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Mohn v. Bucks County Republican Committee

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 3, 2019

DANIEL MOHN, CHAD WALLACE AND IRENE SILVEUS
v.
BUCKS COUNTY REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE APPEAL OF: DANIEL MOHN

          Appeal from the Order Dated December 14, 2017 In the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County Civil Division at No(s): 2016-03560

          BEFORE: PANELLA, P.J., BENDER, P.J.E., GANTMAN, P.J.E., LAZARUS, J., DUBOW, J., KUNSELMAN, J., NICHOLS, J., MURRAY, J., and McLAUGHLIN, J.

          OPINION

          KUNSELMAN, J.

         Daniel Mohn appeals from the order granting summary judgment in favor of the Bucks County Republican Committee ("the BCRC"), and denying his cross-motion for summary judgment on his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief based on alleged violations of the Pennsylvania Election Code. Mr. Mohn directed his appeal to the Commonwealth Court, which has jurisdiction over Election Code violations pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 762(a)(4)(i)(c). However, the Commonwealth Court sua sponte transferred the appeal to this Court based on Gordon v. Philadelphia County Democratic Exec. Committee, 80 A.3d 464 (Pa. Super. 2013), wherein a three-Judge panel of this Court determined that it had jurisdiction over an appeal involving an alleged Election Code violation. We granted en banc review to determine whether the Commonwealth Court has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals involving alleged Election Code violations such that Gordon should be overruled. After careful consideration, we conclude that Gordon was incorrectly decided, and should be overruled. We additionally conclude that the issues raised by Mr. Mohn's appeal fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. Accordingly, we transfer the instant appeal back to the Commonwealth Court to decide its merits.

         We briefly summarize the relevant factual and procedural history underlying the appeal as follows. Mr. Mohn was elected as a Republican committeeperson in Yardley Borough, Bucks County, in 2014 and again in 2016. After the 2016 election, the Bucks County Republican Party filed ethics complaints with the BCRC regarding Mr. Mohn's actions during the election, including campaigning against Republican-endorsed candidates and failing to fulfill his responsibility to cover the polls on the day of the primary election. Following a hearing, the BCRC Executive Committee disqualified Mr. Mohn from his position based on his violations of the Rules of the Republican Party of Bucks County ("the Local Party Rules").

         Thereafter, Mr. Mohn, along with two co-plaintiffs who have since discontinued their claims, filed a complaint against the BCRC in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Mr. Mohn alleged that the BCRC improperly removed him from his position as elected committeeperson for his voting precinct. Specifically, he claimed that the actions of the BCRC violated the Pennsylvania Election Code, namely 25 P.S. § 2837, [1] by disqualifying him as a committeeperson for reasons that did not constitute grounds for disqualification under the Local Party Rules. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

         On December 18, 2017, [2] the trial court denied Mr. Mohn's motion for summary judgment, and granted the BCRC's motion for summary judgment on the basis that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the internal operations of a political party pursuant to section 2842 of the Election Code.[3]See Trial Court Opinion, 3/13/18, at 5 ("This is a purely intra-party disciplinary matter that the [United States] Constitution has reserved to the [BCRC] to address free from government intervention.").

         As indicated above, Mr. Mohn appealed the trial court's rulings to the Commonwealth Court. However, the Commonwealth Court, relying on Gordon, supra, sua sponte transferred the appeal to this Court. Mr. Mohn now seeks appellate review to determine (1) whether the trial court had jurisdiction to determine if the BCRC violated the Election Code by disqualifying him as a committeeperson under the Local Party Rules; and (2) whether the BCRC was authorized by the Election Code to disqualify him for alleged violations of the Ethics Code of the Local Party Rules, and misconduct on the day of the primary election.

         We certified this appeal for en banc consideration to decide the following two questions:

1. Whether exclusive jurisdiction over this appeal lies in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 762?
2. Whether this Court's prior, three-Judge Panel decision on the issue in Gordon . . . should be overruled?

See En Banc Certification Order, 2/5/19. As we explain below, the answer to both questions is yes.

         The issues for our review concern the scope of this Court's appellate jurisdiction. Chapter Seven of the Judicial Code sets forth the "legislatively ordained division of labor" between appellate courts in Pennsylvania. Valley Forge Indus., Inc. v. Armand Constr., Inc., 374 A.2d 1312, 1316 (Pa. Super. 1977); see also 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 701 et seq. Pursuant to section 742 of the Judicial Code, this Court's jurisdiction is limited, and does not extend to appeals which fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of our Supreme Court or the Commonwealth Court:

The Superior Court shall have exclusive appellate jurisdiction of all appeals from final orders of the courts of common pleas, regardless of the nature of the controversy or the amount involved, except such classes of appeals as are by any provision of this chapter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court or the Commonwealth Court.

Id. (emphasis added).

         Notably, the General Assembly consciously removed a group of cases from this Court's appellate jurisdiction and committed them to a court of specialized appellate jurisdiction. See Newman v. Thorn, 518 A.2d 1231, 1235 (Pa. Super. 1986). In this regard, section 762(a) of the Judicial Code enumerates seven specific categories of appeal from the courts of common pleas over which the Commonwealth Court has exclusive jurisdiction. In this case, we are concerned with only one of those categories. Pursuant to section 762(a) of the Judicial Code,

(a) General rule.-Except as provided in subsection (b),
[which is inapplicable herein] the Commonwealth Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction of appeals from final orders of the courts of common ...

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