No. 194 March Term, 1979, Allowance of Appeal Granted, November 21, 1979, from the Order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 735 C.D. 1978, Dated July 20, 1979, Affirming the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, at No. GD-77-10674, Dated March 30, 1978
James H. McLean, County Sol., E.J. Strassburger, Asst. County Sol., Howard Louick, Pittsburgh, for respondents-appellants.
Dennis Revak, Neighborhood Legal Services Ass'n, Pittsburgh, for Action Coalition of Elders.
Marlene W. Jackson, Deputy Atty. Gen., for third party respondent-appellee.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ. Roberts, J., files a Concurring Opinion in which Kauffman, J., joins. Nix, J., files a Concurring Opinion. Larsen, J., files a Concurring Opinion. O'Brien, C. J., concurs in the result.
The sole issue for determination in this case is whether original jurisdiction of this action for declaratory relief lies in the Commonwealth Court or in the Court of Common Pleas.
The complex procedural history of this case is as follows. In early 1977, Action Coalition of Elders, a non-profit corporation organized to advance the interests of the aged, filed a class action which sought declaratory relief in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Appellant Allegheny
County Institution District was named as Respondent in the action. The action sought a determination of the statutory duty owed by Appellant under Section 401 of the County Institution District Law to provide skilled nursing and intermediate institutional care to those residents of Allegheny County receiving medical assistance and certified as in need of such care but not receiving it.*fn1 After Appellant filed an answer to Appellees' amended petition, Appellant objected that Section 11 of the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act required "[A]ll persons shall be made parties who have or claim any interest which would be affected by the declaration . . ."*fn2 Appellant then moved to add as third party Respondent Frank S. Beal, Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW hereafter) and numerous private nursing care facilities, and filed preliminary objections challenging, inter alia, the jurisdiction of the Common Pleas Court on the basis that Commonwealth Court has exclusive original jurisdiction in actions of this nature. The basis for this objection was that DPW is an indispensable party to the suit. Therefore, they argued, the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act as amended by the Judiciary Act Repealer Act and now governed by our Judicial Code vests exclusive jurisdiction of actions to which the Commonwealth is a party in the Commonwealth Court.*fn3
The lower court held that DPW should indeed be joined, but that DPW was merely a necessary, not indispensable, party; therefore, it was held that the Common Pleas Court had original jurisdiction of this action. This jurisdictional
question was appealed to Commonwealth Court, which affirmed. This appeal followed.
In this petition, Appellant squarely challenges the conclusion of the Commonwealth Court that characterizes DPW as merely a necessary party. The reasons urged in support of this position are: (1) exclusive original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court attaches in all actions against the Commonwealth and its officers; (2) the standard relied upon by Commonwealth Court contradicts the standard for distinguishing necessary parties from indispensable parties set forth in our recent case of Scherbick v. Community College of Allegheny County ;*fn4 (3) the indispensable party test followed in this Commonwealth is so nebulous that it is unworkable, and often results in circumvention of legislative intent; and (4) the current state of the law in the application of this rule encourages forum shopping. For the reasons which we set forth below, we reverse.
The statute here pertinent is the Appellate Court Jurisdiction Act (Act hereafter), supra, which provides in pertinent part as follows:
(a) The Commonwealth Court shall have original jurisdiction of:
(1) All civil actions or proceedings against the Commonwealth or any officer thereof, acting in his official capacity . . .
(b) The jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court under this section shall be exclusive . . . except with respect to actions or proceedings by the Commonwealth or any officer thereof . . . where jurisdiction of the Court shall be concurrent with the several Courts of Common Pleas.
Section 402 of the Act provides in pertinent part:
The Commonwealth Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from final orders of the Court of Common Pleas in any of the following cases . . .:
(1) All civil actions or proceedings to which the Commonwealth or any officer thereof . ...