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decided: October 15, 1987.


Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 579 C.D. 1984, 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 559, Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ.

Author: Hutchinson

[ 516 Pa. Page 353]


We allowed interlocutory appeal limited to the question Commonwealth Court certified after it transferred the case to Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas, 91 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 559, 497 A.2d 697. The question certified is whether our holding in Balshy v. Rank, 507 Pa. 384, 490 A.2d 415 (1985), placing original jurisdiction in

[ 516 Pa. Page 354]

Common Pleas over actions against state officials for violation of the federal civil rights statutes, specifically 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, applies not only to actions for money damages, as in Balshy, but also to suits for equitable or declaratory relief. Accordingly, we address only that certified question and must, at this stage of the matter, assume the need for equitable or declaratory relief by the judiciary. So limited, we hold that Balshy does not apply to such cases. Commonwealth Court's order of transfer is, therefore, reversed and the record remanded to it for further proceedings.*fn1

Again, we assume, as we must in this case's present posture, the applicability of Section 761(a)(1) of our Judicial Code. 42 Pa.C.S. § 761(a)(1). That section gives Commonwealth Court original jurisdiction in all actions against "officers" of the state. Since one of the defendants in this case, the Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare (hereinafter "Welfare Department"), is plainly a state officer, Commonwealth Court has jurisdiction under Judicial Code § 761(a)(1) unless one of the section's exceptions to that jurisdiction apply.*fn2

In Balshy v. Rank, supra, we held that a Section 1983 action seeking money damages was in the "nature of a

[ 516 Pa. Page 355]

    trespass" under Section 761(a)(1)(v). An action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief is not in the nature of a trespass. Furthermore, Section 761(a)(1)(v) requires that the action be one for which the Commonwealth formerly enjoyed immunity. This action, which seeks to restrain a state official from implementing regulations, or in the alternative to declare them invalid, is not the type of case in which the Commonwealth formerly enjoyed immunity. Therefore, the Section 761(a)(1)(v) exception to Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction is not applicable.

This class action was brought by the named appellees on behalf of all Cumberland County residents who have been or hereafter are required to participate in the Community Work Experience Program (sometimes known by its acronym CWEP; hereinafter "work program"), operated by the Welfare Department. The work program is a component of the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program. 42 U.S.C. § 601. It has been implemented in Pennsylvania pursuant to a recent amendment to Article IV, Section 405.2 of the Public Welfare Code, Act of June 13, 1967, P.L. 31, as amended, 62 P.S. § 405.2 (Supp.1987). Under the work program, certain recipients of cash assistance benefits can be required to work at "community work projects" established with the approval of the Welfare Department as a condition of continued benefits. Public Welfare Code, supra, 62 P.S. §§ 405.2(b) and 405.2(c) (Supp.1987).

Appellees do not generally challenge the legality of this program, but have focused their attack on the validity of four specific Welfare Department regulations promulgated under Section 403(b) of the Public Welfare Code, supra, 62 P.S. § 403(b) (Supp.1987). Three of appellees' four claims are based at least in part on what is commonly known as a "Section 1983" cause of action. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn3 A fourth claim is based solely on state law.

[ 516 Pa. Page 356]

Appellees attempted to have both a county-wide and a state-wide class certified. Commonwealth Court, however, certified only the county-wide class. The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment. Before oral argument, Commonwealth Court notified them that they should be prepared to address the nature of its jurisdiction in light of Balshy v. Rank, supra. After oral argument, Commonwealth Court en banc held that because this action was based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, original jurisdiction belonged in Common Pleas under the Judicial Code. 42 Pa.C.S. § 761(a)(1)(v). Accordingly, Commonwealth Court transferred the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, and vacated its order certifying the county-wide class. On appellants' motion, this interlocutory transfer order was modified pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 702(b) to allow ...

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