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In re Application of the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area, Inc.

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

June 5, 2014

In Re: Application of the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area, Inc. for Appointment of Humane Society Police Officer. Appeal of: Eric Winter

Argued March 10, 2014.

Appealed from No. 2004-CV-1516-MP. Common Pleas Court of the County of Dauphin. Bratton, J.

Eric E. Winter, Bechtelsville.

Michael J. Crocenzi and Kathryn E. Peters, Harrisburg, for appellees William Sandstrom and Harrisburg Area Humane Society.

HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEADBETTER.

OPINION

Page 1265

BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge.

Eric Winter, Esquire appeals from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County denying his petition to revoke the court's 2004 appointment of William E. Sandstrom to act as a humane society police officer for the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area, Inc. (Humane Society).[1] Attorney Winter asked the court to declare the appointment void ab initio and official action taken by Sandstrom invalid.

Attorney Winter argues tat Sandstrom was ineligible to be appointed as a humane society police officer due to his 1999 conviction of driving under the influence (DUI) (1) under Section 3705(4) of the Act, commonly known as the Humane Society Police Officer Enforcement Act, 22 Pa. C.S. § 3705(4), enacted to be effective one year after his 2004 appointment, which disqualifies an individual who has been convicted of " a serious misdemeanor," and (2) under Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Pa. Const. art. 6, § 7, which requires removal of civil officers upon conviction of misbehavior in office or

Page 1266

of any " infamous crime." We conclude that neither provision applies to Sandstrom's DUI conviction and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the revocation petition. Accordingly, we affirm.

The Humane Society is a nonprofit corporation established for the purpose of preventing cruelty to animals. In April 2004, the Humane Society filed with the trial court an application seeking to appoint Sandstrom, who had been a humane society police officer for the Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania in Erie County, to serve as its humane society police officer in Dauphin, Perry, Cumberland and York Counties. Pursuant to Section 4(a) of the Humane Society Police Officer Enforcement Act, Act of December 12, 1994, P.L. 956, as amended, 3 P.S. § 456.4(a), then in effect, the Humane Society attached to the application all of the required documents, including certificates of Sandstrom's satisfactory completion of training programs and a copy of the Request for Criminal Record Check submitted by Sandstrom in April 2003 and completed by the Pennsylvania State Police in May 2003, indicating that he had " no [criminal] record." Reproduced Record (R.R.) at 10a. In May 2004, the court granted the Humane Society's application and appointed Sandstrom to act as its police officer. He is currently the Humane Society's chief police officer.

On February 7, 2013, Attorney Winter, whose client had received 30 citations issued by Sandstrom, filed a petition to revoke Sandstrom's 2004 appointment and to declare the appointment void ab initio and his previous official actions invalid. Attorney Winter alleged that Sandstrom pleaded guilty to DUI in 1999 in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County and was sentenced to serve a 2-year intermediate punishment with 60-day house arrest. He claimed that Sandstrom was disqualified to be appointed to serve as a humane society police officer under Section 3705(4) of the current Humane Society Police Officer Enforcement Act that became effective one year after Sandstrom's 2004 appointment.[2] Section 3705(4) provides:

An individual shall be qualified for an appointment as a humane society police officer provided the society or association submits proof satisfactory to the court of common pleas in each county for which the society or association directs the individual to act as a humane society police officer that the individual meets all of the following requirements:
....
(4) Has not been convicted of an offense graded a felony or a serious misdemeanor . [Emphasis added.][3]

A " serious misdemeanor" is defined as " [a] criminal offense for which more than one year in prison can be imposed as a punishment." Section 3702 of the current Humane Society Police Officer Enforcement Act, 22 Pa. C.S. § 3702. It is undisputed that in 1999, DUI was graded as a misdemeanor of the second degree punishable by no more than two years in prison and falls within the definition of a serious misdemeanor. The former Humane Society

Page 1267

Police Officer Enforcement Act in effect at the time of Sandstrom's appointment, however, did not contain a similar provision disqualifying an applicant for a conviction of a serious misdemeanor.

Attorney Winter sought to revoke Sandstrom's appointment pursuant to Section 3706(a)(1) and (3) of the current Humane Society Police Officer Enforcement Act, 22 Pa. ...


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