Former Employee Files $2.1 Million Civil Lawsuit against Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors, claiming Defamation of Character & Gross Negligence . . . has the statute of limitations run out?

This week former Assistant Finance Director for Tredyffrin Township (2000-03) John Yeager filed a $2.1 million civil lawsuit against the Board of Supervisors of Tredyffrin Township. The lawsuit was filed on Monday, March 21, 2011 at the Chester County Court of Pleas.  To read the 5-page legal document, click here  – provides for an interesting walk down memory lane. (If you click on the link to the lawsuit, when the box opens up, click on the link in the top of the box and the document will open).

In his lawsuit, John Yeager is claiming defamation of character and gross negligence charges against Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors in regards to his hiring (and ultimate firing) by Harry Marrone, the municipality’s former Finance Director.

Talk about a name from the past – Harry Marrone!  Anyone remember Tredyffrin’s Finance Director pre-Dave Brill . . .  Harry Marrone.  

Here is a brief history lesson on Harry Marrone. Harry Marrone was the township’s Finance Director, serving from 1992 – 2005.  In February 2005, Marrone was arrested, charged and convicted of diverting $75K of township money to his personal bank account. (I believe that Marrone subsequently made full restitution to the township). Unbeknown to the township at the time of Marrone’s hiring in 1992, he was a convicted felon.  It turns out that in 1996, while on a stated 5-month medical leave from his township job; Marrone was actually serving time at Minnesota Federal Prison for embezzling $843K from a former employer.  You might wonder how was it possible that the township was unaware of Marrone’s criminal record at the time of his hiring in 1992.

At the time of Marrone’s hiring, the township did not have policy and procedures for background investigation for prospective employees in place.  However, as a direct result of Marrone’s criminal action against the township, a policy for thorough background investigation of all employees was approved. A similar situation could not occur today as a result of these employment policy changes.

Fast forward to March 21, 2011; John Yeager has filed a lawsuit seeking $2.1 million in damages from Tredyffrin Township.  Yeager is claiming that he would never have sought employment with Tredyffrin Township had he known that Marrone was a convicted felon.  He believes that his inability to secure employment by other municipalities is due to his relationship with Marrone and the subsequent negative publicity of the case.  He was the Assistant Finance Director and Marrone was the Finance Director during Yeager’s employment with the township.

Yeager believes that he has suffered defamation of character; claiming that by association with Tredyffrin Township and Marrone, his personal reputation has been harmed.  In his lawsuit, Yeager accuses the township of gross negligence through their hiring of a convicted felon (Marrone) and by not having a background investigation required for all prospective employees.

I have done some research on the statute of limitations on this type of civil action.  The critical aspect of filing a civil action rests with remaining in compliance with the state’s statute of limitations. This is important because once the statute of limitations expires, the deadline for filing a lawsuit has passed.  I do not claim to be any legal wiz, but it appears that an individual does not have a lot of time to file a ‘defamation lawsuit’ in Pennsylvania.  According to what I have read, Pennsylvania has a one-year statute of limitation for defamation lawsuits.  Negligence lawsuits appear to have a two-year statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.

If I understand the statute of limitations correctly on defamation and negligence counts, Yeager’s lawsuit is not valid in Pennsylvania.  I have spoken to four attorneys in regards to Yeager’s lawsuit.  Only one attorney suggested there may be substance if Yeager can prove there has been an ongoing  inability for employment due to his association with the township; therefore extending the statute of limitations in this situation.  

I have tried unsuccessfully to contact Yeager.  I wanted to ask him ‘why’ he waited so long to file the lawsuit and curious as to what was the stated reason that he was fired.  I was also curious about the $2.1 million lawsuit price tag . . . wonder where that number came from?

If nothing else, the contents of the lawsuit provide us a walk down memory lane in regards to Harry Marrone.  My assumption is that the lawsuit will now pass to the hands of the township’s insurance company.  It would be curious to know how many of these types of lawsuits are regularly filed against municipalities and/or their elected officials. 

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  1. You’re right about the statute of limitations, and I don’t see any way he gets to extend it because his alleged damages continue. That’s not the same as the “discovery rule” which allows the statute to be tolled if the defendant has actively worked to cover up the offense. I just don’t see this lawsuit going anywhere.

