Violation Of “Sunshine Law” Amounts To Breach Of Due Process

Thomas Day was a police officer for the Borough of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Day was terminated by the Police Chief for conduct unbecoming when he made unsubstantiated allegations against other officers. Day appealed his dismissal to the Borough’s Civil Service Commission.

In his notice of appeal, Day requested that the hearing be open to the public. The Commission refused Day’s request for an open hearing, and affirmed Day’s termination. Day then challenged his termination in court, contending that the denial of his request for an open hearing was a violation of his due process rights.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (Pennsylvania’s Court of Appeals) agreed with Day. The Court noted that Pennsylvania’s “Sunshine Act” generally required that all meetings of governmental bodies such as the Civil Service Commission be open meetings. One exception to the open meeting rule involves matters dealing with the “termination of employment.” However, the Court observed, the Sunshine Act allows the employee who is the subject of a termination to request that a governmental meeting to consider the termination be an open meeting.

The Court found that Day’s request for an open hearing was denied in violation of the Sunshine Act, and that the hearing in which the Commission affirmed Day’s termination “was held in violation of the Act.” The Court ruled that it would “exercise the discretion granted to us by the Act to invalidate all action taken at the meeting in regard to Day.”

The Court remanded the case to the Commission for an open hearing.

Day v. Civil Service Commission of Borough of Carlisle, 2005 WL 3077231 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2005).

This article appears in the January 2006 issue