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decided: October 21, 1985.


Appeal from the Order of Commonwealth Court, No. 1313 C.D. 1983, dated May 23, 1984, Reversing the Order of the Department of Public Welfare. Nos. 53 and 68 Middle District Appeal Dockets 1984. 82 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 116, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Zappala, J., filed a concurring opinion. Hutchinson, J., concurs in the result. Nix, C.j., and Larsen, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Author: Papadakos

[ 509 Pa. Page 166]


Given the substantial public importance of the question involved in these consolidated appeals, and the scant and evenly divided authority existing thereon, we have deemed it appropriate to grant discretionary review. In this case of first impression, we are concerned, primarily, with a matter of statutory construction in which the intent of the Legislature is controlling. After evidence was presented before a hearing officer, all Appellees were granted general assistance benefits as transitionally needy persons.*fn1 This decision was upheld by the Department of Public Welfare. Timely notices of appeal were filed by each Appellee to Commonwealth Court requesting assistance as chronically needy persons*fn2 rather than transitionally needy persons.

[ 509 Pa. Page 167]

After consolidation, Commonwealth Court reversed the orders of the Department of Public Welfare and remanded for computation of their general assistance benefits as chronically needy persons. Fisher, et al, v. Commonwealth, Department of Public Welfare, 82 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 116, 475 A.2d 873 (1984). Subsequently, timely Petitions for Allowance of Appeal were filed and granted for Sandra Fisher, et al, on September 15, 1984, and for Gregory Matic on October 15, 1984. We now reverse Commonwealth Court.

The factual pattern of employment for each Appellee reveals that all five Appellees applied for unemployment compensation benefits and were denied for various reasons.

Appellee Fisher lacked adequate earnings in her base year to collect unemployment compensation benefits.*fn3 Appellees Sharp and La Rue*fn4 were ruled ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits as a result of being fired for willful misconduct.*fn5 Appellee Schneider was ineligible because he was self-employed.*fn6 Appellee Arabi lacked eligibility due to his employment record being outside the United States.*fn7 Appellee Matic was ineligible for unemployment compensation because he voluntarily quit his job without

[ 509 Pa. Page 168]

    a compelling and necessitous reason.*fn8 Thus, each Appellee was properly found ineligible to receive any unemployment compensation benefits. Parenthetically, each Appellee enjoyed at least forty-eight months of full-time employment out of the previous eight years. After being denied unemployment compensation benefits, all Appellees applied for cash assistance benefits and were granted ninety days of general assistance benefits as transitionally needy persons because the Department of Public Welfare determined that they did not meet the criteria for chronically needy (year-round) benefits.

It is undisputed that all Appellees met the work requirement standard set forth in subsection (H), footnote 2, id.,*fn9 but the Department concluded that none had fulfilled the requirement that unemployment compensation benefits be exhausted. The Department of Public Welfare thus classified the Appellees as transitionally needy persons. This ruling was timely appealed by all Appellees to Commonwealth Court.

The sole issue raised by these appeals is Commonwealth Court's conclusion that persons who did not meet statutory requirements for eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits have "exhausted" their unemployment compensation benefits so as to meet the elements of the legislative definition of chronically needy persons. At issue is the meaning of the word "exhausted" as used in the Public Welfare Code.

Our interpretation of statutory language is governed by 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921, Act of December 6, 1972, P.L. 1339, No. 290, § 3, which states:

[ 509 Pa. Page 169]

§ 1921. Legislative intent controls.

(a) The object of all interpretation and construction of statutes is to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the General Assembly. Every statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its provisions.

(b) When the words of a statute are clear and free from all ambiguity, the letter of it is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit.

(c) When the words of the statute are not explicit, the intention of the General Assembly may be ascertained by considering, among other matters:

(1) The occasion and necessity for the statute.

(2) The circumstances under which it was enacted.

(3) The mischief to be remedied.

(4) The object to be attained.

(5) The former law, if any, including other statutes upon the same or similar subjects.

(6) The consequences of a particular interpretation.

(7) The contemporaneous legislative history.

(8) Legislative and administrative interpretations of such statute.

Furthermore, when the statute's meaning is plain, we may not look to the legislative history when doing so would alter the plain meaning of the statute. Hellertown Manufacturing Co. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 480 Pa. 358, 390 A.2d 732 (1978).

The supreme principle of statutory interpretation must be that each word used by the Legislature has meaning and was used for a reason, not as mere surplusage. "The Legislature cannot be deemed to intend that its language be superfluous and without import." Commonwealth v. Mack Bros. Motor Car Co., 359 Pa. 636, 640, 59 A.2d 923, 925 (1948). See also, Daly v. Hemphill, 411 Pa. 263, 273, 191 A.2d 835, 842 (1963).

General Assistance has been available to qualified Pennsylvania applicants since 1937 when the Public Assistance Law was originally ...

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