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Rickie Hoffman, Mayor of the Borough of Macungie v. the Borough of Macungie

January 3, 2013

RICKIE HOFFMAN, MAYOR OF THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE
v.
THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE, BOROUGH COUNCIL OF THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE AND EDWARD HARRY, JR. AND JAMES B. MARTIN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF LEHIGH COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA APPEAL OF: JAMES B. MARTIN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF LEHIGH COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA RICKIE HOFFMAN, MAYOR OF THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE, APPELLANT
v.
THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE, BOROUGH COUNCIL OF THE BOROUGH OF MACUNGIE, EDWARD HARRY, JR., AND MACUNGIE BOROUGH POLICE OFFICERS ASSOCIATION AND JAMES B. MARTIN, DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF LEHIGH COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert Simpson, Judge

Argued: September 12, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge

HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE SIMPSON

In these over-litigated cross-appeals raising numerous issues, we consider several questions concerning the division of authority within the local government of the Borough of Macungie (Macungie). Specifically, we address the separation of powers between Macungie's mayor, its borough council (Borough Council), and the District Attorney of Lehigh County.

In his appeal, the District Attorney, James B. Martin (D.A. Martin), appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County (trial court) declaring Macungie's mayor, Rickie Hoffman (Mayor Hoffman), to be Macungie's chief law enforcement officer, and granting him full access to information the Macungie Police Department retains pursuant to the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA).*fn1 D.A. Martin contends the trial court erred in interpreting the mayor's authority too broadly, and, in doing so, it potentially jeopardized his future operations and the protection of sensitive information.

By cross-appeal, Mayor Hoffman raises many issues. He first asserts the trial court did not define his authority under the Borough Code (Code)*fn2 broadly enough. Specifically, Mayor Hoffman contends the trial court erred in determining the distribution of authority between Borough Council and his office over police officer discipline. Moreover, Mayor Hoffman argues Macungie Borough Ordinance (Ordinance) §73-2 and the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Macungie and Macungie Borough Police Officers Association (Police Officers Association) conflict with his authority to manage the police force. Additionally, Mayor Hoffman asserts the trial court erred by enjoining him from interfering with D.A. Martin's operations and by denying him counsel fees. Upon review, we affirm most aspects of the trial court's decision, reverse in part, and remand for an initial determination as to a discrete issue involving attorney's fees only.

I. Background

Unfortunately, it is undisputed that several dysfunctional relationships within Macungie's local government underlie this litigation. Although the genesis of this distrust and intractable behavior is not fully clear from the record, the following fairly summarizes the specific circumstances that led to this appeal.

In 2010, Macungie's residents elected Mayor Hoffman and a new Borough Council. Sometime thereafter, Mayor Hoffman asked Edward Harry Jr., Macungie's chief of police (Chief Harry), for the Police Department work schedules and a key to the police station. Chief Harry denied this request. In response, Mayor Hoffman suspended him for 10 days without pay for insubordination. Thereafter, the acting officer-in-charge sought D.A. Martin's guidance. Ultimately, the Police Department maintained its decision to decline Mayor Hoffman's request on the grounds that it needed to keep information within the police station secure.

As a result of this tension, Macungie's borough solicitor (Solicitor) issued a memorandum to Borough Council which addressed whether the mayor is entitled to access the police station and view Police Department work schedules and investigative files, and what role the mayor has in setting the work schedules. At that time, the Solicitor advised Borough Council that Mayor Hoffman is entitled to view the requested files and to have a key to the police station. The Solicitor further advised Borough Council that scheduling the police officers is subject to the CBA, not to Mayor Hoffman's control. As to the security of information, the Solicitor advised Borough Council, based on Greene v. Prospect Park Borough Council, 46 Pa. D.&.C. 3d 558 (C.P. Delaware 1987), the mayor is not an outsider to the police department; thus, CHRIA does not restrict his access to Police Department information. Furthermore, the Solicitor opined Ordinance §73-2 requires Mayor Hoffman to direct his orders to the police force through Chief Harry.

At a regularly scheduled meeting, Borough Council overturned and expunged Chief Harry's suspension and issued him back pay for the entire term of his suspension. At that time, Borough Council also directed Chief Harry to provide Mayor Hoffman with full access to the Police Department work schedules.

Thereafter, the Police Officers Association filed suit to enjoin Mayor Hoffman from obtaining the work schedules and attempting to modify the officers' schedules. In response, Mayor Hoffman filed a separate action against Macungie, Borough Council, and Chief Harry (Borough Defendants) seeking to be declared Macungie's chief law enforcement officer and to enjoin action to the contrary. At that time, without objection, D.A. Martin intervened in opposition to Mayor Hoffman.

The trial court consolidated these two actions. After a conference before the trial court, the parties agreed to a temporary settlement. Unfortunately, the parties were unable to cooperate under the settlement. Mayor Hoffman filed an amended complaint, which included all of the original parties. At the close of pleadings, Mayor Hoffman filed a motion for summary judgment, and Borough Defendants, D.A. Martin, and the Police Officers Association each filed crossmotions for summary judgment.

In sum, Mayor Hoffman asserted that pursuant to the Code, he is entitled to full control over the chief of police and the police force. As such, he is the head of the police force; therefore, he was Macungie's chief law enforcement officer. He also argued he was entitled to unfettered access to the police station and its files. Furthermore, he asserted Ordinance §73-2 and the CBA should not be interpreted to limit the mayor's authority. Additionally, Mayor Hoffman argued his decision to suspend Chief Harry for 10 days cannot be overturned by Borough Council. In conclusion, Mayor Hoffman requested a declaration of his authority, an injunction protecting his use of that authority, and the payment of all the legal fees and costs he incurred.

