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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOHN L. JOHNSON (11/01/84)

decided: November 1, 1984.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, APPELLANT
v.
JOHN L. JOHNSON, J & J AUTO AND RICHARD AMES, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County in the case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation v. John L. Johnson, J & J Auto and Richard Ames, No. 2195-A-1982.

COUNSEL

Harold H. Cramer, Assistant Counsel, with him, Nancy J. Norkus, Assistant Counsel, Spencer A. Manthorpe, Chief Counsel, and Jay C. Waldman, General Counsel, for appellant.

Richard T. Ruth, for appellees.

Judges Rogers, Craig and MacPhail, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 639]

The Department of Transportation appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County which modified an order of the Bureau of Traffic Safety (DOT) suspending the inspection station privileges of John L. Johnson, doing business as J & J Auto (Appellee).*fn1 We reverse.

By letter of April 22, 1982, the Bureau notified Appellee that pursuant to Section 4724(a) of the Vehicle Code, as amended, 75 Pa. C.S. § 4724(a), its

[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 640]

    certificate of appointment as an official inspection station was suspended as follows: one year for furnishing an inspection sticker without an inspection and, because this was a second offense, three years for fraudulent record keeping.

Appellee appealed to the court of common pleas. After a hearing de novo, the court held that the three year suspension could not be imposed on Appellee for the sole reason that the Bureau had failed to specify that the second offense of fraudulent record keeping was "of the same nature" as the first offense. Accordingly, the court of common pleas reduced the three year suspension handed down for fraudulent record keeping to one year. The present appeal followed.

In an inspection certificate suspension case, our scope of review is limited to a determination of whether or not the findings below are supported by substantial evidence or an error of law was committed. Kenworth Trucks Philadelphia, Inc. v. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety, 56 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 352, 425 A.2d 49 (1981). The order of the court below will generally not be disturbed on appeal absent a showing of manifest abuse of discretion. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Verna, 23 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 260, 351 A.2d 694 (1976). "However, it is important to note

[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 641]

    that the court below is limited in its decision solely to a de novo determination of whether the person charged with the violation has indeed committed the violation for which the sanction was imposed." Verna, 23 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 261, 351 A.2d at 695 (emphasis in original). If the trial court makes findings of fact or conclusions of law which differ from those made by DOT, the trial court may then modify the imposed penalty. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Traffic Safety v. Kobaly, 477 Pa. 525, 384 A.2d 1213 (1978). When the findings of fact and conclusions of law are identical to those made by DOT, the trial court may not alter the imposed penalty, Kenworth, even if it disagrees with the penalty ...


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