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JOSEPH L. HARRIS v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (10/31/73)

decided: October 31, 1973.

JOSEPH L. HARRIS, APPELLANT,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission in case of Joseph "Gypsy" Harris v. Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, December 5, 1972.

COUNSEL

Howard Lesnick, for appellant.

Charles L. Ford, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

Judges Kramer, Wilkinson, Jr. and Rogers, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 420]

Joseph L. Harris, a professional boxer of remarkable talent, who engaged in his profession under the sobriquet "Gypsy Joe Harris," here appeals from the order of the State Athletic Commission, made December 5, 1972, refusing to reinstate his boxer's license. The Commission had suspended Mr. Harris's license to box in 1968 on the recommendation of the Commission's physicians, including the world renowned ophthalmologist, Harold G. Scheie, professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The 1968 suspension was based upon Dr. Scheie's finding that Harris's right eye was almost completely blind and had been for two years and the reports of other medical examinations by qualified

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 421]

    physicians dating back to 1965 showing that Mr. Harris had suffered a serious injury to his right eye when, a lad of eleven [or thirteen] years of age, he was struck by a brick; that Mr. Harris had blurred vision after that accident; and that such vision as he had in 1965 deteriorated between that time and 1968. Dr. Scheie twice examined Harris after 1968. On January 29, 1969, he described the right eye as "still a blind, degenerative globe." On February 3, 1972, incident apparently to the application by which this litigation was instituted, Dr. Scheie reported that "The right eye remains blind, and the left eye shows peripheral pigmentation of the retina which is compatible with previous traumas." (Emphasis supplied.)

During the period from February 1965 through October 1968, Mr. Harris won 24 of 25 fights. His very able counsel argues that Mr. Harris has a constitutionally protected property right to engage in his chosen occupation, which may be regulated under the police power in the public interest, but may not be restricted by the Commission in his private interest.

The appellant concedes that the State through the Commission may regulate boxing in the interests of public morality and specifically may prevent public exhibitions of grossly unfair and punishing encounters. He contends, however, that the Commission's action was not based upon these considerations but solely upon its interest in his private welfare, because his accomplishments as a boxer while blind in one eye establishes on the record that he will be at no disadvantage by reason of his handicap and will not be the victim in cruel or punishing matches. This is an ingenious argument and one which the appellant, justifiedly from his standpoint, doubtless sincerely believes.

The appellant further argues that the Pennsylvania Athletic Code, Act of August 31, 1955, P.L. 531, 4 P.S. ยง 30.101, by providing for physical examinations before

[ 10 Pa. Commw. Page 422]

    and after bouts*fn1 and for special procedures in cases where boxers have been badly beaten,*fn2 limits the Commission's scope of judgment upon a boxer's fitness, barring a ...


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