WEST CHESTER — A Chester County judge ruled in favor of the ex-superintendent sued by the Phoenixville Area School District over the abortive attempt to build a new school in East Pikeland.
The school district’s lawsuit alleged David Noyes, who served as superintendent from 2001 to 2008, breached his contract by leading the district into spending millions dollars through withholding information on a property that had environmental issues and ultimately was abandoned and sold back to the original owner, C. Raymond Davis and Sons Inc.
Originally, the district sought nearly $3.5 million from Noyes, but that total was modified to approximately $2.8 million. The district determined some costs would have been assumed anyway through the course of due diligence in obtaining property.
In a ruling released Wednesday, Common Pleas Court Judge Edward Griffith decided the case in favor of Noyes, saying that the former administrator did not breach his contract and actually included all the information the school board needed at the time.
“The board’s primary interest was whether or not the property was environmentally safe as the location of an elementary school,” Griffith’s decision read. “Dr. Noyes sought an answer to that question on behalf of the board and provided all materials he obtained in that search to (the) board for their review and consideration.”
According to Griffith’s judgment and the testimonies of several board members from the time period in question, which stretched from 2003 to 2008, the board members didn’t completely read through documents relating to the acquisition and environmental testing on the property, which is located near the intersection of Coldstream Road and Route 113.
The site was formerly a dump, burn area and located near a Superfund site.
During the trial, board members testified that there was not enough time to read the documents before their meetings.
The district released the following statement Wednesday: “The Phoenixville Area School District has been informed a decision was entered in favor of former PASD Superintendent Dr. David R. Noyes in a breach of contract action filed by the district. The ruling by Judge Edward Griffith concerned the purchase of land by the district in 2005. The property in question is no longer owned by the school district.”
According to Noyes’ lawyers during the trial, the school district attempted to make Noyes the scapegoat for a property that public opinion turned against.
“The fact that the public opposed the project and that the school district misjudged the public’s reaction as it spent significant time and money pursuing the project is not the fault of Dr. Noyes and it is not due to any breach of his employment agreement,” said paperwork filed by Noyes’ attorneys.
His defense team consisted of Josh Greenbaum and MaryTeresa Soltis.
In his closing arguments, Ron Williams, leading the prosecution for the school district, contested that Noyes “made a serious professional misjudgment.”
“If Dr. Noyes really wanted to share information ... he could have easily had his assistants forward (information) to the board and asked, ‘Let me know what you think?’” Williams said.
In Griffith’s judgment, he wrote that Noyes “provided the board with the agreement of sale ... kept the board apprised of requests to extend the period for due diligence under the agreement of sale” and “provided the board with all materials needed to assess the safety of the property as the site of an elementary school.”
Additionally, Griffith ruled that “at no time did Dr. Noyes receive legal advice that he failed to pass on to the board.”
One of the points of contention during the trial was an email Noyes received from the district’s business manager at the time, Michelle Diekow, detailing a conversation she had in November 2004 with an attorney working on behalf of the district named Steve Buck.
The email reportedly contained concerns Buck had regarding an environmental report on the site and a coming deadline, set for Dec. 17, by which the district had to ask for the original owners to clean up the site or return the property without cost.
Williams said that email was never forwarded to the school board and should have been.
Greenbaum said the email was a “non-issue.”
“The Nov. 29, 2004 email from Ms. Diekow relating her conversation with Attorney Buck is merely flagging a deadline for the district,” Griffith wrote in his decision. “No legal advice is contained therein.”
There is no word whether Noyes will counter-sue the district for legal costs.
Both he and Greenbaum could not be reached by deadline on Wednesday.
EARLIER VERSION OF STORY
WEST CHESTER — A Chester County judge has ruled in favor of former Phoenixville Area School District Superintendent David R. Noyes in a breach of contract lawsuit brought by the school district against Noyes seeking $3.5 million in damages for alleged failure to communicate a property liability.
Judge Edward Griffith had taken the case under advisement after a three-day trial in April. His ruling was handed down Wednesday.