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Pennsylvania Fed'n of Dog Clubs v. Commonwealth

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

November 19, 2014

The Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, the Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, and the Humane League of Lancaster County, Petitioners
v.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Office of the Budget of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Respondents

Submitted August 15, 2014

Page 52

Court of ORIGINAL JURISDICTION.

Robert B. Hoffman, Harrisburg, for petitioners.

Brian D. Zweiacher, Chief Counsel, Harrisburg, for respondents.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE ROBERT SIMPSON, Judge, HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE COVEY.

OPINION

Page 53

ANNE E. COVEY, Judge

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and The Office of the Budget of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (collectively, Commonwealth) move this Court for summary relief seeking to dismiss the above-captioned matter with prejudice and have judgment entered for the Commonwealth. On June 21, 2012, The Pennsylvania Federation of Dog Clubs, The Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania and the Humane League of Lancaster County (collectively, Petitioners) filed a Petition for Review in this Court's original jurisdiction in the nature of a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief (Complaint) against the Commonwealth. On June 25, 2012, Petitioners filed an amended Complaint (Amended Complaint) against the Commonwealth.

On July 17, 2012, Petitioners and the Commonwealth filed a Joint Application to Stay Proceedings Pending Decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the " MCARE Cases " (Stay Application). By July 18, 2012 order, this Court granted the Stay Application and stayed the proceedings pending disposition of Hospital &

Page 54

Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth, 621 Pa. 260, 77 A.3d 587 (Pa. 2013) ( MCARE Cases ). On September 26, 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided the MCARE Cases and, by October 4, 2013 order, this Court dissolved the stay. On April 24, 2014, the Commonwealth filed the Application for Summary Relief Under Pa.R.A.P. 1532(b) (Summary Application) currently before the Court.[1]

Background

Section 1001(a) of the Dog Law[2] created the " Dog Law Restricted Account [(DLRA)]" wherein " [a]ll moneys paid into the State Treasury under the provisions of [the Dog Law] shall be paid[.]" [3] P.S. § 459-1001(a). " Moneys are appropriated from the [DLRA] to make payments to counties and incorporated humane society organizations for designated purposes." 7 Pa. Code § 23.1. In August 2009, the General Appropriation Act of 2009 (Act 2009-1A), an interim appropriations bill to provide partial funding pending passage of a final appropriations bill, was signed into law. Section 1911 of Act 2009-1A directed that " [t]he sum of $4,000,000 shall be deposited from the [DLRA] to the General Fund.[4]" The final General Appropriation Act for 2009 (Act 2009-10A)[5] included the identical provision. Petitioners aver that they " had a vested right to have all of the funds paid in dog, kennel and dealer licensing fees used for specified purposes as per [Section] 1001 of the Dog Law[; ]" and that " Section 1911 of Acts 1-A and 10-A destroy the vested rights of Petitioners, including their individual members[.]" Amended Complaint, ¶ ¶ 46, 47.

In the MCARE Cases, similar to the instant case, health care provider trade associations and individual health care providers (petitioners) brought an action against the Commonwealth seeking a declaration that the Commonwealth's transfer of $100 million from the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Fund to the General Fund was unlawful. The petitioners therein filed an application for summary relief which this Court granted. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed this Court's decision and remanded the case. Specifically, after determining that the action was justiciable under the political question doctrine and ruling that the petitioners had standing to bring the action, our Supreme Court held " that the October 2009 amendment to the Fiscal Code transferring $100 million from the MCARE Fund to the General Fund implicated the [petitioners'] due process rights, but that the question of whether the legislation was finally unconstitutional requires further factual development." MCARE Cases, 77 A.3d at 606.

Summary Application

In its Summary Application, the Commonwealth avers that Petitioners have no standing to bring or maintain the instant action; Petitioners' claim is barred by laches; Petitioners have failed to state a

Page 55

claim upon which relief can be granted; and Petitioners have no vested right or interest in the DLRA. Thus, the Commonwealth requests that its Summary Application be granted, the matter dismissed, and judgment entered in its favor.

Petitioners maintain that the MCARE Cases control the disposition of this case. Petitioners restate our Supreme Court's holding in the MCARE Cases as follows: " [M]onies in restricted accounts/special funds, collected under compulsion and with explicit statutory statement that they would be used for specified purposes, cannot be legislatively diverted on a retroactive basis so long as the purpose(s) for which the funds have been collected remains." Petitioners' Br. at 13. Petitioners assert that " [e]very element of that holding is met here[.]" Id.

Standing

In Pennsylvania, a party seeking judicial resolution of a controversy 'must establish as a threshold matter that he has standing to maintain the action.' Fumo v. City of Philadelphia, . . . 601 Pa. 322, 972 A.2d 487, 496 ([Pa.] 2009). Unlike the federal courts, which derive their standing requirements from Article III of the United States Constitution, standing for Pennsylvania litigants has been created judicially. Id. at 500 n.5. 'The core concept of standing is that a person who is not adversely affected in any way by the matter he seeks to challenge is not aggrieved thereby and has no standing to obtain a judicial resolution to his challenge.' Id. (citing Wm. Penn Parking Garage [ v. City of Pittsburgh ], 464 Pa. 168, 346 A.2d [269, 280-81 [(Pa. 1975)]).
An individual can demonstrate that he has been aggrieved if he can establish that he has a substantial, direct and immediate interest in the outcome of the litigation. A party has a substantial interest in the outcome of litigation if his interest surpasses that of all citizens in procuring obedience to the law. The interest is direct if there is a causal connection between the asserted violation and the harm complained of; it is immediate if that causal connection is not remote or speculative.
Fumo, 972 A.2d at 496 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

Johnson v. Am. Standard, 607 Pa. 492, 8 A.3d 318, 329 (Pa. 2010) ...


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