Appeal from the Judgment of Superior Court entered on 7/11/2007 at No. 3313 EDA 2005 (reargument denied 9/13/2007) affirming in part, reversing in part and remanding the Order entered on 11/21/2005 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Civil Division at No. 2921 March Term 2001. Appeal from the Judgment of Superior Court entered on 7/11/2007 at No. 355 EDA 2006 (reargument denied 9/13/2007) affirming in part, reversing in part and remanding the judgment entered on 11/30/2005 in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Civil Division at No. 2921 March Term 2001.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Eakin
CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, GREENSPAN, JJ.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Pennsylvania (SPCA) seized abused dogs from appellee, which it subsequently euthanized. Appellee sued, claiming civil rights violations, negligence, and conversion; a Philadelphia jury returned a verdict in her favor.
The SPCA appealed, arguing it was immune from suit pursuant to the Sovereign Immunity Act,*fn1 or in the alternative, the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.*fn2 The Superior Court rejected the SPCA's immunity claims. Snead v. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Pennsylvania, 929 A.2d 1169, 1177 (Pa. Super. 2007).*fn3 As a sovereign immunity defense is available only to a Commonwealth agency, the court considered whether the SPCA was a Commonwealth agency. The court observed the SPCA elects its own officers and directors and is not funded by public money; the Commonwealth does not control the SPCA, and the General Assembly has not recognized the SPCA as an agent or instrumentality of the Commonwealth. The court noted the SPCA's exercise of a governmental function, such as enforcement of animal control laws, does not by itself make it a Commonwealth agency. See id., at 1177-78.
The Superior Court next examined whether the SPCA was a local agency eligible for immunity under the Tort Claims Act. Id., at 1178. The court observed the SPCA manages its own affairs and adopts its own bylaws; the Commonwealth does not control the SPCA's operations or have an interest in its assets, and is not the SPCA's sole income source.
Thus, the Superior Court concluded the SPCA was not entitled to immunity under either theory. Id., at 1179. We granted allocatur to determine:
Whether the [Superior C]court erred in disregarding the SPCA's inherently governmental functions, including enforcement of Pennsylvania's Dog Law, authority to arrest suspects and execute search warrants, and traditional animal protection and control roles, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 8541, in holding the SPCA was not entitled to sovereign or governmental immunity.
Snead v. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Pennsylvania, 966 A.2d 548, 549 (Pa. 2009) (table). Because statutory interpretation is a question of law, our standard of review is de novo, and our scope of review is plenary. In re Milton Hershey School, 911 A.2d 1258, 1261 (Pa. 2006).
Contending it is a Commonwealth agency, the SPCA notes the General Assembly created it "'to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the state of Pennsylvania, and for the enforcement of all laws heretofore or hereafter enacted for the protection of dumb animals.'" SPCA's Brief, at 13 (quoting Act of 1868, P.L. 615). Further, the SPCA points out that P.L. 615 requires police to assist it in enforcing the law. The SPCA's officers are appointed and trained pursuant to the Humane Society Police Officer Law.*fn4 The Dog Law, 3 P.S. §§ 459-101 to 459-1205, gives it power to seize dogs. See 3 P.S. § 459-302 (describing SPCA's responsibility for keeping seized dogs).
The SPCA alternatively argues the Tort Claims Act provides it governmental immunity. The SPCA alleges it is intertwined with government, especially in financial matters; it receives 50% of fines collected for violations of the Cruelty to Animals statute, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5511 . The SPCA argues it enforces the animal control laws, and its officers are statutorily authorized to carry firearms, obtain search warrants, search locations, seize evidence, and arrest offenders.
Appellee counters that P.L. 615, creating the SPCA, contains no language suggesting the SPCA is an agency or instrument of the Commonwealth. Appellee contends the SPCA is merely a non-profit corporation, and Pennsylvania law permits nonprofit corporations to be sued. Appellee claims the SPCA's only relationship with government is providing services as an independent contractor to the City of Philadelphia. As the government does not indemnify the SPCA, exposing the SPCA to lawsuits would not deplete public funds, the rationale behind immunity concepts. Appellee alleges the SPCA's performance of a governmental function is irrelevant, since this is not the basis on which the Tort Claim Act grants immunity.
In Pennsylvania, sovereign immunity is available to a Commonwealth party, which is "a Commonwealth agency and any employee thereof." 42 Pa.C.S. ...