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SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

November 20, 2014

SEIU HEALTHCARE PENNSYLVANIA; MELANIE ZEIGLER; KATHERINE BRODALA; JOANNE NAMEY; JON ANN FREDERICKS; WENDY HOKE; STATE SENATOR TIMOTHY J. SOLOBAY; STATE SENATOR JOHN N. WOZNIAK; STATE REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL K. HANNA; STATE REPRESENTATIVE TED HARHAI; STATE REPRESENTATIVE PAM SNYDER, Appellants
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; THE HONORABLE THOMAS CORBETT, GOVERNOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA; THE PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; MICHAEL WOLF, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, Appellees AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, COUNCIL 13, AFL-CIO, BY ITS TRUSTEE A.D. LITEM, DAVID R. FILLMAN; KELLY LINKO, Intervenors FEDERATION OF STATE CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL PROFESSIONALS, LOCAL 2382, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS PENNSYLVANIA, AFL-CIO, BY ITS TRUSTEE A.D. LITEM, WILLIAM F. BERTRAND, Intervenors

Argued March 12, 2014

Page 496

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Appeal from the order of the Commonwealth Court at No. 150 M.D. 2013 dated April 25, 2013. Other Court Judge: Deith B. Quigley, Senior Judge.

For Fed. of State Cultural and Edu. Prof., Local 2382, Amer. Fed. Bertrand, W, Intervenor of TeachersPA, AFL-CIO, by Bertrand, W, INTERVENOR: Amy Louise Rosenberger, Esq., Willig, Williams & Davidson

For American Fed. of State, County and Munic. Employees, Council 13, AFL-CIO, by Fillman, D.; Linko, K., INTERVENOR: Alaine S. Williams, Esq., Willig, Williams & Davidson

For SeiuHealthcarePA; Zeigler; Brodala; Namey; Fredericks; Hoke; Solobay; Wozniak; Hanna; Harhai; Snyder, APPELLANT: Irwin William Aronson, Esq., Willig, Williams & Davidson; Bruce Michael Ludwig, Esq., Willig, Williams & Davidson

For Commonwealth of PA; Hon. Thomas Corbett, Gay. of Comm. of PA; PA Dept of Health; Michael Wolf, APPELLEE: Linda Cadden Barrett, Esq., PA Office of General Counsel; Audrey F. Miner, Esq., Pennsylvania Department of Health; James David Schultz, Esq.; Alison Taylor, Esq., PA Office of General Counsel

BEFORE: CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, STEVENS, JJ. MR. JUSTICE BAER. Former Justice McCaffery did not participate in the decision of this case. Mr. Chief Justice Castille, Mr. Justice Saylor, Madame Justice Todd and Mr. Justice Stevens join the opinion. Mr. Justice Eakin files a dissenting opinion.

OPINION

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MR. BAER, JUSTICE

This is a direct appeal from the Commonwealth Court's order dated April 25, 2013, denying a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the closure of twenty-six State Health Centers (" Centers" ) and the furloughing of approximately twenty-six nurse consultants employed by those Centers.[1] For the reasons set forth herein, we discern no reasonable ground for the denial of injunctive relief, and, accordingly, reverse the order of the Commonwealth Court.

To carry out its statutory duty to protect the health of Pennsylvania citizens and determine and employ the most efficient and practical means for the prevention and suppression of disease, 71 P.S. § § 532(a) and 1403(a), the Pennsylvania Department of Health (" DOH" ) oversees the administration of public health services to residents of Pennsylvania's sixty-seven counties. This has historically been done through a system of sixty Centers located throughout the Commonwealth. The Centers employed, inter alia, approximately

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sixty-one nurse consultants, who have expertise in a variety of specialized public health fields involving tuberculosis, communicable diseases, immunizations, HIV, family health, tobacco, cancer, and injury prevention. The nurse consultants support public health services and provide coordination and consultation for the community health nurses who administer care at the Centers.

In 1996, the General Assembly enacted legislation, Act 87, addressing the DOH's operation of the Centers and its administration of public health services. Specifically relevant here, Subsection 8 of Act 87, codified at 71 P.S. § 1403 (hereinafter " Section 1403" ), is entitled " Duty to protect health of the people," and included various directives to the DOH. One of these directives was to establish a pilot review program to determine the feasibility of privatizing the operation of three state health centers, which program would terminate after twelve months, at which point the DOH could submit to the Legislature a report and recommendation regarding the privatization and operation of all remaining health care services. See 71 P.S. § 1403(c)(2) (expired pursuant to Act of July 2, 1996, P.L. 518, No. 87 § 4); § 1403(c)(4). After implementing the pilot review program, the DOH ultimately decided not to maintain the three private health centers, and converted the facilities back to public health centers.

