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Dusman v. The Board of Directors of the Chambersburg Area School District

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 31, 2015

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

Argued June 15, 2015.

Page 355

Appealed from No. 2014-1969. 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 ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Page 356

P. KEVIN BROBSON, JUDGE.

This consolidated matter involves the appeals of the Chambersburg Area School District (District) and the District's Board of Directors (Board) from two orders of the Court of Common Pleas of the 39th Judicial District (Franklin County Branch) (trial court). The first order, dated May 29, 2014, granted a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Catherine M. Dusman (Dusman) without notice of hearing (Temporary Injunction Order). The second order, dated June 2, 2014, followed notice and a hearing and continued the preliminary injunction the trial court entered on May 29, 2014 (Preliminary Injunction Order). For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

Aspects of these consolidated appeals involve an employment dispute between the District and Dusman. After the District terminated Dusman's position as an Assistant Superintendent, Dusman sued the District, seeking an order in mandamus directing the District to restore her to her position. By Order dated April 28, 2014, the trial court granted Dusman's motion for peremptory judgment and directed the District to reinstate Dusman to her previous position as Assistant Superintendent. The District appealed,[1] and in Dusman v. Board of Directors of the Chambersburg Area School District, 113 A.3d 362 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2015) ( Dusman I ), petition for allowance of appeal, (Pa., No. 90 MAL 2015, filed February 4, 2015), we affirmed.

On May 29, 2014, a couple of weeks after the District appealed the trial court's reinstatement order that is the subject of Dusman I, Dusman again filed suit against the District. In that action, Dusman averred that the Board violated the Sunshine Act, 65 Pa. C.S. § § 701-716, when, during an executive (nonpublic) session on May 7, 2014, the Board discussed, deliberated, and decided to appeal the trial court's reinstatement order. Dusman sought declaratory and permanent injunctive relief with respect to those executive session actions.

Page 357

Dusman also challenged other executive session actions by the Board. Specifically, Dusman averred that the Board violated the Sunshine Act by discussing legal services during an executive session on May 14, 2014. Dusman averred that the Board again violated the Sunshine Act during its May 28, 2014 meeting by discussing and deliberating in an executive session, rather than a public session, the subject of rates to be paid for legal services. Dusman sought an order enjoining the Board from engaging in discussion and deliberation in executive sessions on the subject of legal services and the rates it would pay for legal services and requested an order directing the Board to provide her with copies of the audio tapes of those executive sessions for release to the public.

On the same day that she filed her complaint, Dusman filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief, citing Section 713 of the Sunshine Act, 65 Pa. C.S. § 713, which provides, in relevant part:

The court may enjoin any challenged action until a judicial determination of the legality of the meeting at which the action was adopted is reached. Should the court determine that the meeting did not meet the requirements of this chapter, it may in its discretion find that any or all official action taken at the meeting shall be invalid.

Specifically, Dusman sought an order preliminarily enjoining the District " from (1) prosecuting its appeal [of the trial court's order granting peremptory judgment in favor of Dusman] and (2) holding executive sessions to deliberate matters regarding legal services or the approval of 2014-2015 rates for legal services" until the trial court resolved her underlying claims involving the Sunshine Act. (Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 22a.) Within hours of the filing of Dusman's Sunshine Act complaint, the trial court issued the Temporary Injunction Order:

NOW, this 29th day of May, 2014, upon consideration of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction in this matter and after considering the Complaint filed in this matter, and pursuant to Pa. R.[C.]P. [No.] 1531(a), Chambersburg Area School District is hereby temporarily enjoined from (1) taking further formal action to prosecute its appeal filed on May 8, 2014 in Franklin County Docket No. 2013-2085 and (2) deliberating matters pertaining to legal services and legal rates for legal services during executive sessions.

The Temporary Injunction Order also scheduled a hearing on the preliminary injunction motion for June 2, 2014.

On June 2, 2014, after conducting a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction, the trial court entered the Preliminary Injunction Order:

June 2, 2014, the Court having convened a preliminary hearing on the plaintiff's petition for injunctive relief under the provisions of the Sunshine [Act], and the Court upon taking evidence and hearing the oral arguments of counsel hereby orders that the [Temporary Injunction Order] shall remain in effect until the Court has an opportunity to review the written arguments of counsel and determine whether or not the order should be rescinded or continued pending further proceedings in the matter or entered as a final order upon conclusion of the . . . complaint under the . . . Sunshine Act.
The Court notes that the order does not invalidate the appeal of the school district but prohibits [it] from taking further action or further steps to prosecute the appeal.

On June 11, 2014, the District filed separate notices of appeal with respect to the trial court's Temporary and Preliminary

Page 358

Injunction Orders.[2] On June 16, 2014, the trial court directed the District to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b) within 21 days. The next day, the trial court issued a Memorandum of Decision in support of its Preliminary Injunction Order. The District filed separate concise statements with respect to the Temporary and Preliminary Injunction Orders. The trial court issued an opinion ...


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