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Blount v. Philadelphia Parking Authority

February 20, 2009

RONALD BLOUNT, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT OF THE TAXI WORKERS' ALLIANCE OF PENNSYLVANIA, ARINK, INC., RAINK, INC., AUDREY CAB, INC., T/A COUNTY CAB, SAWINK, INC., DEE-DEE CAB, INC., T/A PENN-DEL CAB, QUAKER CITY CAB, INC., GERMANTOWN CAB CO., AND MICHAEL ETEMAD, APPELLANTS
v.
PHILADELPHIA PARKING AUTHORITY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered on March 9, 2007, at 265 MD 2006 920 A.2d 215 (Pa. Commw. 2007)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Greenspan

CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.

ARGUED: October 20, 2008

OPINION

This appeal concerns a determination of whether the Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over a challenge brought by taxicab drivers and companies*fn1 against the Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA). In an en banc opinion, the Commonwealth Court broadly held that the PPA is a local rather than a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of jurisdiction and, therefore, it lacked original jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the PPA's regulations. Blount v. Phila. Parking Auth., 920 A.2d 215, 217 (Pa. Commw. 2007). The Commonwealth Court transferred the case to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Id. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand the case to the Commonwealth Court for resolution on the merits.

Background

In 1947, the General Assembly empowered certain political subdivisions to create parking authorities.*fn2 In 1950, the City of Philadelphia established its parking authority, the PPA, to manage off-street parking. 53 P.S. § 344. The PPA also assumed responsibility for on-street parking in 1983. At that time, and until 2001, parking authorities throughout the Commonwealth had similar organizational structures, powers, and duties, as outlined in the original Parking Authorities Law. 53 P.S. §§ 344-356. The law drew no distinctions between parking authorities in cities of the first class (Philadelphia) and those in other municipalities. 53 P.S. §§ 341-356. For example, each parking authority throughout the state was managed by its own Governing Board whose five members were appointed by the local mayor. 53 P.S. § 348. Parking authorities regulated only on and off-street parking. 53 P.S. § 345. They maintained independent budgets and issued bonds to raise capital. 53 P.S. § 345.

In 2001, the General Assembly re-codified and significantly amended the Parking Authorities Law.*fn3 The new law established different powers and organizational standards for the PPA as compared to parking authorities of other municipalities.*fn4 For example, the PPA has a six-member Governing Board appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania. 53 Pa.C.S. § 5508.1(c). In addition, the PPA assumed control of taxicab and limousine operations in and around Philadelphia. 53 Pa.C.S. § 5505(d)(23), (24). Previously, regulation of taxicabs and limousines in Philadelphia was a function of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Under the amendment, these services are now regulated by the PPA, whose power extends to persons or corporations providing these services between points in Philadelphia, from any point in Philadelphia to any point in the Commonwealth or outside, and from any point in the Commonwealth to any point in Philadelphia. 53 Pa.C.S. § 5714(c). The General Assembly supervises and controls in part the distribution of funds from the PPA's budget. 53 Pa.C.S. § 5707. Although the PPA underwent fundamental changes with the 2001 amendments, the parking authorities in other municipalities retained the same pre-amendment administrative structures and powers.

On June 27, 2005, pursuant to the 2001 Parking Authorities Law, the Governing Board of the PPA approved the Taxicab and Limousine Regulations (Regulations). Subsequently, the PPA issued citations to various taxi drivers and companies based on alleged violations of the Regulations. Appellants sought to challenge the Regulations and, in April 2006, they sued the PPA in the Commonwealth Court. Appellants alleged that the PPA improperly adopted and enforced its Regulations, thereby harming them. Appellants claimed that, as a Commonwealth agency, the PPA should have followed the procedure outlined in the Commonwealth Documents Law*fn5 when it adopted the Regulations.

Appellants sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as writs of mandamus and prohibition in a Petition for Review.

In June 2006, the PPA filed preliminary objections to Appellants' Petition for Review. Soon thereafter, Appellants requested a preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of the Regulations. After a hearing, the Commonwealth Court denied the preliminary injunction, holding that Appellants had not satisfied the requirements for injunctive relief. Specifically, the court held that Appellants had not shown that they would be irreparably harmed if the PPA continued to enforce the Regulations. See Summit Towne Ctr., Inc. v. Shoe Show of Rocky Mt., Inc., 828 A.2d 995, 1001-1002 (Pa. 2003) (holding, inter alia, that a preliminary injunction will not issue if the party seeking it does not show that the injunction "is necessary to prevent immediate and irreparable harm that cannot be adequately compensated by damages"). The court also raised the issue of jurisdiction sua sponte and held it for briefing and consideration en banc. Finally, in March 2007, the Commonwealth Court held that it did not have original jurisdiction over the matter and transferred the case to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for resolution on the merits. On Appellants' motion, the Commonwealth Court certified its order for immediate appeal. Pa. R.A.P. 1311(b); 42 Pa.C.S. § 702(b).

This Court granted permission to appeal because the issue of whether the PPA is a Commonwealth agency as opposed to a local agency under these circumstances remains unresolved. See, e.g., City of Philadelphia v. Phila. Parking Auth., 798 A.2d 161 (Pa. 2002) (in a per curiam order, this Court remanded matter relating to the constitutionality of the 2001 Parking Authorities Law to the Commonwealth Court for decision on the merits within that court's original jurisdiction).*fn6 Pa. R.A.P. 1311(b); 42 Pa.C.S. § 702(b).