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  2. I just read the complaint and this much is apparent: Mr. Yeager’s attorney has a fool for a client.

    He argues that the suit should not be time-barred because of the township’s “gross negligence” in hiring a guy who hadn’t undergone a criminal background check. Meanwhile, Mr. Yeager, himself a township employee, must have realized that procedure wasn’t part of the hiring process. So, even if the township was grossly negligent, so was Mr. Yeager for all the reasons he outlines.

    I hate pro se litigants.

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  3. This is ridiculous. How many other Tredyffrin employees who worked at Marrone’s time have left the Township and found work elsewhere? If just one, it proves Yeager doesn’t have a case.

    This smells like someone struggling in this economy to find work (or, maybe, isn’t that appealling to employers) who decided to take the new American way to prosperity: sue for it.

    I hope (a) he gets laughed out of court and (b) he has to pay any legal fees the township (read: taxpayers) are forced to incur because of this joke.

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  4. When lawyers draft complaints, they usually list separately each claim that the plaintiff is asserting under a separate heading — the “Counts” of the complaint. Where, as here, a pro se plaintiff does not do that, the courts usually read the allegations as broadly as possible to try to divine every claim that the plaintiff is attempting to assert. It seems to me that Yeager’s complaint can be read as attempting to assert three claims: (1) defamation; (2) infliction of emotional distress; and (3) negligent misrepresentation (i.e., that the Township should have known about Marrone’s criminal background and disclosed it to him and, had the Township done so, he would not have taken the job as Assistant Finance Director). As Pattye correctly notes, the statute of limitations on the defamation claim is one year. The statute of limitations on the infliction of emotional distress claim and misrepresentation claim is two years. By Yeager’s own allegations, he was well aware of the Township’s alleged wrongdoing by 2005 at the latest, when Marrone was arrested. So he had to file his defamation claim no later than 2006, and his remaining claims no later than 2007.

    I am not aware of a legal theory that would extend the limitations period because Yeager’s inability to find employment is ongoing. There is a theory called the “continuing violation doctrine,” which extends the statute of limitations where a defendant commits a serious of bad acts over a period of time. So, for instance, if a defendant engages in repeated bad acts from 2002 through 2005, the statute may run from 2005, not 2002. But I do not see how that would apply here. To the extent the Township engaged in any wrongful activity, it ended by 2005.

    I would be surprised if the County cannot get this case dismissed on preliminary objections. Indeed, when a plaintiff spends the first three substantive paragraphs of his complaint explaining why his lawsuit “is not time barred,” that’s usually a pretty good indication that the lawsuit is time barred.

    As for requiring Yeager to reimburse the Township for its attorney’s fees, agree with it or not, that is not the way our legal system is set up. A prevailing party only is entitled to attorney’s fees where a governing statute or a contract between the parties so provides, which does not appear to be the case here.

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  5. I’m not a lawyer, but I don’t see how the filing of this suit “is a reminder of how incompetent our local government was”. Was it really considered prudent to get a criminal investigation on someone you hired? Isn’t that on Joe Janasek (Sp?) to make the determination on credentials and references? If the township manager vets someone, does that make the government incomptent? The guy should come to the township and ask for a reference — unless he was fired for cause as well.
    Times are changing — little leagues are being ripped off too. What this case is a reminder of is that you cannot trust anyone — from priest to coach to volunteer treasurer to …. Right?

    I certainly understand the non-legalese component of this claim, but i think the plaintiff is being the ultimate victim. I know many people in finance who have been out of work for a long time — using this as a reason (or cause) is beyond a stretch. If anything, he could turn his experience into a skill set of learning to be more aware of his coworkers etc. He isn’t the guilty party and no one hiring him would associate him with it unless he carries it around like a weight on his life. When you have a blotch on your resume, you need to come to terms with it and reframe it, not litigate it on unrelated issues.

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  6. Just another notch in the belt. One of these days, someone is going to take the belt off and do some old fashion whipping.

    Why don’t we just build another park and make ourselves feel better?

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