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Adewale Sule v. Philadelphia Parking Authority

August 11, 2011


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

Argued: May 10, 2011



Adewale A. Sule petitions for review of an adjudication of the Philadelphia Parking Authority*fn1 imposing a $500 fine for his alleged violation of an executive order of the Authority, which provides that a taxicab driver may not prevent a passenger from using a credit card. Because the Hearing Officer's factual findings were based solely on uncorroborated hearsay and, therefore, not supported by substantial evidence, we reverse the Authority's order.

On September 15, 2009, Sule, a certified taxicab driver, was driving Medallion taxicab number P-1096 in the City of Philadelphia. At approximately 12:30 p.m., Sule picked up Lori Hedrick and took her to the Hilton Hotel on City Avenue. Hedrick paid her fare using a credit card. Later that afternoon, Hedrick called the Authority and complained that Sule had attempted to dissuade her from using a credit card. Hedrick's complaint was assigned to Inspector David Rotan for further investigation.

Rotan spoke to both Hedrick and Sule on the day of the incident. After speaking with Hedrick over the phone, Rotan asked her to provide a written statement regarding her allegations, which she did one week later. Rotan met with Sule and obtained his account of the incident. Based upon his investigation, Rotan determined that Sule had attempted to prevent Hedrick from using a credit card to pay her fare. On September 16, 2009, the Authority issued a citation charging Sule with inhibiting a passenger's use of a credit card in violation of the Authority's Executive Order 07-0002.*fn2

Sule appealed the citation and a hearing was held on December 10, 2009. Sule appeared pro se. Rotan, the Authority's only witness, testified about his investigation. He spoke first with Hedrick who told him that when she tried to pay for her ride with a credit card, Sule tried to get her to pay with cash and only allowed her to use a credit card when she said she had no cash. Rotan then read into evidence a written statement submitted by Hedrick by e-mail on September 22, 2009. In that statement, Hedrick recounted that when she told Sule she was going to pay with a credit card, he asked her to pay in cash. When she refused, he claimed that his credit card machine did not work and she would have to pay in cash. She again refused, at which point Sule told her if she paid with a credit card he would not actually receive the funds for a week. Only after Hedrick told Sule she had no cash did he activate the credit card machine. Sule did not object to Rotan reading Hedrick's statement into evidence.

Rotan then testified about his conversation with Sule on the day of the incident. Sule informed Rotan that there was never any dispute regarding how Hedrick would pay her fare. Rotan recalled Sule telling him that he believed Hedrick was going to pay in cash, prompting Sule to shut off his meter.

Rotan also testified regarding Executive Order 07-0002 and Authority Board Order 08-0005; copies of both orders were introduced into evidence. First, Rotan noted that Executive Order 07-0002 requires drivers not to "inhibit, prevent, or refuse the use of a credit card." He then explained that Authority Board Order 08-0005 re-designated that violation to be a Class A violation, establishing a $500 fine for a first offense.*fn3 Rotan explained that even though Sule eventually accepted Hedrick's credit card, he cited Sule because he had initially inhibited the use of a credit card.

Sule testified on his own behalf. His primary defense to the citation was, simply, that he accepted Hedrick's credit card payment. Sule explained that he asked Hedrick how she was going to pay because it affected how he operated the meter. Sule opined that Hedrick did not understand him because of his accent.

On cross-examination, Sule acknowledged that at one point Hedrick tried to give him her credit card and he told her "no." He explained that he said "no" because he could not use her card; the card reader was not located in the front of the cab, where the meter is located, but in the passenger compartment of the cab. Accordingly, Hedrick had to swipe the card. Sule recalled that when Hedrick first tried to use her card the transaction did not process, so he reset the machine. On her second attempt, the transaction processed successfully.

The Hearing Officer reviewed the evidence and concluded that Sule had violated Executive Order 07-0002. The Hearing Officer credited Rotan's testimony and Hedrick's e-mailed written statement to find that Sule had inhibited Hedrick's use of a credit card to pay her fare. Recognizing a potential hearsay issue with Hedrick's written out-of-court statement, the Hearing Officer explained:

Inspector Rotan's testimony and his conclusions from the investigation he conducted are credible, logical and certainly establish that the Authority has met its burden of proof by the clear precise statement [of Hedrick], which, by strict application of legal [principles] might be considered hearsay, but even introduced by letter, bears a ring of truth that is plausible and far more convincing than [Sule's] long diatribe offered to convince the fact finder that the occurrence never took place.

Hearing Officer Adjudicationat 3-4. The Hearing Officer imposed a $500 fine pursuant to Authority Board Order 08-0005. Sule now ...

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