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Luzerne County Retirement Board v. Seacrist

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


January 27, 2010

LUZERNE COUNTY RETIREMENT BOARD
v.
DOLORES SEACRIST, APPELLANT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge Kelley

Submitted: September 25, 2009

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge, HONORABLE KEITH B. QUIGLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

Dolores Seacrist appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County (trial court), which granted Luzerne County Retirement Board's (Board) motion for summary judgment, upon determining that Seacrist was disqualified from receiving pension benefits. We affirm.

The facts of this case are not in dispute. Seacrist was a Luzerne County employee from October 27, 1986 until December 31, 2005 when she resigned. On October 28, 2005, Seacrist was charged with various crimes stemming from certain actions she engaged in on October 13, 2004, while an employee of Luzerne County. Seacrest was ultimately convicted on August 17, 2006.

Following her resignation, Seacrist filed an application with the Board for the payment of her vested pension benefits. On September 25, 2007, the Board voted to approve Seacrist's pension benefits and issued a check to her representing payment of the first monthly pension benefits due. On November 13, 2007, the Board voted to rescind its approval and filed an action seeking declaratory judgment with the trial court seeking to determine whether the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act*fn1 (Pension Act) prohibits Seacrist from receiving retirement benefits based upon her August 17, 2006 conviction for attempt or conspiracy to commit "crimes related to public office or employment." Seacrist was found guilty of the following criminal offenses:

1. Securing Execution of Documents by Deceptions (18 Pa. C.S. §4114);

2. Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Securing Execution of Documents by Deception (18 Pa. C.S. §903; 18 Pa. C.S. §4114);

3. Criminal Attempt to Commit Tampering with Public Records or Information (18 Pa. C.S. §901; 18 Pa. C.S. §4911(a)(1), (2), (3));

4. Criminal Conspiracy to Commit Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function (18 Pa. C.S. §903; 18 Pa. C.S. §5101); and

5. Criminal Attempt to Commit Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function (18 Pa. C.S. §903; 18 Pa. C.S. §5101).

Seacrist was not convicted of Tampering with Public Records or Information (18 Pa. C.S. §4911(a)(1), (2), (3)) or Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function (18 Pa. C.S. §5101).

Before the trial court, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court determined that Seacrist was disqualified from receiving a pension under the Pension Act because she was convicted of crimes related to public employment including criminal offenses relating to tampering with public records or information and obstructing administration of law or other governmental function. The trial court rejected Seacrist's argument that she is entitled to benefits because she was not found guilty of committing a tampering or obstruction crime, but merely the criminal attempt and conspiracy to commit those crimes.*fn2 By Order dated January 28, 2009, the trial court granted the Board's motion, but denied Seacrist's. This appeal now follows.*fn3

Seacrist contends that the trial court erred in expanding the scope of the applicability of Section 3(a) of the Pension Act, 43 P.S. §1313(a), to conclude that she was disqualified from receiving her pension benefits because she was not found guilty of committing the offenses enumerated in the Pension Act, but merely the criminal attempt and conspiracy to commit those crimes. We disagree.

The purpose of the Pension Act is to deter criminal conduct in public employment by causing a forfeiture of pension benefits to which a public official or public employee would otherwise be entitled. Section 3(a) of the Pension Act provides:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no public official or public employee nor any beneficiary designated by such public official or public employee shall be entitled to receive any retirement or other benefit or payment of any kind except a return of the contribution paid into any pension fund without interest, if such public official or public employee is convicted or pleads guilty or no defense to any crime related to public office or public employment.

43 P.S. §1313(a) (emphasis added). The Pension Act defines "Crimes related to public office or public employment" as:

Any of the criminal offenses as set forth in the following provisions of Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes or other enumerated statute when committed by a public official or public employee through his public office or position or when his public employment places him in a position to commit the crime:

***

Section 4911 (relating to tampering with public records or information).*fn4

***

Section 5101 (relating to obstructing administration of law or other governmental function).*fn5

Section 2 of the Pension Act, 43 P.S. §1312.

Here, Seacrist was found guilty of attempting to commit Tampering with Public Records or Information and with attempting and conspiring to commit Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function. The crimes of Tampering with Public Records or Information and Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function are expressly included in the definition of "Crimes related to public office or public employment" in the Pension Act. While the crimes of attempt and conspiracy are not specifically included in the Pension Act, these offenses fall squarely within the type of conduct the Pension Act seeks to deter.

The main difference between inchoate crimes and the underlying crimes to which they relate is the execution of the underlying crime itself. Under the Crimes Code, "[a] person commits an attempt when, with intent to commit a specific crime, he does any act which constitutes a substantial step toward the commission of that crime." Section 901 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. §901. With regard to criminal conspiracy, the Crimes Code provides:

A person is guilty of conspiracy with another person or persons to commit a crime if with the intent of promoting or facilitating its commission he:

(1) agrees with such other person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or

(2) agrees to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime.

Section 903 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. §903.

Attempt and conspiracy both require the same mens rea as the underlying substantive crimes. Attempt and conspiracy are treated as crimes of the same grade and degree of the most serious offense which is attempted or is an object of the conspiracy. Section 905 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. §905. Both carry the same maximum sentences as the underlying crimes to which they relate.*fn6

Section 905 of the Crimes Code, 18 Pa. C.S. §905; Commonwealth v. Hoke, 962 A.2d 664 (Pa. Super. 2009). Since the crimes of attempt and conspiracy are subject to the same criminal sentences as the underlying substantive crimes, it logically follows they would also be subject to the same civil consequences. To conclude otherwise would defeat the very purpose of the Pension Act. Hence, any public official or public employee who is convicted of attempting or conspiring to commit any of the criminal offenses enumerated in the Pension Act is subject to pension forfeiture under the Pension Act. We, therefore, conclude that the trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that Seacrist was disqualified from receiving a pension under the Pension Act and that the Board was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Accordingly, the order of the trial court is affirmed.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 27th day of January, 2010, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, at Docket No. 13097 of 2007, dated January 28, 2009, is AFFIRMED.

JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge


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