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Maher S. Ahmed Mohamed v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

March 26, 2012


Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 56 CD 2008 dated May 4, 2009 transferring the decision of the Department of Transportation at No. Oper #24376 dated December 11, 2007, to the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Madame Justice Orie Melvin


ARGUED: May 11, 2010


We assumed plenary jurisdiction over this matter as a sua sponte exercise of this Court's extraordinary jurisdiction pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 726*fn1 to determine the proper forum for adjudicating appeals from the suspension of the certification of an official emission inspection mechanic under section 4726(c) of the Vehicle Code. 75 Pa.C.S. § 4726(c). For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand this matter to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings.

Maher S. Ahmed Mohamed ("Appellant") is a certified emission inspector*fn2 by Appellee, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Transportation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles ("PennDOT" or the "Department"). At the time of the events in question, Appellant was employed by Keystone Auto Sales & Repairs ("Keystone"), located in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. On May 2, 2007, Greg Stone, a Quality Assurance Officer for PennDOT ("Auditor"), conducted a records audit at Keystone. The Auditor's report concluded that Appellant performed faulty emission inspections on four vehicles by connecting the emission equipment to a vehicle other than the one being tested in order to obtain a passing result. The report further indicated that two of the vehicles tested and the vehicle used to obtain the passing results were owned by taxicab companies partly owned by Appellant. The Auditor also found that Appellant falsified the records of the four tested vehicles.

Because of these alleged violations, PennDOT sent Appellant a notice*fn3 by certified mail that a Departmental hearing was scheduled for November 14, 2007. The notice informed Appellant that the failure to appear would be considered a waiver of his right to a hearing, and a determination as to whether or not to suspend his emission inspector certification would be made in his absence.*fn4 Certified Record (C.R.) at 6, Exhibit 7. Appellant failed to appear,*fn5 and the Auditor provided the only testimony by presenting the findings of his report of May 2, 2007. On December 11, 2007, PennDOT sent Appellant an order notifying him that his certification as an official emission inspector was suspended pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 4726.*fn6 PennDOT imposed a one-year suspension upon Appellant for the faulty inspections and a one-year suspension for fraudulent record keeping that included the lesser offenses of improper record keeping and careless record keeping. PennDOT further ordered that these suspensions were to run consecutively, resulting in an aggregate two-year suspension. The order also indicated that Appellant had the right to appeal to "the Court of Common Pleas of the County in which the . inspection station is located." C.R. at 6, Exhibit 2.

On January 10, 2008, instead of following the directions in the order regarding the filing of an appeal, Appellant filed a petition for review from PennDOT's suspension order in the Commonwealth Court. In his petition for review, Appellant asserted that jurisdiction was vested in the Commonwealth Court pursuant to section 702*fn7 of the Administrative Agency Law ("AAL") and section 763 of the Judicial Code. The Commonwealth Court granted a supersedeas pending the disposition of the petition for review. On May 4, 2009, the Commonwealth Court entered the order now under review transferring the case to the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County.

In its 4-3 en banc opinion, the Commonwealth Court agreed with PennDOT's assertion that a latent ambiguity exists in 75 Pa. C.S. § 4726(c) of the Vehicle Code when it is read in conjunction with 42 Pa.C.S. § 933 of the Judicial Code. Section 4726(c) reads as follows:

(c) Judicial review.-Any mechanic whose certificate has been denied or suspended under this chapter shall have the right to appeal to the court vested with jurisdiction of such appeals by or pursuant to Title 42 (relating to judiciary and judicial procedure). The court shall set the matter for hearing upon 60 days' written notice to the department and take testimony and examine into the facts of the case and determine whether the petitioner is entitled to certification or is subject to suspension of the certification under the provisions of this chapter.

75 Pa.C.S. § 4726(c).*fn8 The relevant language of section 933 provides:

§ 933. Appeals from government agencies

(a) General rule.-Except as otherwise prescribed by any general rule adopted pursuant to section 503 (relating to reassignment of matters), each court of common pleas shall have jurisdiction of appeals from final orders of government agencies in the following cases:

(1) Appeals from Commonwealth agencies in the following cases:

(ii) Determinations of the Department of Transportation appealable under the following provisions of Title 75 (relating to vehicles):

Section 1377 (relating to judicial review).

Section 1550 (relating to judicial review). Section 4724(b) (relating to judicial review). Section 7303(b) (relating to judicial review). Section 7503(b) (relating to judicial review) 42 Pa.C.S. § 933(a)(1)(ii).

According to the Commonwealth Court, the phrase "court vested with jurisdiction"

is subject to more than one meaning when sections 4726(c), 4724(b), and 933(a)(1)(ii) are read together in determining which court is vested with jurisdiction to hear Appellant's appeal from the suspension order. Thus, in construing section 4726(c), the Commonwealth Court took into consideration section 4726(c)'s place within the "comprehensive scheme for managing the vehicle inspection program . created in Chapter 47 of the Vehicle Code." Mohamed v. Com., Dept. of Transp., Bureau of Motor Vehicles, 973 A.2d 453, 459 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2009) (en banc). The Commonwealth Court further accepted ...

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