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Chain declines joinder - lawsuit dismissed

Susan Prasse

(6/19) In a surprising turn of events, Adams County Common Pleas Judge John Kuhn ruled that a complaint filed in January by three Fairfield residents and three Fairfield Area School Board members against five Fairfield School Board members has been dismissed.

Kuhn ruled that if the six plaintiffs - residents Apryl Huster, Sara Laird, and Rhonda Myers, and board members Pamela Mikesell, Marcy Van Metre, and Lonny Whitcomb did not file an amended petition with Chain added as plaintiff by the close of business on June 15 the suit would be dismissed. A new hearing that was scheduled for June 18 was cancelled after the plaintiffs notified the court that former Superintendent Bill Chain would not be joining as a plaintiff.

Prior to his departure, Chain had signed a separation agreement with the school district which prohibited him from entering into any legal action against the district. Judge John Kuhn said the court would not force him to breach that agreement.

The complaint alleged that school board members Chuck Hatter, Mickey Barlow, Bruce Lefeber, Agatha Foscato, and Richard Mathews all violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act and Pennsylvania Public School Code by notifying Chain that his contract would not be renewed without knowledge by the full board or by taking a public vote. The suit requested that the court rescind the boardís actions and Chainís position be restored.

In December, in a 5 to 3 vote, the school board had accepted the "irrevocable resignation and retirement" of Chain. Prior to the vote accepting his resignation, board member Lonny Whitcomb suggested that the board seek a second legal opinion to extend Chainís contract by one year. However, District solicitor Brooke Say advised the full board that Pennsylvania law only allowed School Districts to offer three to five year contracts to their superintendents with expiring contracts.

Although the parties amended their petitions several times over the past several months, Kuhnís response to recent objections only cited one issue Ė Chain was not a plaintiff. Agreeing with the defendants' claim that Chain is an "indispensable party to this action," Kuhn wrote that "the Court cannot proceed with Plaintiffs' claims without Mr. Chain's joinder as a party."

"If Mr. Chain wished to join Plaintiffs as a party in this action, he certainly could have, and that would have been his carefully considered decision to risk breach of his Agreement and loss of benefits and performance...That Mr. Chain has not pursued such an action is significant in estimating Mr. Chain's position regarding Plaintiffs' suit," Kuhn wrote.

Chain had been Fairfieldís Superintendent of Schools for seven years. In May, Chesapeake Bay Foundationís Executive Director Harry Campbell named Chain as the new Pennsylvania Senior Agriculture Program Manager. No one from the current Fairfield Area School Board was available for comment.

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