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04/22/97 RICHARD F. PIPKIN v. PENNSYLVANIA STATE

April 22, 1997

RICHARD F. PIPKIN, APPELLANT,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, APPELLEE.



Appeal from Order of the Commonwealth Court dated October 20, 1995 at No. 2068 C.D. 1995. JUDGE(S) BELOW: Commonwealth - HON. WARREN G. MORGAN, SJ.

Before: Flaherty, C.j., Zappala, Cappy, Castille, Nigro, JJ. Madame Justice Newman did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Castille

OPINION OF THE COURT

JUSTICE CASTILLE

DECIDED: APRIL 22, 1997

The issue on appeal is whether a probationary state trooper has a sufficient personal or property right in his continued employment which would permit him to appeal a decision by the Pennsylvania State Police to terminate his employment to the Commonwealth Court. Because we find that a probationary state trooper does not have an enforceable property interest in his continued employment, we affirm the Commonwealth Court's per curiam order dismissing appellant's appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

The relevant facts to this appeal are that on January 3, 1994, appellant enlisted as a cadet at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy. After graduation in June, 1994, appellant was assigned to Troop E, Erie Station as a probationary state trooper.

In a letter dated May 23, 1995, the Director of Bureau of Personnel informed appellant that a hearing was being scheduled before the Probationary Trooper Review Committee to determine if appellant's employment as a probationary state trooper should be terminated. The letter indicated that the focus of the hearing would center on appellant's inability to satisfactorily perform his duties because his probationary trooper evaluations demonstrated an unsatisfactory performance in applying job knowledge, preparation of reports, dependability, responsibility, reliability, logical reasoning, planning ability and organizational ability.

Hearings before the Probationary Trooper Review Committee occurred over five (5) days in June and July of 1995. On July 25, 1995, appellant received a letter from the Director of the Bureau of Personnel that appellant was being dismissed as a probationary state trooper as of midnight on July 28, 1995, pursuant to the recommendation of the Probationary Trooper Review Committee. The letter stated that appellant's dismissal was based on his inability to perform satisfactory work during his probationary period of employment and inaccurate statements that he made during criminal and internal investigations.

On August 21, 1995, appellant filed a timely appeal to the Commonwealth Court. The Pennsylvania State Police filed a motion to dismiss the appeal on the grounds that the Commonwealth Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the merits of appellant's appeal because the decision to terminate appellant's employment as a probationary state trooper was not an "adjudication" as defined by the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 101, et seq. On October 20, 1995, the Commonwealth Court issued a per curiam order granting the Pennsylvania State Police's motion and dismissing the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Appellant then filed a timely petition for allowance of appeal with this Court. This Court granted allocatur in order to decide whether a probationary state trooper has a sufficient personal or property right in continued employment which would permit him to appeal a decision by the Pennsylvania State Police to terminate his employment to the Commonwealth Court. *fn1

We preliminarily note that as a general rule, Pennsylvania law holds that "employees are at-will, absent a contract, and may be terminated at any time, for any reason or for no reason." Stumpp v. Stroudsburg Municipal Authority, 540 Pa. 391, 396, 658 A.2d 333, 335 (1995). This general rule is not abrogated just because the employee is a governmental worker since one does not have a per se right in governmental employment. Commonwealth, Office of Administration v. Orage, 511 Pa. 528, 531, 515 A.2d 852, 853 (1986). Moreover, an at-will employee has no cause of action against his employer for termination of the at-will relationship except where that termination threatens clear mandates of public policy. Werner v. Zazyczny, 545 Pa. 570, 579, 681 A.2d 1331, 1335 (1996).

Appellant argues that the Commonwealth Court has appellate jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 763. *fn2 Section 763 provides in relevant part:

(a) The Commonwealth Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from the final orders of government ...


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