More than fifteen years later, in 2013, the DOH announced that, pursuant to an extensive reorganization of public health services referenced in Governor Tom Corbett's 2013-2014 budget, twenty-six Centers would be closed and approximately twenty-six nurse consultants would be furloughed. In response, on April 1, 2013, a lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction by Appellants SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, an unincorporated labor organization, five nurses employed by the Centers and represented by SEIU, and five Pennsylvania state legislators (collectively referred to as " SEIU" ), seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Specifically, SEIU sought to prevent Appellees, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Governor Corbett, the DOH, and DOH Secretary, Michael Wolf (collectively referred to as " the Executive Branch" ), from closing the Centers and furloughing the nurse consultants.

SEIU alleged that the closings and furloughs violated 71 P.S. § 1403(c)(1), which was part of Act 87, discussed, infra. Section 1403(c)(1) provides:

With the exception of the three State health centers selected for the review program established in paragraph (2)[2] [currently expired], the department shall operate those public State health centers and provide at a minimum those public health services in effect as of July 1, 1995. Except as provided in paragraph (2) [currently expired], the department shall not enter into contracts with any

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additional private providers that would result in the elimination of any State health center nor reduce the scope of services currently provided nor reduce the number of centers.

71 P.S. § 1403(c)(1).

SEIU alleged in its complaint that the plain language of the first sentence of Section 1403(c)(1) requires the Commonwealth to continue to offer the same level of public health services and operate the same number of Centers that existed on July 1, 1995, i.e., sixty. Unless and until the statute is amended, it argued, the DOH is statutorily required to operate the Centers at the current level. Consequently, SEIU contended, the plan to eliminate twenty-six Centers and furlough twenty-six nurse consultants constituted an unequivocal violation of the express terms of the statute.[3]

In its answer to SEIU's complaint, the Executive Branch denied that Section 1403(c)(1) requires the DOH to continue to operate all Centers in existence as of July 1, 1995. Rather, it argued, the focus of the provision was exclusively to prevent the closure of Centers as a result of privatization. Under the proffered modernization plan, the Executive Branch contended, the DOH was not privatizing health services, but was alternating its methodology for delivering public health services so that the services could be continued in a more efficient manner. Thus, the Executive Branch concluded, Section 1403(c)(1) was not implicated.

In addition to filing their lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction, SEIU also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief. The Commonwealth Court denied the motion for a temporary restraining order the day after it was filed.[4] Following a two-day hearing on SEIU's motion for preliminary injunctive relief, the Commonwealth Court, by order dated April 25, 2013, denied the request without elaboration of its rationale in its order. After SEIU filed a notice of appeal to this Court, the Commonwealth Court directed SEIU to file a Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement of matters complained of on appeal. Thereafter, on May 24, 2013, the court filed a memorandum opinion in support of its denial of preliminary injunctive relief.[5]

Notwithstanding that an evidentiary hearing had been conducted, the Commonwealth Court set forth no findings of fact in its May 24, 2013 opinion. Initially, it observed that a preliminary injunction is intended to preserve the status quo, and prevent imminent and irreparable harm that might occur before the merits of a

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case can be heard and determined. The court cited the following elements to establish entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief: (1) the relief is necessary to prevent irreparable harm to the movant; (2) the injunction would restore the parties to the status quo as it existed before the alleged wrongful act; (3) greater injury would result from a refusal to grant the injunction than from granting it; and (4) the movant's right to relief is clear. SEIU Healthcare Pa. v. Commonwealth, No. 150 MD 2013, unpublished memorandum at 2 (Pa. Cmwlth. filed May 24, 2013) (citing T.W. Phillips Gas and Oil Co. v. Peoples Natural Gas Co., 89 Pa.Cmwlth. 377, 492 A.2d 776 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995)).

Focusing exclusively on whether SEIU's right to relief was clear based on the legal argument that Section 1403(c)(1) precludes the Commonwealth from closing the Centers and/or decreasing the public health services offered, the ...


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