Chester County Court of Pleas

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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