decided: May 17, 1985.
BEATRICE LITTLE, PETITIONER
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PENNSYLVANIA CRIME VICTIM'S COMPENSATION BOARD, RESPONDENT
Appeal from the Order of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board in the case of Re: Claim No. 80-1113-D, John David Little, deceased, Beatrice Little, Claimant.
Joseph P. Covelli, for petitioner.
Amy Zapp, Deputy Attorney General, with her, Allen C. Warshaw, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Chief, Litigation Section, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for respondent.
Judges MacPhail, Doyle and Barry, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Barry.
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 335]
Beatrice Little (petitioner) petitions for review of the order of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board (Board) denying her claim for lost future support under the sections of the Administrative Code to which we will refer as the Crime Victim's Compensation Act (CVCA) Sections 477 through 477.17 of The Administrative Code of 1929, Act of April 9, 1929, P.L. 177, as amended, added by the Act of July 9, 1976, P.L. 574, as amended, 71 P.S. §§ 180-7 through 180-7.17.
The essential facts in this case are not in dispute.*fn1 On August 17, 1980, John David Little (decedent), petitioner's estranged husband, was the victim of a criminal homicide*fn2 in Clairton, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, decedent was under an order of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, issued on August 13, 1974, directing him to pay support to petitioner and their three children, then living with her, in the amount of $72.00 per week or $18.00 per week per person. At all times pertinent to this case, the support order has been in effect without modification; however,
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 336]
for several years prior to decedent's death, petitioner received no support payments from him, even though he had been gainfully self-employed during that period.
The sole issue for our review is whether the Board committed legal error in denying petitioner's claim.*fn3
Relying on Section 477.9(b)*fn4 of the CVCA and the Board's regulations at 37 Pa. Code § 191.9b,*fn5 petitioner argues that, under Levato v. Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board, 73 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 518, 458 A.2d 665 (1983), the existence of a court order for support is sufficient to establish her right to compensation under the CVCA. In support of its action, the Board counters that petitioner's claim was properly denied because petitioner allegedly failed to establish that she would suffer "actual loss" under Section 477.9(c)*fn6 of the CVCA in that she could not genuinely
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 337]
expect to receive future support from the decedent. The Board argues that the decedent's failure to comply with the support order for the years immediately preceding his death even though he had the financial means to do so and petitioner's failure to seek enforcement of the support order compel the legal conclusion at which it arrived.
In construing the provisions of the CVCA, we must bear in mind that the objective "of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly." Section 1921 of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. C.S. § 1921. The declared purpose of the Legislature in creating the Board and providing for crime victims' compensation is "to promote the public welfare by establishing a means of providing for the financial losses of the innocent victims of crime or their surviving dependents and intervenors acting to prevent the commission of crime or to assist in the apprehension of suspected criminals."*fn7 Clearly, then, we are dealing with remedial legislation which we are required to construe broadly and liberally in order to effectuate its beneficent purposes. See Seybold v. Department of General Services, 75 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 118, 461 A.2d 353 (1983).*fn8
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 338]
The arguments of the parties in the present case repeat, for the most part, the positions of the parties in Levato, where we held that the spouse of a murder victim was improperly denied any compensation on the grounds that she was receiving no support from the decedent at the time of his death. Writing for a unanimous three judge panel, Judge Rogers stated that the Board's proffered interpretation of Sections 477.9(b) and 477.9(c) was erroneous.
The board misinterprets the purpose of the words "actual loss" in Section 477.9(c) which is only that of placing a ceiling on the amount which may be awarded for loss of earnings and support at actual loss rather than some greater amount. It was not intended as a bar to the award of compensation to a surviving spouse for the loss of future support on the sole ground that the survivor was not receiving support from the deceased spouse at the time of his death. Surely the Legislature did not mean to exclude every surviving spouse entitled to an award for future support merely because the victim of the crime was not at that moment providing support. Such a circumstance could be unemployment, temporary disability, or the circumstance of not yet having joined the job market. We hold that Section 477.9(b) entitles the petitioner to receive compensation for the loss of future support of her deceased husband in the circumstances of this case. She will, of course, be required to adduce facts which would support a finding that she would have received future support from her husband had he not been murdered.
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 339]
As is revealed in the foregoing, a liberal interpretation was applied in Levato, but the Board now attempts to have us read that decision narrowly so that the contingencies identified therein would be the only instances in which a claim for future support would not be barred. Emphasizing the length of time decedent failed to comply with the support order,*fn9 the Board's position is that Levato requires a temporary suspension of support payments and that petitioner must be denied because she was experiencing a suspension of payments which became an "established practice of some duration." While we have reservations about the incongruity of the Board's reliance on decedent's illegal conduct to support its denial of compensation to petitioner, we need only note that, in
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 340]
order to demonstrate that the Levato list was not intended to be so restricted, the list itself includes a situation which could extend for several years, i.e., where the deceased spouse had not yet entered the job market. Clearly, such circumstances could include a situation where the deceased spouse was still a student at the time of death. Consequently, we reject the Board's argument that Levato sets forth the only circumstances wherein compensation for lost future support may be granted and conclude that it merely cites examples of such to demonstrate that the Board had strayed from the path of effectuating the Legislature's true intent in the CVCA. Likewise, in the instant case, we believe that the Board's proffered interpretation is inconsistent with the spirit of Levato and the remedial nature of the CVCA and hold, therefore, that petitioner is entitled to be compensated for the loss of future support from decedent.
Finally, the Board attempts to convince us that the petitioner has presented no evidence of her anticipated actual loss. We must also resolve this point contrary to the Board's position. The support order itself established that petitioner was entitled to $18.00 per week from decedent.*fn10 Now all that need be determined is the length of time she could expect such payments had decedent not been killed.*fn11
Accordingly, we will reverse the order of the Board and will remand the record for the computation of the amount of benefits due to petitioner.
[ 89 Pa. Commw. Page 341]
Now, May 17, 1985, the order of the Pennsylvania Crime Victim's Compensation Board, dated September 5, 1984, is reversed and this matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
Reversed and remanded.