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WILLIAM MCCONNELL AND RICHARD MCCONNELL v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (12/30/83)

SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: December 30, 1983.

WILLIAM MCCONNELL AND RICHARD MCCONNELL, APPELLANTS,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE, APPELLEE

No. 59 E.D. App. Dkt. 1982, Appeal from the Order dated August 13, 1982, from the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, No. 2508 C.D. 1980

COUNSEL

Richard M. Abrams and Mitchell Kramer, Philadelphia, and Richard F. Stern, Jenkintown, for appellants.

Paul S. Roeder, Deputy Atty. Gen., for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. Roberts, C.j., filed a dissenting opinion in which Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ., join.

Author: Larsen

[ 503 Pa. Page 324]

OPINION

Following the death of John McConnell in 1979, appellants William and Richard McConnell, co-executors of the Estate of John McConnell, filed with the Department of Revenue Board of Appeals a class action petition for a refund, pursuant to the Senior Citizens Rebate and Assistance Act, Act of March 11, 1971, P.L. 104, as amended, 72 P.S. ยงยง 4751-1 et seq. The Board of Appeals determined that it had no jurisdiction to resolve appellants' class action request, and denied appellants' request for a rebate. On appeal, the Board of Finance and Revenue sustained the action of the Board of Appeals.

Appellants then appealed to the Commonwealth Court by way of a Class Petition for Review which sought two types of relief: certification of this matter as a class action; and appellate review of the action of the Board of Finance and Revenue, including review of that board's failure to certify this matter as a class action.*fn1 Appellants then filed a motion to have the Commonwealth Court certify their suit as a class action. The Commonwealth Court denied the motion, stating

It is true that the Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable to pleadings in this Court which have been instituted in our original jurisdiction, Pa.R.A.P. 1517, but Petitioners are here in the appellate process. It is only where a class has been determined by the trial court or an agency

[ 503 Pa. Page 325]

    authorized to determine a class that the case may proceed as a class action on appeal. This is for the obvious reason that appellate courts have no mechanism by which a class can be determined with the exception of this Court when it is exercising its original jurisdiction.

Memorandum Opinion at 2-3 (emphasis in original). This direct appeal followed.*fn2

The sole question raised by appellants is whether the Commonwealth Court, in an action seeking review of a decision of the Board of Finance and Revenue, may entertain a request to certify an action as a class action.*fn3 We have concluded that the Commonwealth Court should have considered appellants' motion on the merits and therefore reverse.

Review of determinations of the Board of Finance and Revenue is governed by Pa.R.A.P. 1571.*fn4 Although the Commonwealth Court hears such cases in its appellate jurisdiction,*fn5 the Commonwealth Court functions essentially as a trial court under Rule 1571. Thus, the Commonwealth Court, in its appellate jurisdiction, must consider a record made by the parties specifically for that court rather than

[ 503 Pa. Page 326]

    one certified to the court from the proceedings below, Pa.R.A.P. 1571(f);*fn6 and must resolve issues of fact on which the parties disagree, Pa.R.A.P. 1571(f); and a party must file exceptions to an initial determination of the Commonwealth Court in order to preserve issues for appeal, Pa.R.A.P. 1571(i).*fn7

In view of the fact that Pa.R.A.P. 1571 empowers the Commonwealth Court to conduct factfinding proceedings, it is clear that that court already possesses the machinery necessary to resolve a motion for class certification. In addition, we have concluded that the Rules of Appellate Procedure specifically authorize the Commonwealth Court to entertain such a motion.

Our rules recognize the fact that appellate courts entertaining petitions for review must frequently act as trial courts. Thus, Pa.R.A.P. 1517 provides:

Unless otherwise prescribed by these rules, the practice and procedure under this chapter relating to pleadings shall be in accordance with the appropriate Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, so far as they may be applied.

Since there is no provision in Pa.R.A.P. 1571 excluding the certification of class actions from proceedings to review determinations of the Board of Finance and Revenue, we hold that the Rules of Civil Procedure relating to class actions, Pa.R.C.P. 1701-1716, apply to such proceedings.

In fact, if appellants are to have any opportunity to obtain class certification in this case, that opportunity will

[ 503 Pa. Page 327]

    have to come before the Commonwealth Court, since neither the statute nor the rules governing actions for rent rebates before the Department of Revenue and the Board of Finance and Revenue authorizes the maintenance of a class action.*fn8

This Court has recognized the benefits of class actions. "'By establishing a technique whereby the claims of many individuals can be resolved at the same time, the class suit both eliminates the possibility of repetitious litigation and provides small claimants with a method of obtaining redress for claims which would otherwise be too small to warrant individual litigation.' Thus effective use of the class action device could serve the interests both of judicial administration and of justice."

Bell v. Beneficial Consumer Discount Company, 465 Pa. 225, 348 A.2d 734, 737 (1975), citing Wright, Class Actions, 47 F.R.D. 169, 170 (1970), quoting Eisen v. Carlisle & Jacquelin, 391 F.2d 555, 560 (2d Cir.1968).

Accordingly, in order to promote the interests of judicial administration and justice by eliminating the possibility of repetitious litigation and providing claimants with a method of obtaining redress for claims which would otherwise be too small to warrant individual litigation, we hold that the Commonwealth Court, in addition to trying the

[ 503 Pa. Page 328]

    merits of appellants' case,*fn9 must also entertain appellants' request for class certification.*fn10

The order of the Commonwealth Court is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

ROBERTS, Chief Justice, dissenting.

I dissent and would affirm the order of the Commonwealth Court denying appellants' motion to certify their appeal to the Commonwealth Court as a class action. There is neither statutory basis nor support in the Rules of Court for the initial certification of a class action on an appeal from a decision of a trial court, let alone on an appeal from a decision of an administrative tribunal in which no class action could properly be brought as an original matter. The sole recourse available to appellants is to request the Commonwealth Court to consolidate their appeal with any other appeal from the Board of Finance and Revenue "where the same question is involved." Pa.R.A.P. 513 (Consolidation of Multiple Appeals).


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