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decided: March 22, 1966.


Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas No. 8 of Philadelphia County, March T., 1965, No. 3158, in case of Luba Bentman, Patricia W. Evers, Donald W. Cox et al. v. Seventh Ward Democratic Executive Committee, Harry Melton and Francis R. Smith.


Henry W. Sawyer, III, with him Drinker, Biddle & Reath, for appellants.

Isadore A. Shrager, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen.

Author: Jones

[ 421 Pa. Page 189]

On April 28, 1964 -- at a primary election -- Donald W. Cox and Hedvah Shuchman were duly elected by a majority of the Democratic voters of the 6th and the

[ 421 Pa. Page 19010]

    th Divisions, respectively, of the 7th Ward of Philadelphia as Democratic party committeemen from such districts. Their election was certified by the official election board and they were seated, without question, as members of the 7th Ward Democratic Executive Committee (Executive Committee).

On August 10, 1964, Cox and Shuchman were notified, in writing, that a meeting of the Executive Committee would be held on August 12, 1964, to consider and vote upon their removal as party committeemen. At that meeting, Harry Melton, then Democratic leader of the 7th Ward, charged Cox and Shuchman with having failed to act in harmony with the Executive Committee.*fn1 The Executive Committee, allegedly by a 17-5 vote, voted to remove Cox and Shuchman as party committeemen. They were then removed from office and Melton appointed others to fill the vacancies on the Executive Committee.

Joined by two Democratic party electors who had voted for them at the primary election, Cox and Shuchman instituted a mandamus action*fn2 against the Executive Committee, Melton, the ward leader, and Francis R. Smith, Chairman of the Democratic County-City Committee. In this action, inter alia, it was averred:

[ 421 Pa. Page 191]

(a) that Cox and Shuchman received no notice of the charges against them, although such notice had been regularly requested prior to the meeting; (b) that the charges did not constitute grounds for their removal from office; (c) that, after the action of the Executive Committee had taken place, a request was made to Smith concerning the manner and procedure to be followed in appealing from the action of the Executive Committee but such request was ignored; (d) that their removal was without cause and due process and in violation of the constitutional rights of Cox and Shuchman; (e) that Cox and Shuchman have been denied their right and privilege of taking part in party functions as regularly elected party committeemen.*fn3 The appellees filed preliminary objections which averred: (a) an improper joinder of parties defendant; (b) lack of jurisdiction because mandamus does not lie to interfere with actions of a political party or its internal organization; (c) laches; (d) a failure to allege a want of adequate legal remedy. The Court of Common Pleas No. 2 of Philadelphia County sustained the preliminary objections solely upon the jurisdictional ground that courts will not interfere with the actions and internal organization of a political party. From that order the present appeal was taken.

On the theory that well pleaded facts in this complaint must be accepted as true in testing the validity of preliminary objections to such complaint, we accept the following facts: (a) both Cox and Shuchman were regularly elected as party committeemen from their respective districts and, for a four-month period subsequent to the election, recognition was given by the Executive Committee to their election and right to sit on such Committee; (b) the notice given them of the

[ 421 Pa. Page 192]

    meeting contained no statement of the charges against them nor were they so informed until the meeting; (c) the charges made of their disloyalty concerned actions which took place prior to their election as party committeemen and not during their tenure of office; (d) they were removed from office and their successors appointed; (e) that an appropriate request for information concerning the appeal procedure within the organization structure was not granted; (f) they have been refused the right to perform the duties of party committeemen.

Appellants' counsel concede that, prior to 1947, under our case law the courts in this Commonwealth would not entertain, either in law or equity, the instant type of litigation. See: Commonwealth ex rel. Koontz v. Dunkle, 355 Pa. 493, 50 A.2d 496. In Koontz, this Court, in a per curiam opinion, affirmed an order of the court below which denied the issuance of a writ of quo warrantor to test the right to the office of a county chairman of a political party; its rationale was that officers of a political party are private, not public, officers and it affirmed the principle stated in Kearns v. Howley, 188 Pa. 116, 122, 41 A. 273, that: "Political parties . . . must govern themselves by party law. The courts cannot step in to compose party wrangles, or to settle factional strife." It is appellants' position that, by reason of changes in the statutory law and the impact of recent federal case law, the law in this area has now been changed.

Six months subsequent to the decision in Koontz, -- on June 14, 1947, -- the legislature added a new section to the Election Code*fn4 which provides: "Section 812. District Committees. Whenever two or more members

[ 421 Pa. Page 193]

    of a political party shall be elected or appointed, as the rules of the party may provide, as members of a political committee to represent the members of such party in the respective election districts, such members shall constitute a political committee of said political party to function within such election district: Provided, that, When acting in the capacity of a political committee, such duly elected or appointed members shall be subject to the control, direction and supervision of the political committee of which they are members." It is argued, by reason of this addition to the Election Code, considered in conjunction with the time of its passage with reference to Koontz, that it was the intent of the legislature to confer upon political or party committeemen such legal status as to make them amenable to the jurisdiction of the courts.*fn5

The Act of 1947, supra, provides for but one addition to the Election Code. According to its title, the purpose of that addition is to provide that "where members of a political party are appointed or elected to represent the members of such party in an election district, said members shall constitute a political committee for such district, subject to the control of the respective political committee of which they are members." By such addition, it is evident the legislature recognized a status in law in party committees and committeemen.

Sixteen years prior to the passage of this statute, this Court was confronted with a controversy almost identical with that in the case at bar: Kenneck v. Pennock, 305 Pa. 288, 157 A. 613. In Kenneck, the appellants ...

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