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Allegheny County Deputy Sheriffs' Association v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board

March 26, 2012


Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered January 28, 2010, at No. 959 CD 2009, affirming the Order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board entered April 21, 2009, at No. PF-: R-08-74-W. The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice McCAFFERY


ARGUED: April 12, 2011


In this case, we consider whether deputy sheriffs of counties of the second class are "police officers" for purposes of collective bargaining under the act commonly known as Act 111.*fn1 The Commonwealth Court determined that they are not, and, for the reasons stated herein, we vacate and remand.

Appellant, the Allegheny County Deputy Sheriffs' Association (the "Association"), filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (the "PLRB") seeking to represent, for collective bargaining purposes under Act 111, deputy sheriffs employed by Allegheny County (the "Deputy Sheriffs"). The Association twice before had attempted to attain this same objective, only to fail before the PLRB and the Commonwealth Court.*fn2 However, following those decisions, the General Assembly amended the Crimes Code in 1995, and then the Municipal Police Education and Training Law ("MPETL") in 1996, to define deputy sheriffs in a second-class county (i.e., the Deputy Sheriffs) as police officers. See, respectively, 18 Pa.C.S. § 103; 53 Pa.C.S. § 2162.

Concluding that the aforesaid legislative action was not dispositive of the issue, the PLRB hearing examiner here determined that the Deputy Sheriffs were not "police officers" as contemplated by Act 111 because he found that their primary duties were not those of typical police officers, but rather were those directly related to the operation of the courts. For this reason, the hearing officer concluded that the bargaining rights of the Deputy Sheriffs were governed by Section 805 of the Pennsylvania Public Employe Relations Act ("PERA"), Act of July 23, 1970, P.L. 563, as amended, 43 P.S. § 1101.805.*fn3 In coming to his decision, the hearing examiner found insufficient the Association's evidence of numerous police-related activities, in addition to court-related ones, engaged in by the Deputy Sheriffs. Additionally, the hearing officer relied heavily upon Venneri v. County of Allegheny, 316 A.2d 120 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1974), and Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff's Ass'n v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 504 A.2d 437 (Pa.Cmwlth. 1986) (en banc) ("ACDSA I"). As noted above, these cases denied previous bids by the Deputy Sheriffs to collectively bargain under Act 111.

The hearing examiner filed a proposed order of dismissal, the Association filed exceptions, and the PLRB dismissed them, issuing a written Final Order against the Association. In arriving at its decision, the PLRB made additional factual findings concerning the duties of the Deputy Sheriffs, concluding that, while the Deputy Sheriffs do perform some traditional police duties, their primary duties are rooted in court functions.*fn4

The Association appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed in a published opinion. Allegheny County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 990 A.2d 86 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2010) ("ACDSA II"). The court began by observing that the PERA governs the bargaining rights of all deputy sheriffs as "employees 'directly involved with and necessary to the functioning of the courts of this Commonwealth.'" Id. at 88 (quoting 43 P.S. § 1101.805) (emphasis in Commonwealth Court opinion). The court then observed, as had the PLRB, that a judicially and administratively created test has been established and used to determine whether law enforcement personnel, other than traditional state and local police officers, fall within the ambit of Act 111. This test asks: 1) are the employees legislatively authorized to act as police; and 2) do they effectively act as police. Id. at 89 (citing Narcotics Agents Reg'l Comm. v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 833 A.2d 314 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2003); Cambria County Deputy Sheriffs Ass'n. v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 799 A.2d 957 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2002), et al.).

With respect to the first prong of the test, the court stated that "absent any clear legislation which expressly grants [the Deputy Sheriffs] general police powers in any community, geographic area[,] or jurisdiction, the definitions of 'police officer' in 18 Pa.C.S. § 103 and 53 Pa.C.S. § 2162 are insufficient to vest [the Deputy Sheriffs] with the legislative authority to act primarily as Act 111 police officers rather than court personnel." ACDSA II, supra at 97. With respect to the second prong of the test, the court held that the PLRB correctly found that, although the Deputy Sheriffs "perform some police-type functions, these functions are incidental to their predominantly court-related responsibilities." Id. at 99. Accordingly, because the court determined that the Deputy Sheriffs had failed to demonstrate that they could meet the two-pronged test, the court concluded that the PLRB had properly dismissed the Association's petition for Act 111 representation of the Deputy Sheriffs.

The Association filed a petition for allowance of appeal, which we granted on the following issue:

Whether the Commonwealth Court erred in affirming the PLRB's dismissal of the sheriffs' association's petition to represent deputy sheriffs as police officers under Act 111, when the PLRB disregarded Hartshorn v. County of Allegheny, 333 A.2d 914 (Pa. 1975), and Commonwealth v. PLRB, 463 A.2d 409 (Pa. 1983).

Allegheny County Deputy Sheriffs' Ass'n. v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 1 A.3d 867 (Pa. 2010) (per curiam).

Our review of a decision by the PLRB is limited to determining whether there has been a violation of constitutional rights, an error of law, a procedural irregularity, or whether the findings of the PLRB are supported by substantial evidence. Borough of Ellwood City v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 998 A.2d 589, 594 (Pa. 2010). The PLRB's decision must be upheld if its factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, and if the conclusions of law drawn from those facts are reasonable. Id. Further, the PLRB's interpretation of a governing statute is to be given controlling weight unless clearly erroneous. Id. Because we conclude that the PLRB's decision here constitutes an error of law, we reverse.

Contrary to the conclusions of the Commonwealth Court and the PLRB, the controlling factor in this case is that the General Assembly, in two separate pieces of legislation, specifically singled out for definition as police officers, deputy sheriffs of counties of the second class. No other deputy sheriffs in this Commonwealth have been so defined by the General Assembly. Indeed, the general definition of "police officer" in the Crimes Code does not simply include the Deputy Sheriffs; rather, "deputy sheriffs of a county of the second class who have successfully completed" MPETL training are the only law enforcement personnel mentioned as being included in the definition of "police officer." 18 Pa.C.S. § 103. Based on these circumstances and our holdings in the analogous cases of Hartshorn v. County of Allegheny, 333 A.2d 914 (Pa. 1975), and Commonwealth v. Pa. Labor Relations Bd., 463 A.2d 409 (Pa. 1983) ("Capitol Police"), we now hold that deputy sheriffs of counties of the second class are police officers for purposes of Act 111.

While Act 111 does not define "police" or "police officer," neither does PERA single out deputy sheriffs of counties of the second class as "employees" subject to its provisions; rather, PERA simply defines "employee" as "any individual employed by a public employer" except for certain categories of public employees including those "covered under" Act 111. 43 P.S. § 1101.301(2).

We have held on two prior occasions that certain non-traditional "police-officer" law enforcement personnel fall under Act 111's reach because of their legislative definition as police officers in statutes unrelated to Act 111. In Hartshorn, supra, this Court held that Section 1440(b) of the Second Class County Code "makes clear that the legislature intended county detectives to be classified as policemen" for purposes of Act 111 bargaining rights: "[s]ince 16 P.S. § 4440(b) establishes that [the county detectives] are policemen, their right to collective bargaining is then clear under Act 111." Hartshorn, supra at 915-16.

Section 1440(b) simply provides:

(b) County detectives shall at all times be subject to the orders of the district attorney, and shall investigate and make report to the district attorney as to the conduct in office of magistrates, constables, deputy constables and other officers connected with the administration of criminal justice, to make investigations, and endeavor to obtain such evidence as may be required by the district attorney in any criminal case, and perform such other duties as the district attorney may direct. Said detectives shall be general police officers and shall have all powers now conferred on constables by existing laws of this ...

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