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Pirillo v. Vanco

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

August 8, 2013

David Pirillo, Nikita Rugg, Suzanne Swanson, Linda R. Hessley, and Richard Campbell, Appellants
v.
Stephen Vanco, John Eggleston, and John Bortz, Commissioners of Warren County

Argued: June 17, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge.

Appellants, David Pirillo, Nikita Rugg and Suzanne Swanson (Auditors) and Linda R. Hessley and Richard Campbell (Jury Commissioners) appeal an order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 37th Judicial District (Warren County Branch) (trial court) denying and dismissing their complaint for declaratory judgment. In this case we consider whether the County Commissioners of Warren County abused their discretion by reducing the Jury Commissioners' base salary and eliminating fringe benefits for all Appellants. Finding no error in the trial court's denial of declaratory relief, we affirm.

On December 7, 2010, the County Commissioners held a special public meeting for the purpose of adopting wage rates and benefits for the county's elected officials whose four-year terms commenced January 1, 2012. As reflected in the minutes of the meeting, the County Commissioners took the following actions:

Motion was made by Commissioner Terry L. Hawk, and seconded by Commissioner John R. Bortz, Jr. to raise the wages [for elected officials] 2.5% for 2012, 2% each year for 2013 through 2015 and benefits will follow the terms and conditions set forth in the collective bargaining unit in the department or office from which the elected official retires.… This is for all elected officials except for Jury Commissioners and Auditors. Motion carried.
Motion was made by Commissioner John R. Bortz, Jr., seconded by Commissioner Terry L. Hawk to raise the wages 2.5% for 2012, 2% each year for 2013 through 2015 and no benefits for Auditors beginning 2012. Motion carried.
Motion was made by Commissioner John R. Bortz, Jr., seconded by Commissioner Terry L. Hawk to pay the Jury Commissioners the minimum state mandated wage contingent on the class of county we will fall under once we receive the census information. This will be … $2, 000 per year for 2012 through 2015 if we remain a sixth class county[1] and no benefits. Motion carried.

Reproduced Record at 44a (R.R.__).[2] It is undisputed that Appellants all work less than 20 hours per week, which would make them "part-time" employees under the County Employee Handbook if they were county employees.[3] Appellants are the only County officers who do not work a full-time schedule of 35 hours per week. None of the Appellants supervise other employees or work "on call".

Appellants filed a complaint for declaratory relief, arguing that the County Commissioners abused their discretion by increasing the salaries of all county officers except for the Jury Commissioners, whose salaries were reduced, and by continuing to provide fringe benefits to all county officers except for Appellants. Appellants sought a declaration that (1) as elected officers in Warren County, they are entitled to the same benefits as the other elected officers enumerated in Section 401(a) of the The County Code, 16 P.S. §401(a), [4] and (2) the base salary for Jury Commissioners should be reinstated to its 2011 level and be subject to the percentage increases granted to other elected officers beginning in 2012.

The trial court denied declaratory relief by order dated October 3, 2012. Appellants appealed to this Court and also sought reconsideration of the trial court's order. At a status conference, the County Commissioners stipulated that the Jury Commissioners would, in fact, receive the same percentage salary increases as other elected County officers beginning in 2012. The trial court denied reconsideration.

On appeal, [5] Appellants raise two issues for our consideration. First, Appellants argue that the County Commissioners abused their discretion by reducing the base salary of the Jury Commissioners. Second, Appellants contend that the County Commissioners exceeded their statutory authority under Section 1556 of The County Code, 16 P.S. §1556, [6] by eliminating Appellants' fringe benefits.

Beginning with Appellants' second issue, they argue that the trial court erred because the County Commissioners abused their discretion in eliminating Appellants' fringe benefits. Specifically, Appellants assert that the County Commissioners exceeded their authority under Section 1556 of The County Code, which states:

In addition to any other authorized compensation, county commissioners and other county officers and their dependents shall be eligible for inclusion in group life, health, hospitalization, medical service and accident insurance plans or other employe benefits, or payments made in lieu of such benefits, paid in whole or in part by the county, ...

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