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Dusman v. Bd. of Dirs.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 6, 2015

Catherine M. Dusman
v.
The Board of Directors of the Chambersburg Area School District and the Chambersburg Area School District, Appellants

Argued December 8, 2014

Page 363

Appealed from No. 2013-2085. Common Pleas Court of the County of Franklin. Herman, J.

Michele J. Mintz, Huntingdon Valley, for appellants.

John M. Sharpe, V, Chambersburg, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 364

P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE

The Board of Directors of the Chambersburg Area School District (the Board) and the Chambersburg Area School District (the District) (collectively, CASD) appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Franklin County Branch (trial court), granting Catherine M. Dusman's (Dusman) motion for peremptory judgment. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm.

During a school board meeting on August 25, 2005, the Board appointed Dusman as Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Services for a four-year term--August 23, 2005 to August 22, 2009. Two years later, on September 26, 2007, Dusman and the Board executed a written contract (2007 contract), which provided that Dusman's initial four-year term started August 1, 2004, and ended July 31, 2008, terms different from those set at the August 22, 2005 school board meeting. That same day, Dusman's contract was listed for approval on the school board's agenda for the evening. The minutes of that meeting record that " Senior Management Contracts as presented" were approved by the seven members of the Board present at the meeting, and that " [c]opies of the contracts are attached to and hereby become a part of this set of minutes." (Reproduced Record (R.R.) 185a.)

Consistent with Section 1077(b) of the Public School Code of 1949 (Public School Code),[1] the 2007 contract provided for automatic renewal unless the Board gave Dusman 150 days' notice of its intent not to renew her contract:

Page 365

The District shall notify Assistant Superintendent no later than one hundred fifty (150) days prior to the expiration date of this Agreement of the District's intent not to reappoint Assistant Superintendent. Should Assistant Superintendent not be so notified, said Assistant Superintendent shall be appointed for a term of years not less than the length of the expiring term and the terms and conditions of this Agreement shall be incorporated in a Successor Agreement, unless mutually agreed otherwise by the Board and Assistant Superintendent.

( R.R. 18a-19a.)

The Board took no further action regarding Dusman's appointment until March 25, 2009, when it approved a resolution (2009 resolution) renewing Dusman's appointment for another four-year term, from August 23, 2009 to August 22, 2013. (R.R. 24a, attached to Dusman's amended complaint as Exhibit B.) Dusman asserts that a second written contract was executed in 2009 (2009 contract), setting her term from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2013. Dusman attached an unsigned copy of the 2009 contract to her amended complaint as Exhibit C. (R.R. 25a-32a.) CASD claims the 2009 contract was never executed. The unsigned 2009 contract contains an automatic renewal provision identical to the one in the 2007 contract.

On March 13, 2013, the Board passed a resolution (2013 resolution) abolishing the position of assistant superintendent for elementary services and, therefore, electing not to renew Dusman's contract as assistant superintendent. The 2013 resolution also created the position of Director of Early Childhood Education and appointed Dusman as Director. (R.R. 156a.) The next day the Board notified Dusman that the District did not intend to retain her as assistant superintendent for another term.

Dusman then filed a praecipe for a writ of summons on May 23, 2013, and a complaint in mandamus on June 3, 2013, to compel CASD to reinstate her as assistant superintendent. On July 2, 2013, Dusman filed an amended complaint. CASD filed an answer and new matter to Dusman's amended complaint on February 6, 2014. Dusman filed her motion for peremptory judgment on February 27, 2014, and brief in support of said motion on March 31, 2014, seeking immediate reinstatement to her position as assistant superintendent on the basis that CASD failed to provide her with the required 150 days' notice before terminating her position. CASD filed a response in opposition to the motion for peremptory judgment on March 25, 2014. On April 2, 2014, CASD filed a petition for leave to file an amended answer with new matter (petition to amend). On April 30, 2014, Dusman filed a response, opposing CASD's ...


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