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KEITH GUTHRIE v. BOROUGH WILKINSBURG (06/28/84)

decided: June 28, 1984.

KEITH GUTHRIE, ROBERT GARVIN, HENRY RIEBOLD, TERRENCE LOCKARD, ROBERT K. THOMAS, JOHN SHOOK, BARRY ALMY AND W. GREGORY FERRELL, APPELLANTS,
v.
THE BOROUGH OF WILKINSBURG, APPELLEE



No. 64 W.D. Appeal Dkt. 1983, Appeal from the Order of April 12, 1983, No. 2178, C.D. 1980 by the Commonwealth Court, Affirming the Order of April 26, 1980, No. SA 71 of 1980 by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, 73 Pa. Commw. Ct. 393, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Nix, C.j., concurs in the result. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion. Papadakos, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 505 Pa. Page 252]

OPINION

This case tests the outer limits of what procedural rights are required under our Local Agency Law:*fn1 whether a police officer is entitled to notice and a hearing when his employers place a letter of warning*fn2 in his personnel file.

[ 505 Pa. Page 253]

After receiving a number of complaints from citizens alleging abuse and mistreatment by Wilkinsburg police officers, the Wilkinsburg Borough Council convened special sessions to gather information concerning the charges. The Council worked with the Community Advocate Unit of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office who had expertise in police abuse inquiries.

In thirteen meetings, forty citizens were interviewed. Subsequently, the Council subpoenaed*fn3 and interviewed twenty-two Wilkinsburg police officers whose names surfaced in the initial probe.

Upon the conclusion of the inquiry, the Borough Council proposed and adopted six findings and conclusions regarding instances of police misconduct. On December 27, 1979, the Council voted to issue written warnings to seven police officers and to place the warnings in the officers' personnel files. The statements addressed improper or questionable conduct ranging from physical and verbal abuse to instances where regulations and procedures were not adhered to.*fn4

[ 505 Pa. Page 254]

The officers were allowed to place a counterstatement concerning the charges in their personnel files, but chose not to exercise this option. No further action was taken against the officers: they were not fired, demoted or suspended, nor were their salaries reduced or frozen.

The officers petitioned for review of the Borough Council's actions in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas under the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa.C.S. § 752. That court held that the Borough's actions did not constitute an adjudication, and dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds. The Commonwealth Court, 73 Pa. Commw. 393, 458 A.2d 307, affirmed and we granted allocatur. We now affirm.

Whether a hearing and notice is required under the Local Agency Law depends on whether a local agency's actions constitute an adjudication. Section 504 of the Act provides:

§ 504. Hearing and Record

No adjudication of a Commonwealth agency shall be valid as to any party unless he shall have been afforded reasonable notice of a hearing and an opportunity to be heard. All testimony shall be stenographically recorded

[ 505 Pa. Page 255]

    and a full and complete record shall be kept of the proceedings.

An "adjudication" is defined in Section 101 of the Act as:

Any final order, decree, decision, determination or ruling by an agency affecting personal or property rights, privileges, immunities, duties, liabilities or obligations of any or all of the parties to the ...


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