No. 2 E.D. Misc Docket 1979, Complaint in Mandamus. Plenary Jurisdiction assumed from the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, Civil Action -- Law Division, No. 78-C-2994.
John P. Karoly, Jr., Allentown, for plaintiffs.
Jay B. Oppenheim, James G. Kellar, John E. Roberts, Allentown, Gerald Gornish, Dept. of Justice, Harrisburg, for defendants.
Eagen, C. J., and O'Brien, Roberts, Nix, Manderino and Larsen, JJ. Larsen, J., dissents and notes that the officials are clearly entitled to the cost-of-living increase.
At the November, 1975 municipal election, voters of Lehigh County elected plaintiffs -- the Sheriff, Recorder of Deeds, Register of Wills, Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts, and Coroner -- to four-year terms of office. Plaintiffs' four-year terms began January 5, 1976 and, with the exception of the Prothonotary, each plaintiff may seek re-election at the November, 1979 municipal election.*fn1 Since taking office, each plaintiff has received the annual salary for his office fixed by Act No. 113 of November 1, 1971.*fn2 Now, over three years after their election in November, 1975, plaintiffs seek a writ of mandamus directing defendants, the Lehigh County Controller and the Lehigh County Executive, to pay plaintiffs increased salaries in accordance with Act No. 223 of October 7, 1976.*fn3
Act 223 amends Act 113 to provide county officers of counties of the second through eighth classes "immediate" salary increases. Act 223, § 2. But the Act, by its specific terms, applies only "when permitted by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." Id. Article III, § 27 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania (1968) expressly directs that "[n]o law shall extend the term of any public officer, or
increase or diminish his salary or emoluments, after his election or appointment." Plaintiffs, as public officers elected in November, 1975, eleven months before the October, 1976 enactment of Act 223, are precluded from receiving the increased salaries fixed in that Act and are not entitled to the relief they seek. Accordingly, we enter judgment for defendants.*fn4
This Court has not previously considered the effect of article III, § 27 of the Constitution of 1968 upon county officers' claim to increased compensation during their terms of office. This constitutional provision is identical to article III, § 13 of the Constitution of 1874. In a variety of settings, this Court consistently has held that § 13 prohibited county officers from receiving increased compensation during their elected terms of office. For example, in Commonwealth ex rel. Woodring v. Walter, 274 Pa. 553, 118 A. 510 (1922), a county commissioner claimed that, because the county's population had increased, he was entitled to the greater salary provided by law for commissioners in counties of that population. On the authority of article III, § 13, this Court rejected the commissioner's claim:
"If the change in classification post-dates the election of the [county commissioner] -- and this clearly appears in the present case, . . . -- then it follows ...