Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of York County in case of Elsie B. Lashe and Walter Lashe, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated v. Northern York County School District, John Schrum, Monaghan Township Tax Collector, Gilbert C. Stambaugh, Warrington Township Tax Collector, Isabel J. Gochenauer, Franklintown Township Tax Collector, Kenneth E. Evans, Dillsburg Borough Tax Collector, Karen J. Myers, Wellsville Borough Tax Collector, Robert L. Grimm, Carroll Township Tax Collector, Clyde M. Flohr, Franklin Township Tax Collector, No. 75-S-255, 1975.
John C. Uhler, for appellant.
Niles Benn, with him Timothy E. Kane, Wiley & Benn, for appellees.
President Judge Crumlish and Judges Wilkinson, Jr., Mencer, Rogers, Craig, MacPhail and Williams, Jr. Judge Blatt did not participate. Opinion by Judge MacPhail. President Judge Crumlish dissents. Judge Williams, Jr. concurs in result only.
[ 52 Pa. Commw. Page 543]
Elsie B. Lashe and Walter Lashe (Appellants) filed a class action in equity on September 3, 1975 in the York County Court of Common Pleas challenging the validity of an occupation tax resolution adopted by the Northern York County School District (District) on June 12, 1969. Appellants contend that the resolution is invalid on its face and as applied to them. Appellants sought to have the District restrained from collecting the occupation tax from housewives, retired persons and others who have no income producing employment and to have such persons exempted from payment of the tax. The Chancellor, Judge Buckingham, concluded that the ordinance is valid and enforceable against housewives and retired persons; argument on exceptions to the adjudication and decree nisi was heard by the lower court sitting en banc and the exceptions were overruled. This appeal was timely filed from the final order of the court en banc.
[ 52 Pa. Commw. Page 544]
Neither the Appellee School District nor the lower court has raised the issue of whether equity has jurisdiction to adjudicate the questions raised by Appellants' complaint. For the reasons that follow, we hereby raise the issue sua sponte and find that equity has no jurisdiction in the instant case.
The vagaries of jurisdictional questions mandate that we explain in some detail the basis for our decision to refuse jurisdiction in this case.
Jurisdiction is the power of a court to enter into an inquiry on a certain matter. Studio Theaters, Inc. v. City of Washington, 418 Pa. 73, 209 A.2d 802 (1965). A careful distinction must be made between subject matter jurisdiction, which we have just defined, and equity jurisdiction, which describes the remedies available in equity. Hoover v. Bucks County Tax Claim Bureau, 44 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 529, 405 A.2d 562 (1980).
We are aided in an understanding of this distinction by West Homestead Borough School District v. Allegheny County Board of School Directors, 440 Pa. 113, 269 A.2d 904 (1970). The court notes therein that there is no separate equity court in Pennsylvania. We have two "sides" to the common pleas court and the term "equity jurisdiction" is used to refer to invocation of the extraordinary remedies of equity. Hence, if there is an adequate non-statutory remedy at law, equity may withhold its remedies and the matter will be transferred to the law side. Id.
Pa. R.C.P. No. 1509, which applies to equity actions, also serves to clarify this distinction. The rule provides:
(a) Preliminary objections authorized by Rule 1017(b) are available to any party.
(b) The objections of laches and failure to exercise or exhaust a statutory remedy may
[ 52 Pa. Commw. Page 545]
be raised by preliminary objections, answer or reply but are not ...