Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission in the case of In Re: Anthracite Stables & Helad Farms, dated October 6, 1982.
Richard L. Caplan, Frumkin & Manta, P.C., for petitioner.
Gerald T. Osburn, Assistant Chief Counsel, for respondent.
Judges MacPhail, Doyle and Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barbieri. Judge John A. MacPhail dissents. Concurring Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 315]
Before us is the appeal of Helad Farms from a final adjudication of the Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission (Commission) in the matter of In Re: Anthracite Stables & Helad Farms in which Appellant seeks relief from the disqualification by the Commission of certain of its horses. Appellant poses for our consideration two questions: (1) Did the Commission
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 316]
abuse its discretion in disqualifying Appellant's horses by "waiving a commission regulation for one horse owner while refusing to extend the same benefit to other similarly situated owners," and (2) whether the Commission's action was "in the best interest of horse racing when it knowingly disqualified some horses from racing yet simultaneously allowed other identically situated horses to race by accepting hand delivery of late qualifying payments in violation of its own regulations."
We will try to simplify the pertinent factual background. The Pennsylvania State Harness Racing Commission administers certain races known as the "Pennsylvania Sire Stakes" which are designated as Sire Stakes events in the Race Horse Industry Reform Act (sometimes Act), Act of December 17, 1981, as amended, P.L. 435, 4 P.S. §§ 325.101-325.402. In order to qualify for entry in the races supervised by the Commission, certain periodic nominating and sustaining payments must be made into the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Fund (Fund) for each horse which the owner intends to race in the Sire events. These staking payments are to be made for each horse as a yearling in order to qualify that horse to run as a two or three year old. By rule of the Commission authorized under Section 224(e) of the Act, 4 P.S. § 325.224(e), which provides, inter alia, that the Commission "shall make the provisions and regulations as it shall deem necessary for the proper administration of the eligibility restriction," it is provided that qualification payments must be made on or before March 15 and May 15 of a racing year. Failure to make timely staking payments in the first year bars a yearling from entry of future Sire Stakes races, whereas two and three year olds who are otherwise qualified are only excluded for failure of making payments for
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 317]
entry in those events scheduled in the racing year in which such staking payments are not made. Eligibility under the Act to enter Sire Stakes races is limited to harness horses sired by standardbred stallions regularly studding in Pennsylvania. Staking payments for all of the horse owners involved in this case were made through a staking agent, Standardbred Stake Service of New York City (Standardbred), whose undertaking was to see that staking payment deadlines in various states were complied with. Esther Bruecks, principal of Standardbred, provided in a timely submission checks for all payments due May 15, 1982, but the checks were facially defective and were returned to Standardbred by Ralph A. Alfano, an employee of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission, serving as Administrator of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Fund. Alfano personally contacted Bruecks and, without consulting the Commission, granted a waiver of the Commission guidelines, allowing additional time to correct the payments. He felt that he could exercise this discretion since the original submission, though defective, was timely. Alfano made further calls to Bruecks for completion of payments due, but to no avail. On June 3, 1982, Alfano consulted the Commission which voted to give Standardbred until the close of business on June 4, 1982, apparently 24 hours, to make proper staking payments. When no payments were received by the June 4 deadline, the Commission struck all of Appellant's yearlings, as well as other horses in similar default, by virtue of Standardbred's failure of compliance with payment requirements, except for horses of Lauxmont Farms.*fn1 Leeana Flaharty, acting on behalf
[ 79 Pa. Commw. Page 318]
of Lauxmont, having learned from a source outside Pennsylvania of Standardbred's defaults in staking payments, called Alfano on or about June 3 and learned of the June 4 deadline. Alfano, again apparently without Commission authorization, agreed to accept hand-delivered payment on behalf of Lauxmont. As a result, Lauxmont qualified eight horses out of 27 involved in the required payment, disqualifying 19 including otherwise qualified horses owned by the Appellant. The record reflects that Alfano had time to identify and notify the owners represented by Standardbred of Standardbred's default in payments but did not do so. It is also evident that none of the owners except Lauxmont knew of Standardbred's default in making the sustaining payments due May 15, 1982. On or about June 9, 1982, Alfano received cashier's checks from ...