Appeal from the Order of the Board of Claims in the case of R. Lee Ziegler v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Public Welfare, No. FC-371-84.
Mary Benefield Seiverling, Assistant Counsel, for petitioner.
R. Lee Ziegler, respondent, for himself.
Judges MacPhail and Smith, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 80]
Petitioner Department of Public Welfare (DPW) appeals an order of the Board of Claims (Board) which awarded attorney fees to R. Lee Ziegler (Respondent). For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the Board's order and dismiss the suit.
Respondent entered into an attorney-client relationship with Stephen Harris in July of 1982, in order to obtain unemployment compensation benefits for Harris. He appeared at a referee's hearing on Harris' behalf and then appealed an adverse decision to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR). When Harris was again denied benefits, Respondent filed a petition for review with this Court. The matter was eventually remitted to the UCBR, and, on November 4, 1983, Harris was awarded benefits in the amount of $8,249.78.
On November 18, 1983, Respondent discovered that Harris had assigned his claim to DPW because, unknown
[ 117 Pa. Commw. Page 81]
to Respondent, Harris was a public assistance recipient. The amount of $4,356.00 was subsequently paid to DPW. Respondent requested from DPW a portion of this amount as legal fees in letters dated November 21, 1983; January 10, 1984; February 21, 1984; and March 12, 1984.
Respondent received no response from DPW until March 27, 1984, when it informed him that "there is no authority under which the Department may award a fee for your representation of Stephen Harris." Exhibit E, R.R. at 9a. DPW's letter stated further that the unemployment compensation referee has statutory and regulatory authority*fn1 to award compensation and that DPW cannot determine appropriate fees without an award from a referee. On November 20, 1984, Respondent filed a petition for approval of counsel fees with the UCBR. In a letter dated December 13, 1984, the UCBR informed Respondent that it did not need to approve his counsel fees because there was no issue raised as to the amount of fees. See 34 Pa. Code § 101.41(a).
On December 20, 1984, Respondent filed a claim against DPW with the Board in the amount of $1,793.09.*fn2 Following the dismissal of DPW's preliminary objections and the filing of an answer and new matter, the claim was heard before a hearing panel of the Board. The panel, after hearing the evidence of Respondent and Harris, opined that Respondent should receive his claimed attorney fees. Relying ...