July 23, 2010
GREGORY J. RUBINO AND PASSPORT REALTY, LLC, PETITIONERS
PENNSYLVANIA GAMING CONTROL BOARD, RESPONDENT
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Senior Judge FLAHERTY*fn1
Argued: April 19, 2010
BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge, HONORABLE JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge.
Gregory J. Rubino and Passport Realty, LLC (collectively, Rubino) petition for review of the September 2, 2009, order of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (Board) which held that real estate agents and brokers are not exempt from the registration and certification requirements of section 437a.1 of the Board's regulations, 58 Pa. Code §437a.1. We affirm.
Rubino is a licensed Pennsylvania real estate agent transacting business through Passport Realty, LLC. Rubino sought to offer professional real estate services to MTR Gaming Group, Inc. (MTR), the parent company of Presque Isle Downs, Inc. (PIDI), which had been awarded a slot machine license by the Board on December 20, 2006. The grant of this license was subject to a statement of conditions (SOC), including SOC 58. SOC 58 required MTR and PIDI to refrain from entering into or engaging in any business activity or transaction with Rubino or his affiliates, with an exception relating to a transaction involving the Green Shingle property.*fn2 PIDI's chairman, Ted Arneault, signed the SOC on August 20, 2007.
Subsequent to the execution of the SOC, the Board promulgated regulations requiring any vendor or person seeking to conduct business with a slot machine applicant or licensee to apply for registration and/or certification from the Board. 58 Pa. Code §437a.1(a), (b). However, the regulations specifically exempt "[p]roviders of professional services including accountants, attorneys, engineers and architects" from the registration and certification requirements. 58 Pa. Code §437a.1(c)(8).*fn3 On February 13, 2008, Rubino filed a petition for relief from SOC 58 with the Board. In furtherance of this objective, Rubino sought a declaration that he and his company are exempt from the certification and registration requirements set forth in the Board's new regulations. The Board's Office of Enforcement Counsel (OEC) filed an answer, and the case ultimately was heard before Linda Lloyd, Director of the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA).
On January 30, 2009, Director Lloyd issued a report and recommendation that the Board deny the relief requested in Rubino's petition, finding insufficient evidence to support a change to SOC 58 and noting that PIDI freely signed the SOC. However, Director Lloyd disagreed with OEC's argument that the exemption list found in the Board's regulations is all-inclusive and recommended that a licensed real estate agent or broker be included in this exemption. Rubino and OEC filed exceptions to the report and recommendation.
On September 2, 2009, the Board issued an adjudication and order rejecting the exceptions filed by both parties. The Board first addressed what it deemed to be a threshold issue, i.e., whether a licensed real estate agent or broker is included in the exemption. In its analysis, the Board agreed with Director Lloyd that the regulation's list of exempted professionals is not all-inclusive. Nevertheless, the Board distinguished the type of professions identified in the regulation as professions that required "prolonged courses of specialized education at the collegiate level and beyond," from "[r]eal estate agents, [which], although required to be licensed by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission, are not required to complete any secondary education, nor are they required to hold a college or high school diploma." (Board op. at 4.)
The Board reviewed the licensure requirements for a real estate salesperson: an applicant must be eighteen years of age and have completed sixty hours of approved, general real estate coursework before taking and passing an examination.*fn4 The Board also noted the requirements for a real estate broker's license: the applicant must be twenty-one years of age, must be a high school graduate, must complete 240 hours in real estate instruction, and must have been engaged as a licensed real estate salesperson for at least three years.*fn5
Citing Ridley Township v. Pronesti, 431 Pa. 34, 244 A.2d 719 (1968) and Reich v. Reading, 284 A.2d 315 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1971), the Board observed that the mere requirement of licensure of real estate brokers does not, itself, categorize this occupation as a profession. In Ridley Township, our Supreme Court held that a licensed real estate broker was not permitted to operate an office as an accessory use in a single-family dwelling. The applicable ordinance allowed accessory uses that were "customarily incidental" to a permitted use and defined the "customarily incidental" to include the professional office or studio of a doctor, dentist, masseur, teacher, artist, architect, musician, lawyer, magistrate or practitioner of a similar character.
In Reich, this court held that the office of a licensed insurance broker was a "business office" rather than a "professional office" and, therefore, was not a permitted use in a multi-family zoning district. In doing so, we specifically held that the mere fact that an insurance broker was licensed by the state did not, of itself, categorize his occupation as a "profession." "There are various occupations required to be licensed by the Commonwealth but which have been held not to be professions, such as real estate brokers.." Reich, 284 A.2d at 320 (citations omitted). Furthermore, we acknowledged in Reich that an exact definition of the term "profession" and "professional" was difficult, was not limited to the traditional professions of theology, medicine, and law, and included professions such as teaching, architecture, and engineering "for which considerable educational preparation and continuing study are required." Id. 284 A.2d at 320. While acknowledging the occupation of an insurance agent/broker as "important and specialized," after consideration of the provisions of the ordinance at issue, as well as the applicable licensure requirements, we concluded that an insurance office was a business office rather than a professional office. Id.
