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A state police cadet candidate does not have a sufficient personal property right in employment that would require a hearing before disqualification of the candidate, the Commonwealth Court has ruled. “An applicant, who has made the eligibility list but who has not yet commenced his service at either the academy or as a probationary trooper, has no vested property rights,” Judge James Gardner Colins wrote for the court in Snisky v. Pennsylvania State Police. Judges Robert Simpson and James R. Kelley also sat on the panel. Kelley filed a concurring opinion. On Aug. 7, 2000, Michael Snisky was notified that he had successfully completed the background investigation phase in his state police cadet application. On Jan. 9, 2001, he was informed that he was selected for appointment as a cadet. On Jan. 14, a domestic disturbance was reported at Snisky’s residence, according to court papers. In the police report, an officer noted that Snisky’s wife was bleeding from her nose. When questioned about her injury, she said that Snisky had thrown a telephone at her but that she did not want to press charges. On Jan. 29, Snisky received a letter notifying him that his appointment had been rescinded because of the domestic violence report and that a supplemental background investigation would be conducted to review the incident, court papers indicate. Snisky was then notified in late March that the investigation panel had disqualified him as a cadet because of the domestic dispute and because of an incident in which he allegedly threw his children’s ice cream cones out of his car window. The letter also informed him that he could file a written appeal of the decision. Snisky submitted a written rebuttal and also requested a hearing. In his rebuttal, he said that the telephone hit his wife’s nose when she tried to grab it from him. In response to the rebuttal, the state police director informed Snisky that the appeal panel had found that his rebuttal presented no new evidence that would reverse the decision of the investigative panel. In his Commonwealth Court claim, Snisky argued that prior to disqualification, the state police must allow him a hearing and the opportunity to present evidence. Snisky cited the court’s decision in Bloomfield v. Pennsylvania State Police. In Bloomfield, the court ruled that state police applicants have a right to a hearing before their interest can be terminated by agency adjudication. Snisky said that he was not afforded that right. The state police countered that Snisky could not appeal his disqualification because rescinding his candidacy is not adjudication and was therefore not reviewable by the Commonwealth Court. “Accordingly, Snisky’s disqualification must have been an ‘adjudication’ in order to entitle him to appeal to this court signifying that his disqualification affected a personal or property right, privilege or immunity,” Colins wrote, referring to the court’s decision in Pipkin v. Pennsylvania State Police. The state police appeals panel distinguished Snisky’s claim from Bloomfield because that decision was based on a selection procedure outlined in a decree that is now dissolved. The Commonwealth Court agreed with this reasoning. In siding with the state police, the court turned to its decision in Marino v. Pennsylvania State Police. In that case, the court declined to find that cadets have a property right to continued employment, so the cadets’ discharge for cheating on exams without a hearing did not violate their due process rights. Similarly, in Graham v. Pennsylvania State Police, a probationary state trooper was expelled for disciplinary violations. Hearings were held before a hearing officer who recommended that Graham not be dismissed. But, the police commissioner rejected the recommendation, and Graham was ultimately expelled. Citing Marino, the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal because the cadet did not have a property right in her employment. According to the opinion, Snisky argued that his case was distinguishable from Graham and Pipkin because in both cases, the plaintiffs were granted a hearing. The commonwealth sided with the state police, reasoning that it had denied the probationary state trooper in Graham property rights and that these rights would obviously not be extended to an individual who had only been approved for admittance as a cadet. “It must follow that an applicant, who has made the eligibility list but who has not yet commenced his service at either the academy or as a probationary trooper, has no vested property rights,” Colins wrote. “Without such a right, Snisky’s disqualification does not constitute an adjudication reviewable by this court.” The court then dismissed Snisky’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. In Kelley’s concurring opinion, he agreed that Snisky’s dismissal by the appeal panel was not an adjudication. “I write separately, however, to express the view that if this determination were reviewable, I would not hesitate to argue for its reversal,” Kelley wrote. “In conducting a background investigation into one of its own potential cadets, neither the background investigation screening panel nor the background investigation appeal panel spoke with the principals involved in the purportedly disqualifying incidents.”

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