Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in case of Joseph F. O'Neill v. Alexander Jaffurs, J. Shane Creamer and David Jewell, No. 3356 September Term, 1971. Transferred from the Superior Court of Pennsylvania to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, March 27, 1973.
Burton D. Morris, Deputy Attorney General, with him Edward Weintraub, Deputy Attorney General, Herman Rosenberger, II, Assistant Attorney General, and Israel Packel, Attorney General, for appellants.
Robert B. Mozenter, for appellee.
President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson.
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Joseph F. O'Neill, Commissioner of Police of the City of Philadelphia, appellee, instituted an action in trespass for libel against Alexander Jaffurs, counsel for the State Liquor Control Board, J. Shane Creamer, Attorney General, and David Jewell, Administrative Assistant to the Attorney General, appellants, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. The complaint alleges that on or about September 24, 1971, in the City of Philadelphia, the appellants, defendants below, conducted raids on bars, using State Police to the exclusion of the Philadelphia authorities. It is alleged that prior to the raids, appellants, defendants below, called a press conference and stated that the reason local authorities were not called in was that "'Mr. Creamer feels the fewer that know the better.'" It is alleged further that "during the course of the raid, defendant, Alexander Jaffurs, Chief Counsel for the State Liquor Control Board, commented to the reporters of the Philadelphia Daily News that 'the Police sure gave them a pipeline. They knew all about it. There hasn't been a Policeman here since we arrived. They sure know when to disappear, don't they?'" It is alleged that these statements were published in the
[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 348]
September 24, 1971 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News, and that they were made maliciously and with intent to injure the appellee, plaintiff below, since he was Police Commissioner of the City of Philadelphia.
Appellants, defendants below, filed preliminary objections, raising, inter alia, the question of the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia to hear the case. The lower court dismissed all the preliminary objections. An appeal was taken to the Superior Court where oral argument was had. Following oral argument, the Superior Court transferred the case to this Court for disposition. We must reverse the lower court and hold that it was without jurisdiction. It is, therefore, unnecessary to rule on the other preliminary objections.
The issue here presented is a very narrow one. The court below and the attorneys all agree that if the appellants here, defendants below, were acting within the scope of their authority and official capacity as public officials, then the exclusive jurisdiction is in this Court. See Article IV, Section 401, of the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act of 1970, Act of July 31, 1970, P.L. 673, No. 223, 17 P.S. § 211.401. Appellee, plaintiff below, argues, and the court below ruled, that the officials took themselves out of the scope of their authority and official capacity when they made these statements to the press.
Our Supreme Court has ruled squarely on this point in Matson v. Margiotti, 371 Pa. 188, 203, 88 A.2d 892, 900 (1952):
"One other point has given us grave concern: Was the immediate delivery to the press by the Attorney General of a copy of his letter, prior to its delivery, to the District Attorney -- a regrettable practice pursued by high ranking officials whose victims first ...