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VENNERI v. COUNTY ALLEGHENY (04/04/72)

decided: April 4, 1972.

VENNERI, ET AL.
v.
COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY, ET AL.



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of Anthony D. Venneri, Arthur Belotti, Stephen Koral, Leo Campbell, Marion Tucker, Robert Thompson, and Raymond Coga v. The County of Allegheny, Leonard C. Staisey, Thomas J. Foerster, William R. Hunt, M.D., and Eugene Coon, No. 271, July Term, 1971.

COUNSEL

Thomas H. M. Hough, Assistant County Solicitor, with him John Hickton, Assistant County Solicitor, and Maurice Louik, County Solicitor, for appellants.

Ronald P. Koerner, with him Gatz, Cohen, Segal & Koerner, for appellees.

Francis A. Zulli, Assistant Attorney General, with him James F. Wildeman, Assistant Attorney General, and Shirley Rae Don, Assistant Attorney General, for Amicus Curiae.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Crumlish

[ 5 Pa. Commw. Page 107]

Appellees, deputy sheriffs of Allegheny County, (Sheriffs) have requested the County to enter collective bargaining pursuant to the Act of June 24, 1968, P.L. (Act No. 111), 43 P.S. § 217.1, et seq. (Act 111), which provides for compulsory and binding arbitration for disputes which occur between police and fire employees of a political subdivision and their public employer. The County Commissioners (Commissioners), appellants herein, refused to enter negotiations under Act 111, it being their position that deputy sheriffs are covered by the General Public Employee Relations Act of 1970, Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. , (Act No. 195), 43 P.S. § 1101.101, et seq. (Act 195), instead of Act 111.

Sheriffs filed a Complaint in Mandamus in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in which it is sought by summary judgment to order the County to arbitrate under Act 111. Eugene Coon, County Sheriff and a named defendant, filed an answer admitting that his deputies are policemen within the meaning of Act 111. Commissioners, however, filed preliminary objections which specifically asserted that sheriffs are not policemen under Act 111. After oral argument on the objections, the court below overruled them and issued an order granting the relief sought. This appeal followed.

Commissioners contend that the court below committed two errors of law: (1) that the initial determination of whether sheriffs are under Act 111 or Act 195 is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and (2) that sheriffs are not

[ 5 Pa. Commw. Page 108]

    policemen under Act 111. While we agree with the court below that it did have jurisdiction to dispose of the complaint in mandamus, we find the question of the applicability of Act 111 to sheriffs to be a factual question necessitating the remand of this matter for the development of an evidentiary record.

The deputy sheriffs filed this mandamus action to enforce their rights under Act 111. If indeed they are policemen within the meaning of that Act, the county would be subject to the duties to bargain collectively and submit any dispute to arbitration if an impasse is reached. Mandamus lies where a clear legal right exists in plaintiff, where a corresponding duty exists in the defendant and where there is a want of any other appropriate and adequate remedy. Skok and Thurner v. Hoch, 3 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 640, 641-42 (1971). It is for the court of first instance to determine whether plaintiffs are of the class to whom the alleged duty is owed. It would neither be appropriate or necessary for them to first seek a negative finding by the Labor Relations Board as to their status under other legislation.

Since Act 111 does not define the term, the opinion of the court below contains a substantial dissertation on the meaning of "policemen." The definition of this term was indeed a legal question to be resolved by that court. However, the application of that definition to the deputy sheriffs of Allegheny County must be based upon factual findings. It is elementary that specific activities of particular workers must form the bases for an adequate defensible legal conclusion. ...


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