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Armenti v. Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

September 29, 2014

Angelo Armenti, Jr., Petitioner
v.
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Respondents

Submitted  August 1, 2014

Page 773

Appealed from No. 4091. State Agency: Board of Claims.

Steven M. Toprani, Pittsburgh, for petitioner.

Samuel H. Simon, Pittsburgh, for respondent.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge.

OPINION

BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge

Page 774

Angelo Armenti, Jr. (Armenti) petitions for review of the Order of the Board of Claims which sustained the Preliminary Objections filed by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE)[1] and dismissed Armenti's claim for breach of contract.

Armenti was employed by PASSHE's Board of Governors under the terms of a series of employment agreements and served as the President of California State University of Pennsylvania (" Cal U" ) from 1992 until he was terminated on June 1, 2012, " for cause."

On October 10, 2012, Armenti filed a suit against PASSHE and several of its officials in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (District Court), alleging various federal (due process, free speech) and pendent state law claims (defamation, Whistleblower Law[2]) as a result of his termination from employment. Among the pendent state law claims was a count for " Breach of Contract." Specifically, Armenti alleged that he had " an existing employment contract with PASSHE and the Board of Governors which specified a fixed durational term." Second Amended Complaint, Middle District of Pennsylvania, October 4, 2013, ¶ 172 at 27; Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 41. He alleged that PASSHE breached the employment contract " by terminating him without notice or cause as required by the express terms of the contract" and sought compensatory damages. Second Amended Complaint, Middle District of Pennsylvania, October 4, 2013, ¶ 173 at 27; R.R. at 41.

PASSHE filed a Motion to Dismiss and asserted that the District Court lacked jurisdiction. PASSHE argued that contractual claims against the Commonwealth and its agencies must be brought before the Board of Claims. The District Court agreed that the Board of Claims held exclusive jurisdiction over Armenti's breach of contract claim. See Order of the Honorable John E. Jones, III, dated October 2, 2013, at 26; R.R. at 218.

Following the District Court's dismissal of his breach of contract claim, Armenti filed a Statement of Claim with the Board of Claims which included a claim for breach of his employment agreement. Armenti alleged that he had an employment agreement with PASSHE and that PASSHE terminated him without notice or cause as required by the express term of the agreement. Statement of Claim, ¶ 26 at 4; R.R. at 58. Armenti sought damages as a direct and proximate result of PASSHE's breach of his employment agreement.

On October 29, 2013, PASSHE filed Preliminary Objections and argued, contrary to its position before the District Court, that the Board of Claims lacked jurisdiction to ...


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