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JOANNE JACKSON v. CENTENNIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT (11/22/85)

decided: November 22, 1985.

JOANNE JACKSON, APPELLEE,
v.
CENTENNIAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLANT



No. 119 E.D. Appeal Docket 1984. Appeal from the Order dated March 28, 1984 in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania at No. 2950 C.D. 1982. Pa. Commw. , Nix,*fn* C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Hutchinson, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Papadakos, J., joins.

Author: Nix

[ 509 Pa. Page 102]

OPINION

Appellee, Joanne Jackson, was a tenured professional employee of the Centennial School District. In August 1975, Jackson received notice from the District's School Board indicating that the Board would seek to terminate her employment on the grounds of mental derangement,

[ 509 Pa. Page 103]

    incompetency, and persistent negligence.*fn1 Several hearings were held throughout the fall of 1975. On November 27, 1975, the Board of Directors of the Centennial School District held a hearing without the presence of Jackson's attorney, and voted to discharge Jackson for the above charges. On appeal, the Secretary of Education reversed the discharge on the basis that Jackson's right to due process was violated when the Board conducted the dismissal hearing in the absence of her attorney. The Secretary remanded the case to the Board of School Directors. After additional hearings were held, the Board again discharged Jackson on July 28, 1977. This discharge was upheld on Appeal by the Secretary of Education. An untimely appeal to the Commonwealth Court from the decision of the Secretary was voluntarily discontinued by Jackson on March 6, 1978 and was quashed on March 8, 1978.

Thereafter, on August 27, 1979, Jackson instituted a separate action in assumpsit in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County to recover her salary for the period between the attempted discharge in 1975 and the effective discharge in 1977. Jackson moved for summary judgment and the Centennial School District filed a cross motion for summary judgment alleging lack of jurisdiction, res judicata and collateral estoppel. The trial court found for Jackson and granted her motion for summary judgment. The School District appealed to the Commonwealth Court which affirmed the trial court's conclusions that Jackson could maintain an action in assumpsit and that such action was not barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel.*fn2 81 Pa. Commw. 280, 473 A.2d 244.

The School District then appealed to this Court arguing that a professional school employee's remedies for the termination of his or her professional contract are exclusively within the Public School Code, Act of March 10, 1949, P.L.

[ 509 Pa. Page 10430]

, as amended, 24 P.S. § 1-101 et seq. ("School Code"), and that Jackson's action below was barred by res judicata or collateral estoppel.

As the facts illustrate, Appellee Jackson, having obtained unfavorable results in her proceedings before the Board of School Directors ("Board"), abandoned appellate review as prescribed in the School Code and sought instead to obtain back wages through an assumpsit action in the Court of Common Pleas. Appellant contends that the Court of Common Pleas was without jurisdiction to hear the case because the School Code provides the exclusive remedies for a terminated professional employee. That procedure culminates in the right to appeal to the Commonwealth Court. Appellees contend that, notwithstanding the remedy provided under the Code, the Court of Common Pleas has original subject-matter jurisdiction over an action in assumpsit by a terminated professional employee for back wages.

We believe, however, that the issue presented in the instant case is not one of subject matter jurisdiction, but instead is governed by the concepts of primary jurisdiction, exhaustion of administrative remedies, the exclusivity of the legislatively prescribed procedure, and judicial economy. In essence, the key to our analysis is the clear legislative intent to confine the role of the judiciary to one of review of an administrative process.

An examination of section (C) of the School Code of 1949 entitled "Tenure", 24 P.S. §§ 11-1121 to 11-1132, reveals a comprehensive statutory procedure for the termination of a professional employee. Section (C) provides that notice and the opportunity for a hearing must be given to an employee, 24 P.S. § 11-1121; sets forth the valid causes for termination, 24 P.S. § 11-1122; contains a rating system for determining whether the professional employee is incompetent, 24 P.S. § 11-1123; sets forth a detailed procedure for dismissal, 24 P.S. § 11-1127 to 1131; and finally, provides for an appeal to the Commonwealth Court, 24 P.S. § 11-1132.*fn3 It is obvious that the legislature intended for the

[ 509 Pa. Page 105]

    terminated professional employee to thoroughly litigate his or her claim before the Board of School Directors and then appeal an unfavorable decision first to the Secretary of Education, and ultimately to the Commonwealth Court. This statutory scheme requires the terminated professional employee to look first to the developed expertise of those dedicated to education before resorting to the judicial system of the Commonwealth. It provides a complete and adequate procedure in accordance with recognized standards of due process.*fn4

We have consistently held that where a statutory remedy is provided, the procedure prescribed therein must be strictly pursued to the exclusion of other methods of redress. Interstate Traveller Services, Inc. v. Commonwealth, Department of Environmental Resources, 486 Pa. 536, 542, 406 A.2d 1020 (1979); Commonwealth, Dept. of Environmental Resources v. Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp., 473 Pa. 432, 443, 375 A.2d 320 (1977); Erie Human Relations Commission ex rel. Dunson v. Erie Insurance Exchange, 465 Pa. 240, 245, 348 A.2d 742 (1975); Borough of Green Tree v. Board of Property Assessments, 459 Pa. 268, 277, 328 A.2d 819 (1974); Colteryahn Sanitary Dairy v. Milk Control Commission, 332 Pa. 15, 23-24, 1 A.2d 775 (1938);

[ 509 Pa. Page 106]

    that the failure to take a timely appeal from an agency action precluded collateral attack on the same action by resort to the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. We believe the holding of Lamolinara is jurisprudentially sound and hold that in the instant case, Appellee Jackson is precluded from making a collateral attack upon the unappealed decision of the Secretary of Education.

This rule, disallowing collateral attack, is premised not upon the idea that the court lacks original subject matter jurisdiction, but rather upon the well-known doctrines of primary jurisdiction and exhaustion of administrative remedies.*fn5

[ 509 Pa. Page 108]

In general, the doctrine of primary jurisdiction holds that where an agency has been established to handle a particular class of claims, the court should refrain from exercising its jurisdiction until the agency has made a determination. Elkin v. Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania, 491 Pa. 123, 132-133, 420 A.2d 371 (1980); Commonwealth v. Bethlehem Steel Corporation, 469 Pa. 578, 593-594, 367 A.2d 222, cert. denied, 430 U.S. 955, 97 S.Ct. 1600, 51 L.Ed.2d 804 (1977); Weston v. Reading Co., 445 Pa. 182, 198-200, 282 A.2d 714 (1971). See generally 3 K. Davis, Administrative Law Treatise § 19.01 et seq. (1958). Hence, although the court may have subject-matter jurisdiction, the court defers its jurisdiction until an agency ruling has been made. This doctrine, extended to its fullest, is in parity with the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, which requires the litigant to pursue all of the administrative remedies before seeking judicial review. Shenango Valley Osteopathic v. Dept. of Health, 499 Pa. 39, 451 A.2d 434 (1982); Canonsburg General Hospital v. Dept. of Health, 492 Pa. 68, 422 A.2d 141 (1980); Delaware Valley Page 108} Convalescent Center, Inc. v. Beal, 488 Pa. 292, 412 A.2d 514 (1980); Feingold v. Bell of Pennsylvania, 477 Pa. 1, 6, 383 A.2d 791 (1977); Commonwealth v. Glen Alden Corp., 418 Pa. 57, 210 A.2d 256 (1965); Collegeville Borough v. Philadelphia Suburban Water Co., 377 Pa. 636, 105 A.2d 722 (1954).

As we stated in Canonsburg General Hospital, supra:

Well settled case law of this Court precludes a party's challenging administrative decision making from obtaining judicial review, . . . without first ...


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