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MARILYN JUDGE v. EDWARD POCIUS (01/10/77)

decided: January 10, 1977.

MARILYN JUDGE, JOHN MCINTYRE, PATRICIA STANAVITCH, ALTHEA STANAVITCH, EVELYN FORNASZEWSKI AND LAWRENCE SYKES, APPELLANTS
v.
EDWARD POCIUS, EUGENE DONAHUE, DONALD B. CAHOON, WALLACE J. CULLEN, WALTER GANTZ, DOROTHY KAIRIS, MARY MCGURRIN, ALFRED M. SPORER, SCRANTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County in case of Marilyn Judge, John McIntyre, Fran Drake, Mary Ann Sinclair, Patricia Stanavitch, Althea Stanavitch, Evelyn Fornaszewski and Lawrence Sykes v. Edward Pocius, Eugene Donahue, Donald B. Cahoon, Wallace J. Cullen, Walter Gantz, Dorothy Kairis, Mary McGurrin, Alfred M. Sporer and Scranton School District, No. 11 January Term, 1975.

COUNSEL

Joseph Paul Coviello, with him Dunn, Byrne, Coviello and Eisenstein, for appellants.

James A. Kelly, with him Paul T. Burke, for appellees.

Barnett Satinsky, Deputy Attorney General, with him Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for amicus curiae, Attorney General.

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

Author: Blatt

[ 28 Pa. Commw. Page 141]

Six citizens and taxpayers of the City of Scranton have here appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County which dismissed their complaint in equity. The complaint named as defendants the Scranton School Board (Board) and eight of its directors as individuals, and it alleged a violation of the Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 486, 65 P.S. § 261 et seq., colloquially known as the Sunshine Law, with respect to a meeting conducted by the Board on January 23, 1975. It asked that the Board be enjoined from holding any future meetings in violation of the Sunshine Law and that any action taken at the meeting of January 23, 1975 be declared void. It also asked that any action which had been influenced by the said meeting of January 23, 1975, although taken at a later public meeting, be likewise enjoined.

The court below had denied the application of the appellants here for a preliminary injunction, an order which we affirmed.*fn1 Following our remand for further proceedings, the parties entered into a stipulation that the court should proceed to decide the issue on the testimony heard on the application for the preliminary injunction. Then, after reconsidering the record, the court below dismissed the complaint, finding that the Board meeting held on January 23, 1975 was not subject to the provisions of the Sunshine Law and that no rights of the plaintiffs had been violated by their exclusion from that meeting. This appeal followed.

[ 28 Pa. Commw. Page 142]

In an appeal from a decision of a court of equity, this Court will reverse only where there is a manifest or clear error of law or an abuse of discretion, and the decision of the lower court will stand if sufficient evidence supports the findings and the reasonable inferences and conclusions derived therefrom. Groff v. Borough of Sellersville, 12 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 315, 314 A.2d 328 (1974). The only issue presented here is whether or not the court below was correct in holding that the Board meeting held on January 23, 1975 (January 23 meeting) was one which was not subject to the provisions of the Sunshine Law.

The Sunshine Law is the latest in a series of legislative enactments*fn2 designed to provide a comprehensive format governing public access to the meetings and hearings of public agencies. Section 2 of the Law, 65 P.S. § 262, provides that:

The meetings or hearings of every agency at which formal action is scheduled or taken are public meetings and shall be open to the public at all times. No formal action shall be valid unless such formal action is taken during a public meeting.

Section 1 of the Law, 65 P.S. § 261, provides that a school board is an agency subject to the legislation and ...


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