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W. WILLIAM WILT v. FRANK S. BEAL (08/26/76)

decided: August 26, 1976.

W. WILLIAM WILT, PLAINTIFF
v.
FRANK S. BEAL, SECRETARY OF PUBLIC WELFARE AND GRACE M. SLOAN, TREASURER, DEFENDANTS



Original jurisdiction in case of W. William Wilt v. Frank S. Beal, Secretary of Public Welfare and Grace M. Sloan, Treasurer.

COUNSEL

Edward C. Hussie, for plaintiff.

J. Justin Blewitt, Jr., Deputy Attorney General, with him David Max Baer, Deputy Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for defendants.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer and Blatt. Judges Kramer and Rogers did not participate. Opinion by Judge Mencer.

Author: Mencer

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 299]

Plaintiff, W. William Wilt, is a member of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who seeks to enjoin Frank S. Beal, the Secretary of Public Welfare, and Grace M. Sloan, the State Treasurer, (defendants) from taking steps to use and operate the recently completed but as yet unused Altoona Geriatric Center (Center) as a mental-health-care facility. Wilt has also requested that defendant Beal be required to reimburse the treasury for any monies expended in the allegedly improper operation of the Center.

In his original complaint, Wilt alleged only his standing to sue as a taxpayer of the Commonwealth. Wilt's counsel was at that time, and remains, the chief counsel to the House minority leader. Defendants responded with a motion for disqualification of plaintiff's counsel, on the ground that it was improper for counsel on the payroll of the legislature to represent an individual taxpayer. Defendants also filed preliminary objections, including a demurrer and challenges

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 300]

    to Wilt's standing to sue and to the jurisdiction of this Court.

After a hearing before Judge Wilkinson, Wilt was granted leave to file an amended complaint asserting, in addition to his status as a taxpayer, his standing as a legislator. The preliminary objections were stayed pending that amendment. Wilt having duly amended his complaint, the preliminary objections and the outstanding motion to disqualify counsel are now properly before us. Since the propriety of Wilt's being represented by counsel to the House minority leader is so closely related to his standing to sue in his legislative capacity, we must first address ourselves to that difficult issue.

Scholars and judges alike have been troubled by this complicated and illusive concept of standing. Certain well-defined general principles have, however, emerged. The earlier strict requirements of pecuniary interest or a special and direct injury*fn1 have been greatly eased. Thus, a taxpayer's standing to challenge a wrongful expenditure of tax monies has been assumed. Mayer v. Hemphill, 411 Pa. 1, 190 A.2d 444 (1963). A taxpayer's challenge to the removal of property from the tax rolls has also been allowed on the ground that this was equivalent to an expenditure. Price v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 422 Pa. 317, 221 A.2d 138 (1966). However, the cases do not dispense with the necessity to establish some nexus between the complainants in a given case and the challenged expenditure. Faden v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 424 Pa. 273, 227 A.2d 619 (1967).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in William Penn Parking Garage, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 464 Pa. 168, 346 A.2d 269 (1975), recently held that standing requires a direct, substantial interest in the claim advanced.

[ 26 Pa. Commw. Page 301]

The requirement of a direct interest means that the person claiming to be aggrieved must show causation of harm to his interest by the matter of which he complains. While the requirement of a "substantial" interest "simply means that the individual's interest must have substance -- there must be some discernible adverse effect to some interest other than the abstract ...


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