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DELAWARE RIVER PORT AUTHORITY v. RICHARD L. THORNBURGH (04/21/83)

decided: April 21, 1983.

THE DELAWARE RIVER PORT AUTHORITY, APPELLANT
v.
RICHARD L. THORNBURGH, GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, THOMAS LARSON, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA



No. 81-3-375, Appeal from Order of Commonwealth Court entered February 4, 1981, at No. 2210 C.D. 1979, O'Brien, C.j., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott and Hutchinson, JJ. Former Chief Justice O'Brien did not participate in the decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 500 Pa. Page 630]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Pursuant to the authority conferred by the Delaware River Port Authority Compact, an interstate compact between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey, appellant Delaware River Port Authority

[ 500 Pa. Page 631]

    planned and constructed, and presently operates and maintains the Betsy Ross Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey. Invoking the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction, the Authority filed a petition for review alleging that the Commonwealth violated its statutory obligations under the interstate compact by failing to fulfill a contractual promise to construct a limited access highway (known as the General Casimir Pulaski Highway) connecting with the Pennsylvania approach to the Betsy Ross Bridge.

The petition for review seeks a writ of mandamus compelling appellees "to take all steps necessary and proper within their respective powers to forthwith effectuate the construction of the General Casimir Pulaski Highway," and an injunction precluding appellees "from disposing of any property previously acquired for the construction of the General Casimir Pulaski Highway" and "from taking any steps to hinder, prevent or bar the construction of the General Casimir Pulaski Highway." In addition to the petition, the Authority filed an action with the Board of Claims, not now before this Court, seeking damages for appellees' alleged failure to fulfill their contractual promise.

Appellees, the Commonwealth Department of Transportation, the Secretary of Transportation, the Governor, and the General Assembly, filed preliminary objections to the petition for review, alleging a lack of subject matter jurisdiction in the Commonwealth Court. The court sustained the preliminary objections and dismissed the petition for review, stating that "disputed contract claims, though cast in the form of a mandamus action, are still within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board of Claims." 56 Pa. Commw. 459, 461, 425 A.2d 479, 480 (1981). As we conclude that the Commonwealth Court erred in holding that it was without jurisdiction to entertain the Authority's petition for review, we remand for consideration of the petition on its merits.

The Delaware River Port Authority (D.R.P.A.) was created as a "public corporate instrumentality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey" to

[ 500 Pa. Page 632]

    effectuate the development and improvement of the Delaware River and Port District, including:

"[t]he construction, acquisition, operation and maintenance of . . . bridges and tunnels across or under the Delaware River, between the City of Philadelphia, or the County of Delaware in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the State of New Jersey, including approaches, and the making of additions and improvements thereto . . . ."

Delaware River Port Authority Compact, Article I(f), Act of June 12, 1931, P.L. 575, § 1, as amended, 36 P.S. § 3503. By compact, the Commonwealth and the State of New Jersey further agreed:

"The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey hereby covenant and agree with each other and with the holders of any bonds or other securities or obligations of the commission for which there may or shall be pledged the tolls, rents, rates, or other revenues, or any part thereof, of any property or facility owned, operated or controlled by the commission (including the said bridge across the Delaware River and the facilities for the transportation of passengers across the said bridge), that (so long as any of said bonds or other securities or obligations remain outstanding and unpaid, and unless and until adequate provision is made by law for the protection of those advancing money upon such obligations) the Commonwealth and the said State will not diminish or impair the ...


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