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05/28/97 YORK TOWNSHIP BOARD COMMISSIONERS v. LEWIS

May 28, 1997

YORK TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
v.
LEWIS A. BATTY, APPELLANT



Appealed From No. SU-05101-08. Common Pleas Court of the County of York. Judge HORN.

Before: Honorable Joseph T. Doyle, Judge, Honorable Rochelle S. Friedman, Judge, Honorable Jess S. Jiuliante, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Senior Judge Jiuliante.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jiuliante

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE JIULIANTE

FILED: May 28, 1997

Appellant Lewis A. Batty appeals from a September 17, 1996 order of the York County Court of Common Pleas reversing a decision of the York Township Civil Service Commission (Commission) and reinstating his discharge from the York Township Police Department. We affirm.

On April 16, 1995, when off-duty, Officer Batty operated his motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and struck a utility pole. He was arrested by another York Township police officer for DUI and careless driving and was accepted into an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program. On April 17, 1995, the York Township Manager sent Officer Batty a letter advising him that he had been placed on administrative suspension during the investigation of the DUI incident.

At a May 9, 1995 executive session, the York Township Board of Commissioners (Board) voted to remove Officer Batty from his position for conduct unbecoming an officer. He filed a timely appeal of the Board's decision and requested a hearing before the Commission. After hearings, the Commission issued a decision concluding that Officer Batty was guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer, but that the penalty of discharge imposed by the Board was "arbitrary and unreasonable." Accordingly, the Commission reinstated Officer Batty to his position and imposed a sixty-day suspension without pay.

The Board appealed the Commission's decision to the trial court. On September 17, 1996, the court reversed the decision of the Commission and reinstated the penalty imposed by the Board. Officer Batty's appeal to this Court ensued.

On appeal, Officer Batty raises the following issues for our review: 1) whether the trial court erred in assuming jurisdiction over the appeal when the Commission had not been joined as an indispensable party; and 2) whether the trial court exceeded its scope of review in reversing the Commission's determination that the penalty was arbitrary where the Board failed to offer any evidence to justify its selection of the penalty. Our scope of review, where the trial court has taken no additional evidence, is limited to determining whether the Commission abused its discretion or committed an error of law. Evans v. Butler Township Civil Service Commission, 166 Pa. Commw. 503, 646 A.2d 709 (Pa. Commw. 1994), petition for allowance of appeal denied, 544 Pa. 615, 674 A.2d 1077 (1996).

Officer Batty argues, initially, that the trial court did not have jurisdiction over the Board's appeal because it did not join the Commission as an indispensable party. He argues that the Commission has an important interest in defending its determination and that any decision rendered on the validity of that determination without the Commission's participation prevented the Commission from carrying out its duty of ensuring compliance with the civil service provisions of The First Class Township Code (Code). *fn1

A party is indispensable when it has such an interest that a final decree cannot be made without affecting it or leaving the controversy in such a condition that a final determination may be wholly inconsistent with equity and good conscience. Mechanicsburg Area School District v. Kline, 494 Pa. 476, 431 A.2d 953 (1981); Fontaine v. Wissahickon School District, 658 A.2d 851 (Pa. Commw. 1995). An indispensable party is one whose rights are so connected with the claims of the litigants that no relief can be granted without infringing upon those rights. Piper Aircraft Corp. v. Insurance Co. of North America, 53 Pa. Commw. 209, 417 A.2d 283 (Pa. Commw. 1980).

In the case at bar, the trial court rejected Officer Batty's argument that the Commission should have been joined as an indispensable party, based upon the fact that the Code does not provide for legal representation of the Commission on appeal to the common pleas court. Section 645 of the Code, 53 P.S. § 55645, provides in part:

The township commissioners and the person sought to be suspended, removed or demoted shall at all times have the right to employ counsel before the commission and upon appeal to the court of common pleas.

The court reasoned that if the Legislature had intended the Commission to be a party on appeal to the court of common pleas, it would have provided ...


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