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Germantown Cab Co v. Philadelphia Parking Authority

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


August 3, 2011

GERMANTOWN CAB CO., PETITIONER
v.
PHILADELPHIA PARKING AUTHORITY, RESPONDENT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mary Hannah Leavitt, Judge

Submitted: February 25, 2011

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge

OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT

Germantown Cab Company petitions for review of a June 9, 2010, adjudication of the Philadelphia Parking Authority (Authority) imposing a $1,000 fine upon Germantown Cab. The Authority based this sanction on its holding that Germantown Cab had violated the Authority's taxicab regulation.*fn1 The Authority reached this legal conclusion notwithstanding this Court's en banc decision of April 28, 2010, that the Authority's taxicab regulation was invalid and unenforceable because it had not been promulgated in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law.*fn2 Germantown Cab Co. v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, 993 A.2d 933 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2010) (Germantown Cab I). The facts of this case are not in dispute. In June 2009, David Rotan, a Taxicab Division Inspector for the Authority, encountered one of Germantown Cab's taxicabs transporting a passenger northbound on Aramingo Avenue. Inspector Rotan pulled over the driver because the taxicab did not display an inspection sticker from the Authority, in violation of the Authority's taxicab regulation. Inspector Rotan issued Germantown Cab a citation.*fn3 A hearing was conducted by a hearing officer appointed by the Authority; both parties appeared but only the Authority presented evidence. Inspector Rotan described pulling over the taxicab and issuing the citation for failure to have an Authority inspection sticker. William Schmid, Enforcement Manager of the Authority's Taxicab and Limousine Division, testified that Germantown Cab had presented the taxicab in question to the Authority for inspection, but the inspection terminated before completion because of the noxious odors in the vehicle.*fn4 Germantown Cab objected to the citation on several grounds, one of which was that the Authority's regulation was invalid because it had not been promulgated in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law.

On June 9, 2010, the hearing officer sustained the citation and imposed a $1,000 fine. Germantown Cab then petitioned this Court for review.*fn5

On appeal, Germantown Cab does not dispute the hearing officer's factual findings or his legal conclusion that the factual findings demonstrated a violation of the Authority's taxicab regulation. The sole basis of Germantown Cab's appeal is that the regulation is unenforceable, as held by this Court in Germantown Cab I. The Authority has petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for allowance of appeal of Germantown Cab I, which gave the Authority an automatic supersedeas under the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure. PA. R.A.P. 1736(b).*fn6 This Court vacated the automatic supersedeas, but it was reinstated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Germantown Cab Company v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, ___ Pa. ___, 15 A.3d 44 (2011). On February 23, 2011, our Supreme Court granted the Authority's petition for allowance of appeal. Germantown Cab Company v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, ___ Pa. ___, 14 A.3d 821 (2011).

Germantown Cab argues that our decision in Germantown Cab I has binding effect notwithstanding the grant of allocatur and the reinstatement of the automatic supersedeas. The Authority responds that it expects this Court to give effect to our decision in Germantown Cab I and hold the Authority's taxicab regulation to be void and unenforceable in this case, as it was held in Germantown Cab I.

It is axiomatic that a decision of an appellate court remains binding precedent, even if it has been appealed, unless and until it is overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Sorber v. American Motorists Insurance Company, 680 A.2d 881, 882 (Pa. Super. 1996). The fact that the Authority has an appeal of Germantown Cab I pending is of no moment for purposes of this appeal.*fn7 Our holding in Germantown Cab I is dispositive of this appeal.*fn8

Although the Authority acknowledges that its taxicab regulation has been held unenforceable, it nevertheless urges this Court to affirm the Authority's adjudication and not to "blindly apply stare decisis" in this particular case.

Parking Authority Brief at 9. In Germantown Cab I, we observed that invalidating the Authority's regulation did not eviscerate all of its enforcement powers. The Authority could initiate enforcement actions for direct violations of the Parking

Authorities Law*fn9 or of the regulations of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, 52 Pa. Code Chapter 29, that were to remain in effect until replaced by the Authority's regulation. Germantown Cab I, 993 A.2d at 943. However, neither avenue is available here because the requirement that taxicabs be inspected before being placed into service is established only in the Authority's invalidated regulation and not in the statute or the PUC regulations. According to the Authority, allowing Germantown Cab to place taxicabs into service without prior inspections by the Authority will endanger the public. Apparently, the PUC failed to appreciate this "danger" during the many years that it had exclusive authority to regulate Germantown Cab.

We have already addressed the Authority's public safety argument. In Germantown Cab I, we acknowledged the Authority's fears that invalidating its taxicab regulation could lead to a regulatory void, placing at risk the taxi-riding public in Philadelphia. We explained that "concern about a regulatory void ... does not relieve the Court of the obligation to enforce the applicable statutes as they are written." Germantown Cab I, 993 A.2d at 943. The Authority's request that we overlook the command of the Commonwealth Documents Law will, again, be refused.

In short, we reverse the Authority's adjudication for the reasons stated in Germantown Cab I, 993 A.2d 933.*fn10

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Germantown Cab Co., Petitioner v. Philadelphia Parking Authority, Respondent

No. 1396 C.D. 2010

ORDER

AND NOW, this 3rd day of August, 2011, the order of the Philadelphia Parking Authority entered on June 9, 2010, in the above captioned matter is hereby REVERSED.

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge


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