Original jurisdiction in case of Irene Steinberg v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, Youth Development Center, Jan Koht and Clifford Rogers.
Neal S. Axe, with him Kanter, Bernstein and Miller, for plaintiff
Jered L. Hock and David Max Baer, Deputy Attorney General, with them J. Justin Blewitt, Jr., Deputy Attorney General; Robert P. Kane, Attorney General; and Metzger, Wickersham, Knauss & Erb, for defendants
Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers and DiSalle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Wilkinson, Jr.
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Plaintiff, invoking our original jurisdiction, has brought this suit in trespass against the Commonwealth, the Department of Public Welfare (Department), the Youth Development Center (Center), and two employees of that Center, Koht and Rogers. The defendants have raised a number of defenses, including
[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 142]
sovereign immunity as to the Commonwealth, the Department, and the Center. This Court's subject matter jurisdiction over the individual defendants is also in question.
It has consistently been held that the Commonwealth is absolutely immune from suit in tort absent legislative consent. Brown v. Commonwealth, 453 Pa. 566, 305 A.2d 868 (1973). This immunity from suit includes not only the Commonwealth, but also the various departments. McCoy v. Liquor Control Board, 9 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 107, 305 A.2d 746 (1973). With respect to the Center, it is uncontested that the Center is a wholly-owned and operated agency and instrumentality of the Commonwealth. As such, it is also entitled to absolute immunity from suit.
In regard to the individual defendants, Koht and Rogers, the issue which arises is whether they are "officers" within the meaning of Section 401 of the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act of 1970 (Act), Act of July 31, 1970, P.L. 673, as amended, 17 P.S. § 211.401. In Opie v. Glascow, Inc., 30 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 555, 559, 375 A.2d 396, 398 (1977), Judge Blatt stated "that the term 'officers,' for jurisdictional purposes, should encompass only those persons who perform state-wide policymaking functions and who are charged with the responsibility for independent initiation of administrative policy regarding some sovereign function of state government." Examining the job descriptions of the two individual defendants, we find that Koht is the Supervisor of the Diagnostic Unit and Institutional Psychological Services at the Center, while Rogers is a Youth Development Counselor. Both defendants concede that their jobs do not entail statewide functioning. As such, we are compelled to hold that they are not officers within the meaning of the Act, and that therefore we lack jurisdiction over the suit against them. We cannot accept the suggestion
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of the defendants that we overrule our decision in Opie and maintain jurisdiction ...