointment. While we noted in Smith that civil service laws cannot, in general, be altered by agreement, we also noted what is equally applicable here:
[Appellant] voluntarily waived any right he might have in consideration of a second chance.
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 358]
He bargained for and obtained an unusual opportunity. In failing to succeed, he would now charge the Commissioners with the duty to restore him to a position for which he is not qualified based on self-assumed rights which he willingly gambled away.
Id. at 613, 303 A.2d at 871. We, accordingly, conclude that Appellant has not demonstrated a clear right to a permanent police officer appointment by reason of the Council's actions in September, 1979, and that he is not entitled to the mandamus relief requested.
We do think, however, that Appellant is entitled to a hearing under the Local Agency Law to determine whether he was correctly found to be unqualified for the permanent appointment in April, 1980.*fn7 In order to be entitled to the procedural protections of the Local Agency Law, Appellant must establish some "property right" in his employment. Ditzler Appeal, 63 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 233, 437 A.2d 1071 (1981). In the area of public employment such a right exists only if the employee, by statute or contract, has been afforded some form of guarantee. Fair v. Delaney, 35 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 103, 385 A.2d 601 (1978).
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 359]
Although we have determined that Appellant continued as a probationary employee until his dismissal, we observe that the Code does not grant discretion to the Council to deny permanent status to probationary appointees. Under Section 1186 of the Code a permanent appointment may be denied only where "the conduct of fitness of the probationer has not been satisfactory to the council." We think that this statutory limitation on the Council's power to refuse a permanent appointment is sufficient to confer on Appellant a property right in his employment.
Having reached this conclusion it follows that the Council's vote to reject Appellant as a permanent police officer constituted an "adjudication" as that term is defined at 2 Pa. C.S. § 101.*fn8 Since Appellant has not been afforded reasonable notice of a hearing and an opportunity to be heard, however, the Council's adjudication is not a valid one. Section 553 of the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 553; see also Hardee's Food Systems v. Department of Transportation, 495 Pa. 514, 434 A.2d 1209 (1981). We, accordingly, must remand in order that the procedural protections of the Local Agency Law may be afforded to Appellant. We note in this regard that Section 754(a) of the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 754(b) permits the court of common pleas to either hear the matter de novo or to remand the proceedings to the Council. See Ambron v. Philadelphia Civil Service Commission, 54 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 488, 422 A.2d 225 (1980).
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 360]
The order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, dated September 25, 1981, is affirmed insofar as it dismissed the mandamus action instituted by Thomas R. Roth at Case No. GD 80-6707 and is reversed insofar as it dismissed the local agency appeal docketed at SA No. 368 of 1980. It is further ordered that the matter be remanded for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing opinion.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part. Case remanded.