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RICHARD J. SINGER ET AL. v. WILLIAM J. SHEPPARD (01/09/78)

decided: January 9, 1978.

RICHARD J. SINGER ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
WILLIAM J. SHEPPARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



Original jurisdiction in case of Richard J. Singer, individually and on behalf of all Residents, Taxpayers, Pedestrians, Motor Vehicle Owners and Occupants of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. William J. Sheppard, Insurance Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and J. Finton Speller, Secretary of Health of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Jacob G. Kassab, Secretary of Transportation of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Israel Packel, Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Paul J. Smith, Secretary of Labor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Vincent X. Yakowicz, Secretary of Revenue of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

COUNSEL

David S. Shrager, for plaintiffs.

Gerald Gornish, Deputy Attorney General, with him Barbara A. Brown, Assistant Attorney General, and Robert P. Kane, Attorney General, for defendants.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 278]

This is a class action within our original jurisdiction*fn1 seeking a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania No-fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act*fn2 (No-fault Act). The plaintiff is Richard

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 279]

J. Singer, who brings the action individually and on behalf of all residents, taxpayers, pedestrians, motor vehicle owners and occupants of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The defendants are various Commonwealth officials*fn3 charged with the administration and implementation of the No-fault Act. We are here concerned with the cross motions of the parties for judgment on the pleadings.

The No-fault Act was signed into law by the Governor on July 19, 1974 with a provision that all sections of the Act would be effective within twelve months.*fn4 The plaintiff initiated action in this Court in November 1974, seeking to enjoin the implementation and enforcement of the Act and petitioning for a declaratory judgment on its constitutionality. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court later assumed plenary jurisdiction*fn5 for the limited purpose of determining the constitutionality of Section 301(a)*fn6 of the Act, 40 P.S. § 1009.301(a), and, while upholding the constitutionality of that section, it remanded the case to this Court for further action consistent with its opinion as filed. Singer v. Sheppard, 464 Pa. 387, 346 A.2d 897 (1975). The count of the plaintiff's complaint sounding

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 280]

    in equity has become mooted by the passage of the Act's effective date. Remaining for disposition at this time, therefore, is the plaintiff's petition for a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of various sections of the Act other than Section 301(a).

The No-fault Act was adopted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in response to widely perceived deficiencies in the recovery of damages by victims of motor vehicle accidents who sought traditional tort remedies. Its stated purpose is "to establish at reasonable cost to the purchaser of insurance, a Statewide system of prompt and adequate basic loss benefits for motor vehicle accident victims and the survivors of deceased victims."*fn7 It implements this purpose by requiring that accident victims be paid benefits irrespective of fault through a compulsory first party insurance system in which the victim is usually paid for economic loss directly by his own insurance company or by the company insuring the owner of the vehicle. It significantly limits the availability of traditional tort remedies.*fn8 The plaintiff here maintains that the No-fault Act violates the due process and equal protection provisions of the Constitutions of the United States and Pennsylvania and also that the Act's title violates Article III, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The defendants raise preliminarily the issues of whether an action for declaratory judgment is an appropriate vehicle to raise the arguments of the plaintiff and secondly, if it is, whether the plaintiff has the standing required to maintain this action.

The defendants argue that a declaratory judgment is not appropriate here because the plaintiff's action

[ 33 Pa. Commw. Page 281]

    does not conform to the requirements of Section 6 of the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act,*fn9 12 P.S. § 836. Section 6 provides in pertinent part:

Relief by declaratory judgment or decree may be granted in all civil cases where (1) an actual controversy exists between contending parties, or (2) where the court is satisfied that antagonistic claims are present between the parties involved which indicate imminent and inevitable litigation . . . and the court is satisfied also that a declaratory judgment or ...


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