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RICHARD A. SPRAGUE v. ROBERT P. CASEY (10/25/88)

decided: October 25, 1988.

RICHARD A. SPRAGUE, IN HIS CAPACITIES AS ATTORNEY AT LAW IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, TAXPAYER IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND CITIZEN OF AND DULY REGISTERED VOTER IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, PETITIONER,
v.
ROBERT P. CASEY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, JAMES J. HAGGERTY, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, WILLIAM BOEHM, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COMMISSIONER OF THE BUREAU OF LEGISLATION, COMMISSIONS AND ELECTIONS, ALLEN ERTEL, IN HIS CAPACITY AS DEMOCRATIC PARTY NOMINEE FOR THE OFFICE OF JUSTICE OF SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, ANITA B. BRODY, IN HER CAPACITY AS REPUBLICAN PARTY NOMINEE FOR THE OFFICE OF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, WALTER M. COHEN, IN HIS CAPACITY AS REPUBLICAN PARTY NOMINEE FOR THE OFFICE OF JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND CATHERINE FORD-ELLIOT, IN HER CAPACITY AS DEMOCRATIC PARTY NOMINEE FOR THE OFFICE OF JUDGE OF THE SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS



COUNSEL

Richard A. Sprague, Geoffrey R. Johnson, Philip I. Weinberg, Philadelphia, for petitioner.

Edward W. Mullinix, James D. Crawford, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, Philadelphia, for Anita B. Brody.

Thomas A. Leonard, Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish & Kauffman, Philadelphia, for Allen Ertel.

Neil T. O'Donnell, Philadelphia, for Catherine Ford-Elliot.

Morey M. Myers, Gen. Counsel, Richard D. Spiegelman, Chief Deputy Gen. Counsel, Harrisburg, for Agency Liaison.

Andrew H. Cline, Deputy Gen. Counsel, Harrisburg, for Robert P. Casey, James J. Haggerty and William Boehm.

David Richman, Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, Philadelphia, for Walter M. Cohen.

E. Barclay Cale, Jr., Thomas B. Kenworthy, Andrew D. Leipold, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Philadelphia, amici curiae for Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania.

Karen M. Balaban, Harrisburg, for Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Stout, J., did not participate in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Nix

[ 520 Pa. Page 42]

OPINION

This lawsuit was instituted by Petitioner, Richard A. Sprague, who filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in the Commonwealth Court challenging the placing on the ballot in the November 1988 general election one seat on the Supreme Court and one seat on the Superior Court. Named as respondents in the action were Robert P. Casey, in his official capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; James J. Haggerty, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; William Boehm, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Bureau of Legislation, Commissions and Elections; Allen Ertel, in his capacity as Democratic Party nominee for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; Anita B. Brody, in her capacity as Republican Party nominee for the office of Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; Walter M. Cohen, in his capacity as Republican Party nominee for the office of Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania; and, Catherine Ford-Elliot, in her capacity as Democratic Party nominee for the office of Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. The various respondents filed preliminary objections to the complaint filed by petitioner. Prior to argument in the Commonwealth Court which was scheduled for September 14, 1988, this Court, in response to petitioner's request for the Exercise of Plenary Jurisdiction, entered an order on September 12, 1988, granting the petition for the Exercise of Plenary Jurisdiction, and listed the case for argument during the September argument session in Pittsburgh.*fn1 After the receipt of briefs and oral argument, this Court entered a per curiam order on September 27, 1988, 519 Pa. 313, 548

[ 520 Pa. Page 43]

A.2d 249, denying respondents' preliminary objections, granting petitioner's application for summary relief and directing the Secretary of the Commonwealth to remove from the ballot in the general election of 1988 the offices of Justice of the Supreme Court and Judge of the Superior Court. We now file this opinion to set forth the reasons for the aforesaid order.

I.

Before reaching the merits of the instant case we must first address the issues raised by respondents in their preliminary objections. Respondents argue that the petitioner lacks standing to pursue the instant suit because the governmental action challenged does not substantially impact on him in a direct and immediate manner. However, we find that the petitioner has standing to maintain this action because this case falls within the narrow exception recognized by this Court in Application of Biester, 487 Pa. 438, 409 A.2d 848 (1979).

Generally, in order to have standing, a party must have an interest in the controversy that is distinguishable from the interest shared by other citizens. William Penn Parking Garage, Inc. v. City of Pittsburgh, 464 Pa. 168, 346 A.2d 269 (1975). To surpass that common interest, the interest must be substantial, direct and immediate. Id. In Biester, however, we determined that certain cases warrant the grant of standing to taxpayers where their interest arguably is not substantial, direct and immediate. Biester, 487 Pa. at 444, 409 A.2d at 852. In reaching that conclusion, we considered Faden v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 424 Pa. 273, 227 A.2d 619 (1967), where this Court announced that "although many reasons have been advanced for granting standing to taxpayers, the fundamental reason for granting standing is simply that otherwise a large body of governmental activity would be unchallenged in the courts." Biester, 487 Pa. at 445, 409 A.2d at 852. Furthermore, we noted that:

[ 520 Pa. Page 44]

The ultimate basis for granting standing to taxpayers must be sought outside the normal language of the courts. Taxpayers' litigation seems designed to enable a large body of the citizenry to challenge governmental action which would otherwise go unchallenged in the courts because of the standing requirement. . . . Such litigation allows the courts, within the framework of traditional notions of 'standing,' to add to the controls over public officials inherent in the elective process the judicial scrutiny of the statutory and constitutional validity of their acts.

Biester, supra, 487 Pa. at 443 n. 5, 409 A.2d at 851 n. 5. See also Consumer Party of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth, 510 Pa. 158, 507 A.2d 323 (1986).

Moreover, in Biester, we considered that the issue was likely to escape judicial review when those directly and immediately affected by the complained of conduct were beneficially affected as opposed to adversely affected. We also recognized that "consideration must be given to other factors such as, for example, the appropriateness of judicial relief, the availability of redress through other channels, or the existence of other persons better situated to assert the claim." Biester, 487 Pa. at 446, 409 A.2d at 852. (Quoting, Government of Guam, ex rel. Camacho v. Bird, 398 F.2d 314 (9th Cir.1968) (citations omitted)).

In this case, we believe that the special circumstances involved warrant the grant of standing to petitioner under the exception articulated in Biester. If standing were not granted to the petitioner, this election would otherwise go unchallenged because respondents are directly and beneficially affected. Judicial relief is appropriate because the determination of the constitutionality of the election is a function of the courts, cf. Zemprelli v. Daniels, 496 Pa. 247, 436 A.2d 1165 (1981); Hertz Drivurself Stations, Inc. v. Siggins, 359 Pa. 25, 58 A.2d 464 (1948), and redress through other channels is unavailable. Finally, the only persons better situated to maintain this action are the respondents who did not choose to institute legal action.

[ 520 Pa. Page 45]

Having determined that petitioner has standing to maintain this action, we now turn to the question of whether the equitable doctrine of laches applies to the instant case. Laches bars relief when the complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute the action to the prejudice of another. Wilson v. King of Prussia Enterprises, Inc., 422 Pa. 128, 221 A.2d 123 (1966). Thus, in order to prevail on an assertion of laches, respondents must establish: a) a delay arising from petitioner's failure to exercise due diligence; and, b) prejudice to the respondents resulting from the delay. Class of 200 Administrative Faculty Members v. Scanlon, 502 Pa. 275, 466 A.2d 103 ...


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