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Williams v. Corbett

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2012

Wanda R.D. WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
Governor Thomas W. CORBETT, et al., Defendants.

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Paul Anthony Rossi, Kennett Square, PA, for Plaintiff.

Sean A. Kirkpatrick, Office of Attorney General of the Commonwealth of PA Litigation Section, Harrisburg, PA, for Defendant.

Devin J. Chwastyk, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, Harrisburg, PA, for Amicus.


JOHN E. JONES III, District Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (doc. 6) filed by Defendant Governor Thomas W. Corbett and Defendant William B. Lynch (collectively, " Defendants" ). The Motion has been fully briefed by the parties (docs. 7, 15, 22) and the Court has accepted and considered the amicus curiae submission by Dauphin County. For the reasons fully articulated and set forth herein, the Court will grant the Motion and dismiss the Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety.


The factual background of this matter is well known to the Court and the public at large. Indeed, in a matter nearly identical to the case sub judice, decided by this Court on May 2, 2012, we noted that the City of Harrisburg stands " on the verge of a debilitating financial collapse, burdened with well over $300 million in debt, and that it has already ceased payments on some of its obligations." Harris v. Corbett, No. 1:11-cv-2228, Doc. 59, p. 1, 2012 WL 1565357 (M.D.Pa. May 2, 2002). Much like that case, this matter has its origins in the City's financial woes, with

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the Plaintiffs seeking to challenge the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, 53 P.S. §§ 11701.101-.501.[1] Indeed, the case sub judice presents with a nearly identical legal and factual predicate to Harris, changed only by the passage of time and the plaintiffs identified in the caption. We thus derive the following history of Act 47 from our decision in Harris:

The Financially Distressed Municipalities Act, 53 P.S. §§ 11701.101-.501 (" Act 47" ), is a statutory mechanism by which a financially distressed municipality in Pennsylvania can request technical and financial assistance from the state government. On October 1, 2010, the City of Harrisburg filed an application with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (" DCED" ), seeking a determination that the City was a " financially distressed municipality" and taking the first step toward entering the Act 47 program. (Doc. 1, ¶ 25). On December 15, 2010, the DCED granted the City's application, designating Harrisburg as a financially distressed municipality and admitting the City into the Act 47 financial assistance program. ( Id. ¶ 26). Under Act 47, as it then existed, the DCED or its designee would formulate a recovery plan and present it to the City; if the City refused to adopt the recovery plan, the state's financial assistance would simply end. ( Id. ¶ 27) On July 19, 2011, the Harrisburg City Council rejected the Commonwealth's proposed recovery plan by a 4-3 vote. ( Id. ¶ 43).
On October 10, 2011, Defendant Governor Corbett signed into law legislation amending Act 47 (" Act 47 Amendments" or " the Amendments" ). The Act 47 Amendments altered Act 47 in several critical ways. Section 602(a) authorizes the Governor to designate financially distressed municipalities upon consideration of several statutorily-enumerated factors and, at his discretion, to make a declaration of fiscal emergency. See 53 P.S. § 11701.602(b) (as amended). Section 702 permits the Governor to " direct the secretary [of the DCED] to file a petition in [the] Commonwealth Court to appoint" a receiver to the financially distressed city. Id. § 11701.702(a). In such an event, the Act 47 Amendments authorize the Governor, or his designee, to collect funds on behalf of the city and its authorities, to obtain emergency financial aid, to enter into contracts and agreements on behalf of the city, and to exercise any other power necessary to " ensure the provision of vital and necessary services" to the city. Id. § 11701.604(a)(1)-(5). The Act 47 Amendments altered the term " vital and necessary services" to include fulfillment of payment of the city's debt or other financial obligations. See § 11701.601 (definitions).
On October 24, 2011, by the authority vested in him under Act 47, as amended, Defendant Governor Corbett executed a Declaration of Fiscal Emergency for the City of Harrisburg. (Doc. 1, Ex. 2). The Commonwealth Court, on petition and nomination of Defendant Governor Corbett, appointed Defendant David Unkovic

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(" Defendant Receiver" ) as the Act 47 receiver to the City, and on February 6, 2012, the Defendant Receiver filed his Recovery Plan with the Commonwealth Court. The Honorable Bonnie J. Leadbetter of the Commonwealth Court ...

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