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Alekseev v. City Council of the City of Philadelphia

July 24, 2009

STAN ALEKSEEV AND HOMEOWNER'S ASSOCIATION OF PHILADELPHIA, APPELLANTS
v.
CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA AND ANNA C. VERNA, PRESIDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Simpson

Argued: June 11, 2009

BEFORE: HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

In this appeal, Stan Aleskeev and the Homeowner's Association of Philadelphia (HAPCO), seek review of two orders of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) denying HAPCO's motion for summary judgment and granting the City Council of the City of Philadelphia's (Council) cross-motion for summary judgment. HAPCO argues Council's practice of holding special meetings for the solicitation of public comment, while barring such comments during regular Council meetings, violates the Sunshine Act (Act), 65 Pa. C.S. §§701-716. Further, HAPCO contends Council's policy of limiting public comment during special meetings to the subject of the specific proposed legislation before the committee violates the Act's requirement that the public have the opportunity to comment on any issue of concern. Upon review, we affirm.

The facts are not in dispute. See Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 197a (parties' joint statement of uncontested facts). HAPCO is a non-profit organization that represents property owners and managers of low and moderately-priced rental housing in Philadelphia. HAPCO members attended an April 2007 Council meeting where Council passed a bill requiring any advertisement or correspondence regarding the rental of residential property to include the housing inspection license number for the property (Bill). HAPCO members contend they were denied the opportunity to address Council during this meeting in violation of Section 710.1(a) of the Act, 65 Pa. C.S. §710.1(a).

However, pursuant to Council's long-standing practice, HAPCO members, and all other members of the public, had the opportunity to comment on the Bill at a March 2007 special meeting convened for the sole purpose of receiving public comment. Though a quorum of Council was not present at the special meeting, Council asserts the special meeting satisfied the Act's Section 710.1(d) exception allowing it to forgo public comment at regular Council meetings.

The parties entered a joint statement of uncontested facts before the trial court and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court determined Council did not violate the Act because it operated within the special meeting exception. The trial court reasoned that pursuant to their definitions, "meetings" require the presence of a quorum of Council, but a "special meeting" does not. Accordingly, the trial court found no violation of the Act where Council held a special meeting before a committee solely for the purpose of public comment. The trial court granted Council's motion for summary judgment.

Further, the trial court noted that HAPCO members had the opportunity to express their concerns during the special meeting, and Council addressed some of these concerns in an amendment to the Bill prior to its passage.

On appeal,*fn1 HAPCO first argues the Act requires the presence of a quorum of Council to satisfy the special meeting exception. Second, HAPCO asserts Council's policy of limiting public comment during special meetings to the subject of the specific proposed legislation before the committee violates the Act's requirement that the public have the opportunity to comment on any issue of concern.

For the reasons that follow, we conclude Council did not violate the Act. Accordingly, we conclude the trial court properly granted Council's motion for summary judgment.

I. Special Meetings

HAPCO argues the unambiguous language of the Act's definitions of "meeting" and "special meeting" require Council to allow public participation at meetings, because special meetings, before only a committee of Council, do not satisfy the exception to the Act's requirement of public participation at meetings.

HAPCO further argues the trial court erred by not requiring a quorum of Council to be present during special meetings for the purpose of public comment. HAPCO maintains the Act's definition of "meeting" requires a quorum of the relevant legislative body. A "special meeting" is nothing more than a "meeting" scheduled after the establishment of Council's regular meeting schedule. Thus, because a "meeting" requires a quorum of Council, and a "special meeting" is a kind of "meeting," "special meetings" require the presence of a quorum of Council.

HAPCO asserts the Act requires Council to allow public participation before the full legislative body. Thus, Council's practice of limiting public participation to special meetings ...


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