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Phillipsburg Rod and Gun Club v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 8, 2018

PHILLIPSBURG ROD AND GUN CLUB, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, CHRISTOPHER REESE, JOHN NORBECK, JOHN HALLAS. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 7, 2018, Plaintiff, Phillipsburg Rod and Gun Club (hereinafter “the Club”), filed a four-count complaint against, at that point in time, one Defendant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (hereinafter “Pennsylvania” or “the state”) in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County. The state removed the action to this Court on March 9, 2018.[1] Contemporaneously, the Club filed a motion for emergency preliminary injunction.[2] A hearing was thereafter scheduled for April 6, 2018, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65(a).

         On March 30, 2018, the state filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). On April 4, 2018, this Court, sua sponte ordered briefing from both parties on jurisdictional concerns regarding the first complaint. Concordantly, Plaintiff requested the hearing be continued, and filed a motion for a temporary restraining order; I granted both requests.

         Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on April 23, 2018[3], adding two counts and three defendants, John Norbeck, John Hallas, and Christopher Reese (collectively “the individual Defendants.”) The amended complaint cured some of the jurisdictional defects; it did not cure all.

         Accordingly, I ordered further briefing from both parties as to whether this Court has jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim asserted against the state and the associated motion for preliminary injunction. A hearing and oral argument on the jurisdictional issue was held on May 3, 2018.

         For the reasons that follow, the breach of contract claim is severed from this action with leave to refile it before the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Board of Claims; the motion for emergency preliminary injunction is denied with leave to refile in the Board of Claims; and Defendant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania dismissed from what remains of this action.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Club asserts that the individual Defendants violated its First Amendment right to freedom of association (Count I); its Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection (Count II); its Fourteenth Amendment right to substantive due process (Count III); its Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms (Count IV); and did so as a conspiracy (Count V). The Club further asserts that the state breached a contract (Count IV).

         The Phillipsburg Rod and Gun Club is a non-profit organization that has operated since 1909 as a trap-shooting range[4] in Black Moshannon State Park located near Phillipsburg, Centre County, Pennsylvania. Although the state is a named Defendant, the state agencies at issue here are the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (hereinafter “DCNR”) and the Department of Environmental Protection (hereinafter “DEP”).

         The Club has leased property continuously from the DCNR for the past sixty years. However, on November 21, 2017, the DCNR notified the Club that it was terminating the current lease as a result of a breach and ordering it to vacate the premises. Subsequently, on January 23, 2018, DCNR notified the Club that its lease was terminated as a result of the breach and that it was to vacate the premises no later than April 24, 2018.[5]

         As discussed above, I have entered two Orders[6] asking the parties to address which tribunal has jurisdiction over the Club's breach of contract claim against the state and the concomitant motion for preliminary injunction. After carefully considering both the parties written and oral advocacy, I have determined that the Board of Claims has jurisdiction over this severable portion of the dispute.

         The Board of Claims was created on October 5, 1978, and supersedes the former Board of Arbitration of Claims. The jurisdiction of the Board of Claims is set forth in the Pennsylvania Procurement Code, 62 Pa.C.S.A. § 1724, which provides:

(a) Exclusive jurisdiction.--The board shall have exclusive jurisdiction to arbitrate claims arising from all of the following:
(1) A contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency in accordance with this part and filed with the board in accordance with section 1712.1 (relating to contract controversies).
(2) A written agreement executed by a Commonwealth agency and the Office of Attorney General in which the parties expressly agree to utilize the board to arbitrate disputes arising from the agreement.
(3) Unless otherwise provided by law, a contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency involving real property interests in which the Commonwealth agency is the respondent.
(b) Concurrent jurisdiction.--The board shall have concurrent jurisdiction to arbitrate claims arising from all of the following:
(1) A contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency in accordance with this part in which the Commonwealth agency is the claimant.
(2) Unless otherwise provided by law, a contract entered into by a Commonwealth agency involving real property interests in which the Commonwealth agency is the claimant.
(c) Limitations.--The board shall have no power and exercise no jurisdiction over a claim asserted under subsection (a)(1) unless it is filed with the board in accordance with section 1712.1. The board shall have no power and exercise no jurisdiction over a claim asserted against a Commonwealth agency under subsection (a)(2) or (3) unless the claim was filed with the board within six months after it accrued. The board shall have no power and exercise no jurisdiction over claims for payment or damages to providers of medical assistance services arising out of the operation of the medical assistance program established by the act of June 13, 1967 (P.L. 31, No. 21), 1 known as the Public Welfare Code.
(d) Nonmonetary relief.--Nothing in this section shall preclude a party from seeking nonmonetary relief in another forum as provided by law.

         Since its creation, the Board of Claims' exclusive jurisdiction has apparently created confusion with litigants, as it has here. Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, writing for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the matter of Scientific Games International, Inc. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, explained that “the Procurement Code ‘reaffirms sovereign immunity, ' prescribing, with limited exceptions, that ‘no provision of this part shall constitute a waiver of sovereign immunity.'”[7] The Chief Justice continued, “The 2002 amendments to the Procurement Code also reconstituted the Board of Claims, and reposited ‘exclusive jurisdiction' in that tribunal to arbitrate claims arising from contracts entered into by Commonwealth agencies in accordance with the Procurement Code.”[8]

         The Club argues that pursuant to § 1724(d), cited above, and because it is not seeking monetary relief on its breach of contract claim, it may proceed in this forum. I respectfully disagree.

         First, Plaintiff's amended complaint, [9] belies the contention set forth in Plaintiff's brief. The breach of contract claim explicitly demands monetary relief.

         Because Plaintiff's written advocacy seems at odds with the demands set forth in the amended complaint, this ...


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