The Board determined that unlike accountants, engineers, attorneys and architects, which professions require prolonged courses of specialized education at the collegiate level and beyond, real estate agents and brokers are not required to complete any secondary education and thus, real estate agents and brokers are not the type of professionals contemplated by the regulation. (Board's decision at 4, 5.) Accordingly, the Board rejected Director Lloyd's recommendation to extend the exemption to real estate agents and brokers. The Board held in abeyance the remainder of the matter, concerning SOC 58, until such time as Rubino submits certified vendor applications through PIDI and a background investigation is completed. Rubino then filed a petition for review with this Court.*fn6
On appeal, Rubino argues that the Board erred as a matter of law in concluding that real estate agents and brokers are not exempt from Board jurisdiction by virtue of the regulatory exemption of certain "professionals" found at 58 Pa. Code §437a.1(c)(8).*fn7 We disagree.
We begin by noting that a reviewing court must give considerable weight and deference to an agency's interpretation of a regulation the agency is charged with enforcing. Bayada Nurses, Inc. v. Department of Labor and Industry, 958 A.2d 1050 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008). Moreover, an agency's interpretation of its regulation is controlling unless the interpretation is plainly erroneous, inconsistent with the regulation or statute, or unreasonable. Portalatin v. Department of Corrections, 979 A.2d 944 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009).
In support of his argument that real estate agents are, in fact, professionals, Rubino reiterates the licensure requirements for real estate salespersons and notes that real estate licensees must maintain a good reputation and complete fourteen hours of continuing education every two years.*fn8 However, Rubino acknowledges our holding in Reich that the mere requirement of licensure does not categorize an occupation as a profession. In addition, the educational requirements were specifically considered by the Board and found to be insufficient to warrant the classification of real estate salespersons as professionals for purposes of applying section 437a.1(c)(8) of the Board's regulations. We conclude that such requirements do not compel a finding that the Board's interpretation of section 437a.1(c)(8) is plainly erroneous, inconsistent with the regulation or the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (Gaming Act), 4 Pa. C.S. §§1101-1904, or unreasonable, especially in light of the Board's consideration of the "prolonged courses of specialized education at the collegiate level and beyond" for the professionals recognized in the regulation. (Board decision at 4.)
Rubino contends that more recent decisions reflect the courts' recognition of real estate agents and brokers as professionals. However, in support of this assertion, Rubino relies entirely upon general statements taken out of context from cases involving issues not relevant here. For example, Rubino relies on a single reference to the "profession of selling real estate" in Younkin v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Real Estate Commission, 774 A.2d 1281 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001). The issue in Younkin, however, was whether a licensed auctioneer brokered a sale of real estate without being licensed to do so. There was no discussion as to whether real estate agents are, by definition, professionals. Rubino also cites D.J. Malatesta Associates, Inc. v. Century 21 Rueter, Inc., 739 A.2d 1076 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999), a case involving claims against real estate brokers brought under Real Estate Recovery Fund (Fund).*fn9 A footnote in the case describes the Fund as similar to other funds that protect the public from "professional" fraud or misconduct.*fn10 Again, this case also did not address the issue of whether real estate agents meet the definition of a professional. Rubino's reliance on Kraus v. Claar, 879 A.2d 302 (Pa. Super.), appeal denied, 586 Pa. 713, 889 A.2d 1217 (2005), is also misplaced. Therein, the court determined that Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.1, which addresses professional liability actions, does not include real estate agents/brokers as a licensed professional subject to the rule. Rather, Pa. R.C.P. No. 1042.1 only recognizes the following as licensed professionals: health care provider, accountant, architect, chiropractor, dentist, engineer or land surveyor, nurse, optometrist, pharmacist, physical therapist, psychologist, veterinarian, and attorney at law.
Furthermore, we note that in accordance with 4 Pa. C.S. §1202(a)(1) of the Gaming Act, the Board has sole regulatory authority over the conduct of gaming and related activities in the Commonwealth, vesting broad discretion with the Board to administer all aspects of the gaming industry in Pennsylvania. The Board, as authorized by 4 Pa. C.S. §1102(1), has the responsibility to protect the public by enacting regulations and policing all activities involving gaming. Additionally, the Board via 4 Pa. C.S. §1202(b)(12), has the specific power and duty to issue, approve, renew, revoke, suspend, condition or deny issuance or renewal of slot machine licenses at its discretion. The vendor registration and certification regulation represents one effort by the Board to fulfill this responsibility. In this capacity, the Board determined that real estate agents and brokers are not the type of professional contemplated by the Board's regulations at 58 Pa. Code §437a.1.(c)(8) and are, therefore, not exempt from the Board's vendor registration and certification requirements. We conclude that the Board's interpretation of section 437a.1(c)(8) is both reasonable and consistent with the Board's statutory obligations.
Accordingly, the order of the Board is affirmed.
Judge McCullough did not participate in the decision in this case.
Now, July 23, 2010, the order of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, in the above-captioned matter, is affirmed.
JIM FLAHERTY, Senior Judge