In response, Borough Defendants' argument concerned who had authority to set the police officers' work schedules, and whether Borough Council acted within its authority in reinstating Chief Harry with back pay. To that end, Borough Defendants argued the Code grants Borough Council the authority to set the police officers' schedules. Thus, Borough Council could properly negotiate away such authority under the CBA. The Police Officers Association maintained a similar position.

Moreover, Borough Council argued that because the Code allows it to reinstate a suspended officer "with pay," it provides for the complete payment of back pay. See Section 1124 of the Code, 53 P.S. §46124. Furthermore, Borough Defendants asserted Ordinance §73-2 required the mayor to control the police force by issuing orders to the chief of police and not by directly communicating with subordinate officers. As to Mayor Hoffman's contentions concerning access to information, Borough Defendants rested on D.A. Martin's arguments.

D.A. Martin presented a narrow issue when intervening: he intervened to prevent Mayor Hoffman from accessing protected information under CHRIA.

D.A. Martin argued that a mayor is not the chief law enforcement officer of his borough, and that such an interpretation conflicts with the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act (MPJA)*fn3 and Commonwealth Attorneys Act.*fn4

Upon considering the motions, the trial court granted them in part and denied them in part. As to Mayor Hoffman's claims against Borough Defendants, counts I and II of his amended complaint, the trial court granted Mayor Hoffman judgment in part. Specifically, the trial court determined Mayor Hoffman to be Macungie's chief law enforcement officer. As such, the trial court determined Mayor Hoffman is entitled to unrestricted access to the Police Department station and files. The trial court also granted Borough Defendants partial judgment in determining Borough Council had authority to reinstate Chief Harry with back pay.

As to Mayor Hoffman's claim against Borough Defendants and the Police Officers Association, count III, the trial court nominally found in favor of the Defendants. Specifically, the trial court determined neither Ordinance §73-2 nor the CBA infringed on Mayor Hoffman's statutory authority. To that end, the trial court determined Ordinance §73-2 and the CBA did not conflict with the Code and ordered Borough Defendants to act accordingly.

In considering Mayor Hoffman's claim against Borough Defendants and D.A. Martin, count IV, the trial court found in favor of Mayor Hoffman and concluded that CHRIA did not interfere with the mayor's ability to access police files. Additionally, the trial court imposed reciprocal injunctions against D.A. Martin and Mayor Hoffman restraining them from interfering with the other's lawful operations.

Furthermore, the trial court declined to award Mayor Hoffman counsel fees beyond the statutory allowance of $2,500 per 12-month period, which Macungie already provided to him. Therefore, the trial court opined that it disposed of every issue before it and closed the case.

In its opinion, the trial court reasoned Macungie's mayor has final responsibility and authority over the borough's chief of police and police force. In addition to the language of the Code, the trial court determined a mayor's direct control over the police force is evidenced by his exposure to civil suits arising under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for actions of the police force. Furthermore, the trial court reasoned Mayor Hoffman is permitted under CHRIA to have unfettered access to Police Department files in exercising his rights and duties to control the manner in which the police force operates. The trial court further reasoned that denying such access would undermine his ability to make informed decisions. Moreover, the trial court determined the MPJA, the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, and Ordinance §73-2 do not displace the mayor's authority over the Police Department.

Moreover, as to Borough Council and Mayor Hoffman, the trial court concluded Borough Council's authority to reinstate a suspended police officer "with pay" included the authority to provide back pay. See Section 1124 of the Code, 53 P.S. §46124. Additionally, the trial court reasoned the CBA and Ordinance §73-2 did not facially conflict with the mayor's authority under the Code. D.A. Martin filed a notice of appeal, and Mayor Hoffman filed a cross appeal.*fn5

II. Issues

On appeal, D.A. Martin asserts the trial court erred in declaring Mayor Hoffman to be Macungie's chief law enforcement officer as such determination conflicts with the MPJA and the Commonwealth Attorneys Act. Furthermore, he argues the trial court erred in concluding Mayor Hoffman had the right to access protected information under CHRIA.

In his cross-appeal, Mayor Hoffman contends the trial court erred in concluding Borough Council had authority to award Chief Harry back pay for the term of his suspension. Furthermore, he contends that given the Solicitor's interpretations, the trial court erred in determining Ordinance §73-2 and the CBA do not interfere with his authority under the Code. Moreover, he asserts the trial court erred in enjoining him from interfering with the District Attorney's operations as such relief was not requested by any party. Mayor Hoffman also requests counsel fees in excess of the allowance provided by the Code.

III. Discussion

A. Whether Mayor Hoffman is Macungie's Chief Law Enforcement Officer

1. Borough Code

A borough mayor's statutory powers and duties are outlined by the Code. Sections 1001-A--1008-A of the Code, added by the Act of May 17, 2012, P.L. 262, 53 P.S. §§46001-A--46008-A. Within a mayor's enumerated duties is the requirement "[t]o preserve order in the borough, to enforce the ordinances and regulations, to remove nuisances, and to exact a faithful performance of the duties of the officers appointed and to perform any other duties as shall be vested in the mayor's office by law or ordinance." Section 1007-A of the Code, 53 P.S. §46007-A. Furthermore, a mayor has the ultimate executive authority over a ...


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