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10/20/97 ALVIN B. LEWIS v. PENNSYLVANIA BAR

October 20, 1997

ALVIN B. LEWIS, ESQUIRE AND RICHARD A. SPRAGUE, ESQUIRE, PETITIONERS
v.
PENNSYLVANIA BAR ASSOCIATION AND JAMES F. MUNDY, ESQUIRE, RESPONDENTS; PENNSYLVANIA BAR ASSOCIATION AND JAMES F. MUNDY, ESQUIRE, PETITIONERS V. ALVIN B. LEWIS, ESQUIRE AND RICHARD A. SPRAGUE, ESQUIRE, RESPONDENTS



Appeal from Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, dated June 19, 1997, at No. 2648-1997, pursuant to Order of August 15, 1997 assuming plenary jurisdiction of Commonwealth Court docket No. 1819 C.D. 1997. JUDGE: Hon. Michael A. Georgelis.

Before: Flaherty, C.j., Zappala, Cappy, Castille, Nigro & Newman, JJ. Mr. Justice Zappala files a Concurring opinion which is joined by Madame Justice Newman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaherty

OPINION OF THE COURT

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FLAHERTY

This is an appeal challenging the orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County granting venue in such court and an application to compel inspection of documents against the Pennsylvania Bar Association ("PBA") and its then-President, James F. Mundy, Esquire ("Mundy").

The record reflects the following. Alvin B. Lewis, Esq. and Richard A. Sprague, Esq. are members of the PBA, a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation. They sought under the provisions of the Nonprofit Corporation Law, 15 Pa.C.S. § 5101 et seq., access to certain documents regarding evaluations of statewide judicial candidates made by the Judicial Evaluation Commission ("JEC"). The JEC is an independent commission, created and funded by the PBA, which independently evaluates candidates for judicial office.

In early February 1997, the JEC announced its evaluations of the judicial candidates for the 1997 primary election. Shortly thereafter, Lewis and Sprague, invoking their status as PBA members, demanded that the PBA produce a range of thirty different categories of documents which they assumed were in the possession of the PBA. *fn1 They made their demands pursuant to 15 Pa.C.S. §§ 5508(b) and 5793.

The PBA responded, in a letter dated March 3, 1997, that 15 Pa.C.S. § 5508(b) required only the production of: (1) the corporation's membership register; (2) the corporation's books and records of account; and (3) the records of proceedings of the corporation's members and directors. The PBA identified a published list of the PBA membership and offered to make available a computerized listing of its members. It also made a timely delivery of the estimated budget and the account of expenditures relating to the JEC and the minutes of its House of Delegates and Board of Governors.

Lewis and Sprague then commenced this action against the PBA and Mundy in the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County on March 11, 1997 as an application to compel inspection of documents. The PBA and Mundy asserted that: (1) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the application; (2) venue was improper in Lancaster County and only proper in Dauphin County, the county where the PBA's registered office is located; (3) the relevant statutes did not authorize relief against a natural person so that Mr. Mundy should be dismissed; and, (4) the PBA had given to the applicants every document "to which a member of the PBA, acting for a proper purpose, would be entitled." The lower court ruled, without explanation, that the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County was a proper venue for the suit but did not address the questions of subject matter jurisdiction or the dismissal of the claim against Mundy.

Thereafter, Lewis and Sprague subpoenaed JEC's records as well as documents in the possession of various JEC members and JEC investigative panel members. The PBA and JEC witnesses moved to quash the subpoenas. The court declined to enforce the subpoenas with the result that neither JEC nor its counsel appeared at the evidentiary hearing on April 10, 1997.

Following said evidentiary hearing, the court granted Lewis and Sprague's application, concluding that they had met the standards of 15 Pa.C.S. § 5508 for the requested inspection. An appeal to Commonwealth Court was taken. Upon agreement of the parties, the lower court later stayed its order pending appeal. This court then exercised expedited plenary jurisdiction under its king's bench powers, 42 Pa.C.S. § 726. We reverse.

The first issue is whether venue was properly granted in this case. Lewis and Sprague argue that venue was proper in any judicial district where the PBA regularly does business; however, the PBA argues jurisdiction and venue are proper only where the PBA's registered office is located, i.e., Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County.

We elect not to address this issue for the following reasons, and therefore need not decide whether venue in Lancaster County was proper or improper. The jurisdiction of this court was granted under 42 Pa.C.S. ยง ...


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