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Borough v. Delaney

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 4, 2018

Coaldale Borough
v.
Timothy Delaney, Appellant

          Argued: December 4, 2017

          BEFORE: HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE MICHAEL H. WOJCIK, Judge HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          PATRICIA A. MCCULLOUGH, JUDGE.

         Timothy Delaney (Delaney) appeals from the April 26, 2017 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County (trial court) which granted the petition of Coaldale Borough (Borough) to quash Delaney's request for arbitration.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The underlying facts in this matter are not in dispute and were summarized by the trial court as follows. Delaney was the Borough's Chief of Police. On or about August 13, 2013, Delaney injured his right hand while testing a taser. On June 25, 2015, Delaney requested a disability pension from the Police Pension Board (Board).[1] He subsequently requested a hearing before the Board and one was conducted on March 29, 2016. By decision dated May 23, 2016, the Board denied Delaney's request and informed him of his right to appeal within 30 days. Rather than appeal, Delaney filed a grievance on June 7, 2016, alleging that the denial of his disability pension was in violation of his Employment Agreement with the Borough. Under this Employment Agreement, Delaney participated in the Borough's Police Pension Fund. Additionally, Article XIV of the Employment Agreement provides for a grievance and arbitration procedure to resolve all disputes arising between Delaney and the Borough. Counsel for Delaney later sent a letter to the Borough requesting that the parties bypass the grievance procedure and proceed directly to arbitration. (Trial court op. at 2.)

         However, the Borough responded by filing a petition with the trial court to quash Delaney's arbitration request on December 30, 2016. In this petition, the Borough acknowledged the Employment Agreement as well as a local ordinance adopting the Borough's Police Pension Plan. Nevertheless, the Borough alleged that the Board was a local agency operating in accordance with its Police Pension Plan and the Local Agency Law, [2] that the Board convened a hearing and issued a written decision, and that Delaney's sole remedy was to file an appeal with the appropriate court, i.e., the trial court, within 30 days of the Board's decision in accordance with the Local Agency Law. The Borough noted that it lacked the statutory or contractual power to overrule the Board's decision. (Trial court op. at 1; R.R. at 6a-12a.)

         On January 3, 2017, the trial court issued a rule to show cause directing Delaney to file an answer to the Borough's petition within 20 days, advising that the matter would be decided under Pa.R.C.P. No. 206.7 (relating to procedure after issuance of rule to show cause), requiring depositions to be completed within 60 days, and noting that either party could request oral argument pursuant to the local rules of civil procedure. Delaney filed a timely answer denying that his sole remedy was an appeal under the Local Agency Law, but acknowledging that he was advised of his right to appeal within 30 days of the date of the Board's decision.[3] (R.R. at 54a-61a.)

         On April 13, 2017, the Borough filed a praecipe for certification noting that fact-finding was complete and/or unnecessary, and requesting that its petition be transferred to a judge for disposition. Around the same time, the Borough filed a brief in support of its petition with the trial court. Delaney was not given an opportunity to file a responsive brief. (R.R. at 63a-79a.)

         Instead, by order dated April 26, 2017, the trial court granted the Borough's petition and quashed Delaney's request for arbitration. In its order, the trial court cited section 752 of the Local Agency Law, which provides,

Any person aggrieved by an adjudication of a local agency who has a direct interest in such adjudication shall have the right to appeal therefrom to the court vested with jurisdiction of such appeals by or pursuant to Title 42 (relating to judiciary and judicial procedure).

2 Pa.C.S. §752. Additionally, the trial court cited section 5571(b) of the Judicial Code, which provides that "an appeal from a tribunal or other government unit to a court . . . must be commenced within 30 days after the entry of the order from which the appeal is taken . . . ." 42 Pa.C.S. §5571(b). The trial court proceeded to state that the Board was a local agency and governed by the Local Agency Law, citing this Court's decision in City of Arnold v. Wage Policy Committee of Arnold Police Department, 138 A.3d 719 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016), rev'd, 171 A.3d 744 (Pa. 2017). Citing City of Arnold and Groman v. Officers' & Employees' Pension Board, 451 A.2d 789 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1982) (holding that a city pension board was a local agency and the exclusive remedy from a decision of such board lies with an administrative appeal under section 752 of the Local Agency Law), the trial court concluded that Delaney's exclusive remedy for the denial of his disability pension was to appeal the Board's determination within 30 days pursuant to the Local Agency Law.

         Delaney thereafter filed a notice of appeal with the trial court, alleging that the trial court erred in applying City of Arnold and Groman to this matter when the Employment Agreement with the Borough mandated that all disputes arising thereunder proceed to arbitration. Delaney also alleged that he was prejudiced by the trial court's failure to provide him with an opportunity to file a responsive brief in opposition to the Borough's petition and brief. The trial court issued an opinion in support of its order explaining that the facts were not in dispute and that only issues of law remained to be decided. The trial court stated that Delaney was entitled to a pension plan under the Employment Agreement and he was provided with the same. The trial court reiterated that, under City of Arnold and Groman, Delaney's exclusive remedy from the Board's adverse determination was an appeal under the Local Agency Law. The trial court noted that, ...


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