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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. STUART R. FEESER (10/20/76)

decided: October 20, 1976.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION (APPELLANT AT NO. 60)
v.
STUART R. FEESER, JR., AND AVIS ANN FEESER, HUSBAND AND WIFE (APPELLANT AT NO. 59) (TWO CASES)



COUNSEL

Ralph W. Boyles, Jr., James H. Stewart, Jr., Harrisburg, for appellant at No. 59 and appellee at No. 60.

Sanford Kahn, Harrisburg, for appellant at No. 60 and appellee at No. 59.

Gerald Gornish, Deputy Atty. Gen., Harrisburg, for intervenor, Robert P. Kane.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Jones, C. J., and Pomeroy, J., dissent. Eagen, J., dissents and would affirm the order of the Commonwealth Court.

Author: Roberts

[ 469 Pa. Page 175]

OPINION OF THE COURT

This case involves cross-appeals from a decision of the Commonwealth Court vacating an order of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (hereinafter "PHRC") and remanding the case to PHRC for a new hearing.

On August 23, 1973, Mr. and Mrs. Williams filed a complaint with PHRC charging the Feesers*fn1 with refusing

[ 469 Pa. Page 176]

    to sell them a particular house in Dauphin County because of their race. PHRC's investigation established probable cause to credit the allegations of the complaint, and it attempted to conciliate the matter. When conciliation failed, PHRC scheduled a public hearing*fn2 and attempted to secure a preliminary injunction enjoining the Feesers from selling the house to any other purchaser.*fn3

A hearing was held on the application for a preliminary injunction on October 4, 1973. After the hearing the court of common pleas denied the application, stating that "the evidence [did] not establish probable cause," apparently, to credit the allegations of the complaint.*fn4

The Feesers thereupon petitioned this Court for a writ of prohibition directing that the public hearing scheduled by PHRC be canceled on the ground that the decree of the court of common pleas refusing the application for a preliminary injunction disposed of the central issue in the case. We denied the application on October 29, 1973. PHRC held a public hearing on November 19, 1973, and November 26, 1973. The hearing panel took testimony, heard oral argument and allowed the parties time to submit briefs. On November 4, 1974, the hearing panel submitted to PHRC both its recommendation that it find that the Feesers had committed the unlawful discriminatory

[ 469 Pa. Page 177]

    practice charged in the complaint and proposed findings of fact, conclusion of law and a final order. PHRC adopted the recommendations of the hearing panel.

The Feesers appealed PHRC's decision to the Commonwealth Court which, on July 23, 1975, filed an opinion setting aside PHRC's order and remanding the case for a new hearing. The Commonwealth Court held that (1) the decision of the court of common pleas denying the temporary injunction was not dispositive of the complaint filed with PHRC; (2) the Feesers had been denied due process of law because PHRC's general counsel both represented the Williams before the hearing panel and advised the panel during the hearing, and (3) "observed" that the issue decided by PHRC may not have been dispositive of the case. Commonwealth Human Relations Commission v. Feeser, 20 Pa. Commw. 406, 341 A.2d 584 (1975).

Both parties petitioned this Court for permission to file an appeal,*fn5 which petitions were granted on December 29, 1975. We vacate the order of the Commonwealth Court and remand to that court for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.

The Feesers assert that the statement of the court of common pleas that "the evidence [did] not establish probable cause" acts as a bar to any further PHRC action. We disagree. The jurisdiction of the court of common pleas in this case was limited to the power to decide whether an injunction was necessary to preserve the status quo pending PHRC determination of the merits of the complaint filed by the Williams.*fn6 Regardless

[ 469 Pa. Page 178]

    what reason the court gave for refusing the application for an injunction, neither it nor the Feesers can avoid the limits placed on its jurisdiction under the Act.

The Legislature has chosen, in the PHRA, to charge an administrative agency with the jurisdiction initially to receive, investigate, conciliate, hear, and decide complaints alleging unlawful discrimination.*fn7 When the statutory procedure is invoked, it is exclusive.*fn8 Decisions of PHRC are to be reviewed by the Commonwealth Court using a ...


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