Discussion

When reviewing questions of subject matter jurisdiction, our standard and scope of review are well established:

Jurisdiction over the subject matter is conferred solely by the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth. The test for whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction inquires into the competency of the court to determine controversies of the general class to which the case presented for consideration belongs. Thus, as a pure question of law, the standard of review in determining whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is de novo and the scope of review is plenary. Whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction over an action is a fundamental issue of law which may be raised at any time in the course of the proceedings, including by a reviewing court sua sponte.

In re Administrative Order No. 1-MD-2003, Appeal of Troutman, 936 A.2d 1, 5 (Pa. 2007).

In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over civil actions against the Commonwealth government. 42 Pa.C.S. § 761(a)(1).*fn7 The Commonwealth government includes agencies of the Commonwealth but not "any political subdivision, municipal or other local authority." 42 Pa.C.S. § 102 (emphasis added). Hence, we must determine whether or not the PPA is a "local authority" to decide whether original jurisdiction rests in the Commonwealth Court or in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.

According to the rules of statutory construction, a local authority is "a municipal authority or any other body corporate and politic created by one or more political subdivisions pursuant to statute." 1 Pa.C.S. § 1991. Title 53, however, defines parking authorities, including the PPA, as "public bod[ies] corporate and politic, exercising public powers of the Commonwealth as agenc[ies] of the Commonwealth." 53 Pa.C.S. § 5505(a)(1).

In 1976, this Court answered a similar jurisdictional question in the context of the Housing Authorities Law. The Housing Authorities Law, 35 P.S. §§ 1541-1568.1, like the Parking Authorities Law, contained a provision deeming the authorities to be Commonwealth agencies. T & R Painting Co. v. Phila. Housing Auth., 353 A.2d 800, 801 (Pa. 1976) (T & R Painting). According to the statute, "[a Housing] Authority shall constitute a public body, corporate and politic, exercising public powers of the Commonwealth as an agency thereof." 35 P.S. § 1550. This Court decided, however, that the language of Section 1550 was not dispositive because the Housing Authorities Law also contained numerous provisions that indicated that housing authorities were local agencies. T & R Painting, 353 A.2d at 802. According to the Court, because the statute contained contradictory language, it had to consider the General Assembly's intent. Id.

This Court ultimately decided that the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) was a local agency and that, as a result, the Commonwealth Court did not have original jurisdiction over the action. Id. at 802. The Court held that when the General Assembly granted the Commonwealth Court jurisdiction over actions against the Commonwealth but not local agencies, it provided "a judicial forum for the uniform and consistent resolution of questions of statewide impact." Id. at 802. In dealing with litigation involving the PHA, the Commonwealth Court would not be faced with statewide issues but, rather, with local Philadelphia issues because the PHA is an agency controlled by local government that has a local mission. Id.*fn8

In 2004, in James J. Gory Mech. Contracting, Inc. v. Phila. Housing Auth., 855 A.2d 669 (Pa. 2004) (Gory), this Court revisited the issue, reasserting the vigor of and further explaining the test adopted in T & R Painting. Gory, 855 A.2d at 677-78. In T & R Painting, this Court had held that "questions of statewide impact" should be resolved in the Commonwealth Court, because that court was "intended to provide a judicial forum for the uniform and consistent resolution of questions of statewide impact." T & R Painting, 353 A.2d at 802. In Gory, the Court refined the test to say that "the pivotal factors to be looked at are whether the entity operates on a statewide basis and is predominantly controlled by the state." Gory, 855 A.2d at 678. The Court applied the T & R Painting test and held again that the PHA was a local agency for the purpose of jurisdiction. The Court also held that an authority could have a different status "depending on the issue for which the determination is being made." Id. This Court considered different factors and the legislative intent behind the Judicial Code. Id. As in T & R Painting, the Court noted that the General Assembly intended the Commonwealth Court to serve as an original forum for issues of statewide concern that must be uniformly decided. Id. at 678. Thus, for jurisdictional purposes, "the pivotal factors. are whether the entity operates on a statewide basis and is controlled by the state." Id.*fn9

Applying the tests formulated in T & R Painting and Gory, we hold that the Commonwealth Court is the proper forum for the Appellants' challenge to the Regulations adopted under Chapter 57 of Title 53.

The General Assembly deemed parking authorities, like housing authorities, to be agencies of the Commonwealth. 53 Pa.C.S. § 5505. According to the statute, "[t]he authority shall constitute a public body corporate and politic, exercising public powers of the Commonwealth as an agency of the Commonwealth." 53 Pa.C.S. § 5505.*fn10 But, as in the Housing Authorities Law, the General Assembly also introduced language in the Parking Authority Law to indicate that parking authorities were local entities. 53 Pa.C.S. §§ 5504, 5509, 5514, 5516.*fn11 As a result, we must inquire into the General Assembly's intent. T & R Painting, 353 A.2d at 802. See also Gory, 855 A.2d at 674-75. In addition, we must consider whether a court's decisions in PPA taxicab matters will have statewide import or whether the impact will be limited to Philadelphia only. Gory, 855 A.2d at 678. As this Court explained,

where the entity acts throughout the state and under the state's control, it is clearly meant to be a Commonwealth agency for jurisdictional purposes so that it may be sued in the Commonwealth Court. In contrast, where the entity operates within a single county or municipality and is governed in large part by that county or municipality, the entity must be characterized as a local agency and sued in the trial courts because the trial courts will be more familiar with the issues surrounding the entity's operations and organizational makeup.

Id. The salient factors in our analysis are whether the PPA operates statewide and whether it is controlled by the state. Id.

With regard to taxicabs, the PPA operates outside of Philadelphia and statewide. According to Chapter 57 of Title 53, taxicabs must obtain certificates of public convenience ...


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