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Stilp v. Commonwealth

July 20, 2009

GENE STILP, APPELLANT
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, GENERAL ASSEMBLY, ROBERT C. JUBELIRER, DAVID BRIGHTBILL, ROBERT MELLOW, JOHN M. PERZEL, SAM SMITH, H.W. DEWEESE, LEADERSHIP OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, EDWARD G. RENDELL, GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ROBIN L. WIESSMAN, TREASURER OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Orders of the Commonwealth Court dated November 13, 2006 and July 11, 2007 at No. 1 M.D. 2006 910 A.2d 775 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006) 929 A.2d 660 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007).

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

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

SUBMITTED: January 28, 2008

OPINION

In this appeal, Appellant Gene Stilp ("Stilp"), acting pro se, asks us to adopt an absolutist view of our Pennsylvania Constitution that would erase over 125 years of case law in his challenge of the receipt of various matters of value received by members of the General Assembly. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the orders of the Commonwealth Court dismissing Stilp's Amended Petition for Review ("Amended Petition").

By way of background, on January 3, 2006, Stilp filed a Petition for Review under the original jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. Respondents included the General Assembly, the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth's Treasurer, the Majority Leaders of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives (collectively, "Appellees"). After certain of the Appellees filed preliminary objections, on February 21, 2006, Stilp filed his Amended Petition.

In his Amended Petition, Stilp challenged, inter alia, various matters of value received by members of the General Assembly as beyond the "salary and mileage" permitted by the Pennsylvania Constitution.*fn1 PA. CONST. art. II, § 8. He also contested the maintenance of legislative leadership accounts as being violative of Article VIII, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. PA. CONST. art. VIII, § 14. Stilp sought declaratory relief, requesting the additional compensation provided to members of the General Assembly in excess of salary and mileage be declared illegal and/or unconstitutional; injunctive relief restraining the Treasurer from disbursing monies for the challenged purposes; and the return of unspent monies in leadership accounts. Appellees filed preliminary objections to the Amended Petition.

On November 13, 2006, an en banc Commonwealth Court, in an opinion authored by Judge Robert Simpson, inter alia, (1) dismissed the Governor and Treasurer from the action; (2) sustained Appellees' preliminary objections to 14 of the 15 counts contained in the Amended Petition; (3) overruled the preliminary objections to Count XII (concerning the maintenance of legislative leadership accounts); and (4) permitted Stilp 30 days in which to filed a second Amended Petition with respect to Count XIII(i) (concerning the constitutionality of local grant monies, also known as "walking around money") and the propriety of naming the Treasurer as a respondent.*fn2 Stilp v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 910 A.2d 775 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006) ("Stilp I").*fn3,*fn4

Thereafter, Stilp failed to file a second Amended Petition; thus, the Governor and Treasurer were dismissed from the action, and only Count XII remained at issue. Appellees filed Answers with New Matter to which Stilp responded. In March 2007, Appellees applied for summary relief arguing that the Commonwealth Court should enter judgment on the pleadings with respect to Count XII of the Amended Petition. On July 11, 2007, Judge Rochelle Friedman writing for a unanimous en banc Commonwealth Court granted Appellees' application for judgment on the pleadings with respect to that count.*fn5

Stilp v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 929 A.2d 660 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007) ("Stilp II").

Stilp appealed to our Court. Before our Court, Stilp raises two issues which we address seriatim. The issues as stated by Stilp are:

a. Did the Commonwealth Court err by sustaining the demurrers thereby permitting members of the general assembly to continue receiving various forms of compensation in excess of a base salary and mileage, in light of the constitution's express language limiting their compensation to salary and mileage only?

b. Did the Commonwealth Court err by granting summary relief and judgment for Appellees wherein it ruled continuing appropriations that are not spent in the ensuing fiscal year, but used to amass large spending accounts controlled by legislative leaders do not violate the state constitutional provision that mandates all surplus be appropriated during the next fiscal year?

Stilp's Brief at 4.

The principles to be applied in our review of Stilp's issues are well established. With regard to the Commonwealth Court's action in sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer of Counts I to XI, XIII(i), XIII(ii), and XIV, the question presented in a demurrer is whether, on the facts averred, the law indicates with certainty that no recovery is possible. MacElree v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 544 Pa. 117, 124, 674 A.2d 1050, 1054 (1996). In reviewing a lower court's decision to grant a demurrer, our Court's standard of review is de novo. Ins. Adjustment Bureau, Inc., v. Allstate Ins. Co., 588 Pa. 470, 480 n.4, 905 A.2d 462, 468 n.4 (2006).

Critically for purposes of this appeal, which concerns limitations on the power of the General Assembly, a reviewing court must narrowly construe a constitutional provision which places limitations on the power of the Legislature, as, unlike the federal Constitution, the powers not expressly withheld from the General Assembly inhere in it. Commonwealth ex rel. Kelley v. Keiser, 340 Pa. 59, 66, 16 A.2d 307, 310 (1940). Thus, as our Court warned in Russ v. Commonwealth, 201 Pa. 544, 554, 60 A. 169, 172 (1905): "The Constitution has given us a list of the things which the legislature may not do. If we extend that list, we ...


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