In this breach of contract action out of Montgomery County, the Commonwealth Court was asked to determine whether a municipality could be held vicariously liable for the actions of members of a Township Board of Supervisors. In reversing the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County’s decision, the Commonwealth Court held that, similar to a private corporation, a political subdivision can only carry out its duties through its agents, servants, and employees; including members of its governing body. As agents of the municipality, the municipality could be held vicariously liable for their actions.
Pezzano was the Fire Marshal for the Township. The Township determined that it was too small to have a full-time fire marshal and thus decided to terminate Pezzano’s employment. Pezzano and the Township entered into a Separation Agreement that included a confidentiality provision. The Agreement was approved by the Township’s Board of Supervisors, with two members dissenting. The two dissenting members subsequently gave statements to a journalist and were quoted in a news article stating that Pezzano had been “dismissed for cause.” Pezzano sued the Township for breach of contract based on the Supervisors’ violation of the confidentiality provision of the Agreement. The Township filed preliminary objections on the basis of legal insufficiency, which the Trial Court sustained. The Trial Court reasoned that because the dissenting supervisors had not signed the Agreement, they were not parties to it, and their actions could not serve as a basis for a breach of the Agreement. Pezzano appealed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed the Trial Court’s decision. It reasoned that the Township, as a political subdivision could only carry out its duties through its agents, servants, or employees. Thus the Township could be vicariously liable for the breach of its contractual obligations by its agents and officers—in this case the dissenting supervisors. Therefore it was error for the Trial Court to sustain the Township’s preliminary objections.
Click here to read: Pezzano v. Towamencin Twp., 2022 CD 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Feb. 16, 2017).